Monday, June 22, 2015
With the passage of financial bills during the recent special session of the Legislature, the next two-year budget for the state of Minnesota has been completed. Spending has been increased, although the percentage of that increase is one of the smallest in recent years. Over-all, we will spend 5.3 percent more than in the current biennium ending June 30, with the largest increase being in the area of K-12 education.
Spending in the area of agriculture, while not a large portion of the state budget, saw a sizeable increase. One of the reasons for that was additional funding earmarked for the fight against Avian Influenza. State agencies will receive an additional $6.5 million for their work in this area. Those agencies include the departments of Agriculture, Health, and Public Safety, along with the Board of Animal Health and the DNR. In addition, $10 million was allocated to the Rural Finance Authority to make no-interest loans to producers affected by the disease. Another $26 million was allocated to the University of Minnesota in the bonding bill to improve the poultry testing lab in Willmar and the veterinary isolation facility on the University campus in St. Paul.
Another area where the Legislature took action this year was in the area of long- term care funding. Nursing homes, especially those in out-state Minnesota, are facing a crisis situation in regard to staffing issues. Because state reimbursement rates affect how much they can pay their workers, nearly all facilities were having trouble attracting and keeping staff. As a result, admissions were being curtailed and folks looking for such care many times had to re-locate longer distances from home.
Increasing state payments to local facilities was the number one goal of many rural legislators. We succeeded in passing legislation that addresses the situation in several areas. First was an additional $138 million in senior care reimbursement reform. This will go a long way toward funding a new payment system for nursing homes that will provide payment for the actual cost of care. This will also help the Elderly Waiver program by allowing their budget caps to stay in line with nursing home rates. The EW is an excellent program that allows seniors to stay in their homes longer by providing needed assistance.
Funding was also allocated for workforce development in the area of long term care. A nursing assistant scholarship program will receive $1.3 million, while another $2 million goes to a new Home and community-based scholarship program that will allow caregivers to further their education while still working.
Summer is officially here, and parade season is in full swing. We had our first last weekend in New Munich, where a good crowd was on hand. Officials were concerned with early morning rain but the sky cleared and by parade time that afternoon, the weather was nearly perfect. Melrose has its celebration this weekend, with their parade scheduled for Saturday morning.
Crops around the area are looking fairly good. Rainfall so far this season has been abundant, although in some places it’s been too abundant. Second cutting of alfalfa will start soon, and the corn crop should, for the most part, be at least “knee-high” by the Fourth of July.