Senate HHS omnibus bill focuses on economic opportunity, health care and vulnerable youth

The Senate Health and Human Services omnibus bill (Senate File 1458) uses the committee’s $341 million target to expand access to economic opportunity and mental and physical well-being. It includes $146 million to protect and support the young and $72 million to expand access to health care. The Senate’s new investments are in sharp contrast to the House proposal, which ends affordable health care for more than 100,000 Minnesotans.

The Senate bill includes two important provisions to help Minnesota families achieve economic success. It includes $19 million in FY 2016-17 to expand access to affordable child care through Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance. Thanks to this proposal, 700 more families in an average month would pay less for child care. Basic Sliding Fee enables parents to get to work and support their families. Their children can thrive in consistent care environments, and employers can more easily find the workers they need. Another $1.6 million would simplify the broader Child Care Assistance Program, making it easier for parents to participate and for providers to serve low-income families.

The Senate bill also spends $68 million to increase assistance to families through the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). The bill would increase the maximum cash assistance through MFIP by about $100 per month. For the past 29 years, a family of three has received $532 monthly, which is not enough to cover a family’s basic needs and leaves many Minnesota children living in deep poverty. The MFIP increase builds on solid evidence that boosting family income is an effective way to improve children’s well-being.

The Senate bill also includes most of Governor Mark Dayton’s proposal for $57 million in FY 2016-17 to improve child protection and to expand Minnesota’s services for homeless and sexually exploited youth. The House does too, although it includes $700,000 less than the Senate for these initiatives.

On the health care front, the Senate includes $48 million in FY 2016-17 for several initiatives to improve and expand access to mental health services. For example, the Senate plan includes Dayton’s $6.9 million proposal for behavioral health homes. This approach is based on a promising model that improves health outcomes for mental health patients through better care coordination. It also reduces the use of more expensive services, like the emergency room.

The Senate’s proposal would also provide $15 million in FY 2016-17 to improve access to preventive dental care. The bill increases dental provider rates, starts an outreach effort about preventive dental care and would cover more dental services. Untreated dental problems can escalate into painful, costly trips to the emergency room. The Senate’s dental funding is significantly more than the House or Governor Dayton’s proposals, which devote $4.3 and $10 million, respectively.

The Senate and House HHS bills contain provisions to make it easier for elderly Minnesotans and people with disabilities to work without losing affordable health care. They both include:

  • $5.3 million to reduce premiums for Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD). MA-EPD has premiums that increase with income. A person with a disability could see their income from working swallowed up by higher medical costs. Lowering premiums would allow more Minnesotans with disabilities to work without risking their medical coverage.
  • Funding to decrease the Medical Assistance “spend down” for elderly Minnesotans and people with disabilities. Medical Assistance spend down allows coverage for people with high medical costs whose incomes are higher than the eligibility limits. If a senior or adult with a disability earns more than $973 per month, Medical Assistance kicks in once their medical bills reduce their income below the spend down amount of $730, or 75 percent of the federal poverty guideline. The Senate proposes $3.5 million beginning in FY 2017 and $18 million in FY 2018-19 to gradually raise the limit to 95 percent of the poverty guideline. The House would spend slightly less in FY 2017 and change the spend down to 80 percent of the poverty guideline.

Senate File 1458 protects and expands affordable health care, increases access to economic opportunities and strengthens important protections for vulnerable young Minnesotans. The bill also maintains our existing efforts to make Minnesota a place where a run of bad luck does not make it harder to stay healthy or impossible to make ends meet.

-Ben Horowitz

About Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is the Minnesota Budget Project's policy advocate.
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