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Senate Media Services

Governor Walz, Legislative Leaders Respond to $7.7 Billion Surplus News

Minnesota budget officials announced Tuesday, December 7, that the state will have an historic surplus of $7.7 billion dollars for Fiscal Years 2022-23. The economic news, they said, results from a strong growth in income, consumer spending and corporate profits. The projected surplus will allow Minnesota’s budget reserve, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, to be replenished to its statutory maximum of $2.6 billion. Furthermore, the strong budget news is projected to extend in future budget years.

Governor Tim Walz said, "our economy is strong & growing" and that it was a "false choice" that the state had to choose between protecting people from COVID-19 and growing the economy. Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen said the large surplus provides policymakers with the opportunity to improve access to child care and affordable housing. Senate Finance Chair Julie Rosen said the surplus is "staggering," but cautioned that inflation, supply chain and labor force participation could impact future projections.

The November budget forecast is the first of two economic projections that will enable legislators to shape or refine the state budget. The 2022 session will begin January 31, and legislators will receive another forecast in late February.

Committee on Housing Reviews RentHelpMN Program

A state program created to help struggling Minnesota renters avoid eviction due to a loss of income resulting from the pandemic is underway in Minnesota, but not without its hiccups. The Senate Housing Committee, chaired by Senator Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, held an informational meeting Monday, December 6, to assess the program's progress.

According to Housing Finance Commissioner Jennifer Ho, the department has made over 61,600 assistance payments to over 37,000 households, with most of the payments covering rental assistance. Assistance is also provided for utilities, she said. Of the $398 million in funds requested, about $274 million has been paid, Ho explained. Most of the applicants--88 percent--are of very low income, earning less than 50 percent of the average median income.

Committee chair Draheim expressed concern over the wait times for receiving assistance. "I hear that both from tenants and property managers, that literally spend the whole day on hold trying to get a hold of someone, only to be told to reapply for something that they already did," he said.

Ho explained that the delay today is a result of the over 60,000 applications underway. "I think the part of the program that is working dramatically better is payment, volume and payment speed," she said.

Minnesota's Economic Health / New Senate President / Secretary Pat Flahaven

Minnesota is in the midst of uncertain times – with ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and an emerging variant, plus congestion in the supply chain and a labor shortage. There also are positive signs, including better-than-projected revenues for the current fiscal year and economic opportunities overseas for Minnesota businesses . Minnesota Governor Tim Walz joins moderator Shannon Loehrke to talk about the status of Minnesota's economy, the recent trade mission, the grading of his COVID-19 response, leveraging federal infrastructure funds and tackling the workforce shortage.

Senator Jeremy Miller's recent elevation to Senate Majority Leader left a vacancy in the role of Senate President. At a mid-October meeting, members of the Senate Republican Caucus elected Senator David Osmek, R-Mound, as the next President of the Senate. He talks with Shannon about his new role.

Former Senate Secretary Pat Flahaven passed away recently at the age of 78. He had retired from the Minnesota Senate in 2009, having served as the chief parliamentarian for 36 years. He was a pivotal figure in the modernization and professionalization of the Minnesota Senate’s operations. Shannon provides a brief look at some of his lasting contributions.

Nursing Homes' Workforce Crisis / Legalizing Sports Betting

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency, has issued a requirement for health care workers to be fully vaccinated by January 4th of next year. That requirement has sounded the alarm for nursing home administrators and staff, who are warning policymakers of a potential nursing home workforce crisis. Senate Human Services Reform Committee Chair Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Senator John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, join moderator Shannon Loehrke to offer their perspectives on the challenges facing Minnesota’s nursing homes.

Thirty-two states across the country, including all of Minnesota’s neighbors, have legalized sports betting, according to Representative Zack Stephenson, chair of the House Commerce Committee. He recently held a news conference to announce his intention to pass a law that would give Minnesotans that same opportunity. Also in the program, photographs of the Minnesota State Capitol through the seasons.

Federal Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers Causes Staffing Concerns

The Senate Human Services Reform Committee met Wednesday, November 10, to review the federal vaccine mandate for health care workers and to explore concerns about its impact on staffing, especially in nursing home facilities.

According to Diane Rydrych of the Minnesota Dept. of Health, the mandate applies to workers in facilities that are Medicare and Medicaid certified, including hospitals, nursing homes and health care centers. It does not apply, she said, to assisted living and group homes. The workers will have to be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022, she explained.

Kari Thurlow of Leading Age MN, an association of aging services organizations, expressed concern over the mandate. "This is a potential powder keg with a very short fuse for long term care," she said. "We face a scenario where we don't have enough workers to serve the seniors in our settings."

Thurlow recommended that American Rescue Plan funds be used to increase wages of nursing home staff and that assistance be provided in helping develop emergency staffing solutions for long term care. Senator Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, said that state policymakers and organizations need to "push back" against the federal mandates, which he cited as unconstitutional. "We need to get a solid push to go back against the federal government," he said.

Committee chair Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the committee will be meeting again in December to review the issue further.