Cut LGA? Fighting words for mayors across Minnesota

LGA—-Local Government Aid—has been called government welfare, a dependency on the state, an enabler for cities to overspend. And for Minnesota mayors, them’s fighting words. “Where people would like you to think that it’s government welfare to the cities, schools and counties, it really isn’t,” said Cloquet mayor, Bruce Ahlgren. “This is money that we collect, send to the state, and they promised that they would actually send some of it back in the form of local government aid.”As the budget battle in the legislature continues, what do the options mean for Minnesota cities? Four angles on the debate:• Cut LGA? Continue Reading

Big losses for Minnesota’s disabled under House health budget bill

Projected state spending on health care and social services would be cut by $1.7 billion in the next two years under a bill passed Thursday by the Minnesota House of Representatives. The bill makes at least $334 million in cuts to programs and services for the disabled, not including thousands who will lose health coverage by the reversal of Gov. Mark Dayton’s executive order to expand Medicaid. Steve Larson, policy director at The Arc of Minnesota, says people with disabilities are being unfairly targeted. “It takes money away from supporting group homes, from programs that help employ individuals with disabilities. It cuts back on their medical services, takes away grants that support families to keep their children in their homes, and it takes money away from personal-care assistance, one of our most cost-effective programs.” Continue Reading

Report: US lags in clean energy; Minnesota keeping pace

While green industry continues to bloom worldwide, a new report out by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that the United States as a whole is falling behind in investments in the clean-energy sector. A record $243 billion was invested around the world in clean energy last year. While the United States saw a 51 percent increase in clean-energy investments last year, Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew Clean Energy Programs, says it slipped down a notch in competitive position. “The United States, which had dropped from first to second in 2009, has slipped even further down the ladder to number three, behind both China and Germany.” Cuttino says nations without clear energy policies lost investors, but the United States stayed in the game thanks in part to 30 states, including Minnesota, which passed their own energy standards. Continue Reading

Proposed deregulation for MN nursing home charges

Minnesota lawmakers are trying to repeal a law passed more than 30 years ago that requires nursing homes to charge the same rate to both Medicaid and private-pay patients. AARP spokesperson Amy McDonough is against the change, arguing that the state shouldn’t return to the days when ailing older people with limited savings were stuck in hospitals waiting for a Medicaid bed to open up at a nursing home. She says that would lead to a two-tier nursing home system that discriminates against poorer patients, affects the quality of care, and creates a burden for private-pay patients. “These are not rich people. They’re teachers, they’re state employees, they’re small business owners who tried to do the right thing, and tried to find a way to save a little bit of money. Continue Reading

Downsizing Minnesota: the true price of government

Minnesota lawmakers are trying to get a state budget to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk by the Easter break, and so far GOP leaders have justified a cuts-only approach, citing “out-of-control spending” they say is not sustainable. But how much does government actually cost Minnesotans? The answer may be surprising. For much of the 1990s, the average share of a household’s income for state and local government hovered around 17.6 percent, peaking at nearly 18 percent in 1993. Nan Madden, director of the Minnesota Budget Project, says today that number has dropped to 15.2 percent. Continue Reading

Proposed child care cuts a difficult break for working low-income families

Late last week, the Minnesota House and Senate passed Health and Human Services bills that seek $1.6 billion in sweeping cuts to help address the state’s $5 billion deficit. Advocates worry that one area of cuts will threaten low-income families’ ability to stay in the workforce, including cuts to child care assistance, as well as reductions in child care reimbursements for sick days, non-traditional hours, and in-home or friends-and-family care. Additionally, $5 million in Basic Sliding Fee child care assistance funds not yet spent this year would be recaptured to help balance the state budget. Mary Nienow, executive director of Child Care WORKS, is concerned. “I think what’s most troubling about that is that we know there are still about 4,000 families statewide that are on a waiting list to receive that child care assistance.” Continue Reading

Local heroes change their own lives, and the lives of others

Ten Minnesotans are being honored today as the 2011 Head Start Heroes for overcoming tremendous challenges and achieving personal, family and community success. Heroes take on many forms with this group. It’s the mother whose daughter was murdered and who now cares for a traumatized grandchild; the parent who overcame drug addiction, learned to read as an adult and is rebuilding her family’s life. And for Joaquim Harris, Duluth, it started with the simple act of getting involved. Shortly after his daughter started attending Head Start, Harris noticed there were no men who volunteered with the program, so he joined their Policy Committee. Continue Reading

Research: medical bills leading cause of bankruptcy

As lawmakers in Minnesota and other states grapple with budget deficits, one public-health and medical researcher is cautioning against cuts to medical coverage as a budget-balancing tool because the consequences may be even more costly. David Himmelstein, a professor of public health at City University in New York and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has researched medical-related bankruptcies for the past decade. He says those bankruptcies went up substantially between 2002 and 2007, even before the Great Recession hit – and that the vast majority involved people who had some level of insurance. “Most people who are driven into bankruptcy by illness and medical bills actually have coverage, but it’s such inadequate coverage that it doesn’t keep them from financial ruin. They’re facing huge premiums and copayments and deductibles – and things that aren’t covered by their insurance.” Continue Reading

Troubles continue for Minnesota’s housing market

Minnesota’s housing market continues to show signs of distress on several fronts, according to a new report. Employment in residential housing dropped below 9,000 monthly for the final quarter of 2010, the lowest fourth-quarter level in 17 years, and high housing inventory continued to impact both the construction industry and home values, according to the latest “2 x 4” report from the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). On average, the report says, 34 percent of homes for sale were foreclosures or short sales. While homelessness in Hennepin County remained virtually the same, says Chip Halbach, MHP executive director, numbers of homeless youth were on the rise. “During this recession, a lot more people have lost their homes. Continue Reading