Elderly, Disabled Care Top Priorities

Schomacker

This is one of a series of stories previewing the 2015 Minnesota Legislature. It concentrates on Republicans’ policy initiatives as they will retake control of the House. The Senate and governor’s office remain in Democratic control.

The top priority for many rural Minnesota legislators is to improve state funding sent to elderly and disabled care programs.

House speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, puts that in his top three priorities — along with transportation and education — and most rural members agree.

Not only are such programs good for the people they serve, but lawmakers say nursing homes and other care programs are among the biggest businesses in many rural communities.

Rural nursing homes, which are closing in increasing numbers, often serve as training locations for nurses, Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said. Once trained, nurses leave for bigger cities and more money.

Schomacker, who will head the House Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, said a priority should be changing that trend.

“We are greatly underfunding these programs,” Schomacker said of nursing homes and other programs for the disabled and elderly.

Rural programs are especially hurting, many legislators said, because they receive far less money than those in the Twin Cities.

“A senior is a senior in Minnesota,” Schomacker said.

Finding money for the elderly and disabled could be difficult.

“It’s a priority for everybody until it is time to write the check,” Schomacker said.

While legislative leaders of both parties and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton agree no general tax increase will be needed next year, there is talk, even from some generally anti-tax Republicans, that higher taxes could be needed to help nursing homes.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, proposes several initiatives to improve funding by increases in taxes.

For elderly and disabled care provided in the home, he suggests a Minnesota tax that would kick in above the level of federal Social Security tax. This year, that would be above $117,000.

Although he said that he does not expect that idea to pass as he proposes it, he wants it to begin a conversation about funding the programs. “It is a good starting point for starting discussions.”

Nursing homes did not want to be included in the bill for home-bound care and plan to offer their own plan to boost state funding.

The Long Term Care Imperative is looking to reform funding next session for nursing homes, assisted living communities and home-and-community-based services that serve the elderly.

A spokeswoman said the group is in the final stages of preparing its plan, which not only would boost funding but improve quality of care.

Rural legislators have varying stories about nursing homes in their areas, from districts that have experienced homes closing to those where nursing home administrators report they are in financial trouble and barely able to stay open. The problem is much less in the Twin Cities.

“If legislators would take the time and visit with the individuals (residents) from the nursing homes … they would understand they have been underserved,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said.