Rural Initiatives

Senate DFL takes the lead on Greater Minnesota’s needs

Legislation and policies to support rural Minnesota was a priority for the Senate DFL in the 2016 Legislative Session. Through targeted tax policies and credits, efforts to improve health care access, and a host of other legislation, the Senate led efforts to address needs and challenges facing our rural communities. Although much was accomplished, the Senate is committed to helping rural Minnesota now and in the future.

This bill addresses Medical Assistance (MA) estate lien issue, which has been extensively covered by the media over the past year. A situation arose recently, in which people on MA discovered they had received huge liens against their estate on the cost of their basic care. The liens are not something new and were not created by the Affordable Care Act, but the expansion of the number of people eligible for MA has given rise to this issue.

The legislation directs the Department of Human Services to end the placement of estate liens on MA enrollees for basic health care. It also retroactively removes intended recoveries against estates effective Jan. 1, 2014. These changes will go a long way in preventing these massive liens on Minnesotans who can least afford them. (H.F. 2749)

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This bill provides a Medical Assistance (MA) rate increase for rural ambulance services. There is a growing sparsity of rural ambulance providers, leading to longer driving distances and dangerous wait times for patients.

The MA rate increase would amount to a 5% increase. In order to receive this increase, the emergency ambulance provider has to be located outside of the metro area, not located in Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, St. Cloud, or Rochester. Additionally, it must be based in a community with a population of less than 1,000 people. (S.F. 2640)

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The Legislative Health Care Workforce Commission discovered major discrepancies in rural Minnesota’s health delivery workforce. It was recommended to the Legislature that funding should be increased for family medicine residencies in rural and underserved urban communities. The funding should also include support of physician assistant clinical placements in rural areas.

This bill would create the Greater Minnesota Family Medicine Residency Grant Program. Grants would be provided to new and existing physician residency positions in family medicine residency programs. Priority will be given to new residency programs. Once funds are dispersed, the remaining grant money would be split proportionally among the applicants with existing residency positions. (S.F. 2442)

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In direct response to the crisis facing thousands of Iron Range workers, the House and Senate passed legislation extending unemployment insurance benefits to hundreds of workers. This extension will provide up to 26 weeks of coverage for those directly affected by mine layoffs and the people affected in related industries.

The Iron Range is facing an economic crisis as the global steel industry faces a slowdown in economic activity and the dumping of cheap steel in American markets. While efforts are being made to address this illegal dumping, several mines on the Range have been idled or dramatically cut production. This slowdown has forced the layoff of thousands of miners since the summer of 2015.

Many of the workers affected by the earliest round of layoffs have exhausted their unemployment benefits. This legislation would extend those benefits from the current $1.6 billion available in the state’s unemployment fund. The total coast of the extension would be approximately $29.6 million. (S.F. 1006)

Senate DFL Media

Greater MN internship program makes changes 
The Greater Minnesota Internship Program began in 2014, to incentivize students to take internships in rural Minnesota. The program began as a tax credit. However, the program had difficulty enrolling businesses. To better suit the needs of businesses, legislation was heard in the higher education committee to change the program from a tax credit to a grant program. By changing to a grant, businesses will be better able to tailor the funding for their financial needs. (H.F. 848)

School building bond agricultural credit
This bill created a property tax credit on all agricultural property equal to 40% of the property’s eligible tax value. Under current law, only the house, garage, and one acre of farmland are subject to property tax levies for school district operating costs, but the entire property is subject to taxes for new school building levies. The omnibus tax bill provided property tax relief to farmers without redistributing the cost to the local community. An estimated 240,000 parcels of land across Minnesota would qualify for the credit. The tax bill was vetoed by the governor. (H.F. 848)

Buffer aid for counties
Since last year, the Department of Natural Resources has been mapping public waters and ditch systems in the state that will require permanent buffers under the new buffer law. This bill established a local aid to each county that is responsible for creating and maintaining public buffers. The aid is calculated by a formula including the miles of public water shoreline and the miles of public drainage system ditches in county and the number of acres of agricultural land in the county. This provision was included in the omnibus tax bill, which was vetoed by the governor. (H.F. 848)

Aids to local governments
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Bills to drive down healthcare costs in rural Minnesota
Healthcare insurance premiums in Southeastern Minnesota are significantly higher than in other parts of the state. Some of the factors that impact these high premiums are: the lower population in the SE Minnesota pricing region, lack of competing health care plans, and the presence of only one major health care provider in Mayo. A set of bills were authored to address this disproportion in healthcare costs.

  • One of the bills directs the Department of Commerce to seek a federal waiver in order to examine the possibility of changing the number of the state’s geographic rating areas for health plans. The intent is to reduce the disproportionately high premiums that residents in Southeastern Minnesota are facing. (F. 2506)
  • Another bill, which is based on a recommendation from the Health Care Finance Task Force’s report, tasks the Commissioner of Commerce to conduct a study examining mechanisms to stabilize premiums in the individual market rate system and issue a report on preliminary findings by Jan. 15, 2017. (F. 2582)

MinnesotaCare public option
This bill would require the Commissioner of Human Services to submit a waiver request to the federal government asking to open MinnesotaCare enrollment to Minnesotans who wish to purchase coverage available in the program. This bill would be a first step in providing relief to Minnesotans who are unable to find affordable options for their health insurance. The waiver would begin the process of establishing an affordable coverage program for Minnesotans on the individual market, especially those in rural areas who are not presented with an adequate amount of choices. If approved, new MinnesotaCare enrollees would have been required to pay a premium. The program would not change for the current enrolled population, but individuals and families whose income is greater than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline (FPG) would also be able to purchase MinnesotaCare benefits. (S.F. 2589)

Nonwoven personal care disposable products
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Increasing access to child care in Greater MN
This legislation would increase access to child care in Greater Minnesota. The bill provided a one-time grant of $250,000 to each of the six regional Initiative Foundations for the purposes of increasing access to affordable child care. The language provided suggestions, not requirements, of what the grant funding could be used to provide.

Some background: in the early 1980s, the McKnight Foundation created six regional independent, nonprofit philanthropic organizations outside the metropolitan area to provide Greater Minnesota with the necessary resources to grow its economy. Each foundation’s priorities are decided by stakeholders in the region. The foundations provide grants and loans supporting economic development, leadership development, and community building projects. (S.F. 3049)

MnSCU online early childhood teacher prep program  
The teacher shortage across the state is being felt particularly hard in Greater Minnesota. To help address this, legislation was heard in the Higher Education Committee to develop a multi-campus online early childhood teacher preparation program at MnSCU.

A lack of early childhood teachers is affecting academic opportunities and the achievement of our students. This bill will help support mid-career professionals, veterans, and other educational support professionals to enter the early childhood education teaching profession. This will also allow enrollees to avoid long distance travel and allow some flexibility with a work schedule, potentially allowing the person to stay employed full time while entering this important career field. (S.F. 3163)

Senate DFL Media
Senate DFL Media