As 2024 session winds down, disability measures are facing mixed fates

Setting the stage  What’s been a challenge this session is the caveat that advocates and their organizations do not make […]

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Setting the stage 

What’s been a challenge this session is the caveat that advocates and their organizations do not make significant funding requests, especially since many either didn’t get fully funded in 2023. 

One group calling attention to the funding crisis is the Mental Health Legislative Network, which held a press conference and call-in day focusing on children’s mental health and the desperate need to add more funding to the proposed budget for health and human services. Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota said, “I want to be clear, that this press conference isn’t about providing money to providers. It is about children and their families. It is about the negative impact low rates have on our children accessing mental health care. It is about children waiting months to access therapy. It is about children boarding in emergency rooms. It is about waiting lists for residential in months not weeks. It is about our children in despair, without hope.” 

The stage for change began to be set April 15 when the House Human Services Policy Committee passed the Human Services Policy Bill. Although not every measure sought was included, many aspects of the bill were hailed by Minnesotans with disabilities and their allies. 

Rep Peter Fisher (DFL-Maplewood) chairs the committee.  “The most vulnerable Minnesotans need someone in their corner and last session we addressed issues impacting those most at risk across the state. This policy bill clarifies, changes, and improves several items in last year’s bill to address concerns from the disability community and others,” he said. “We continue to make tangible progress for Minnesotans with disabilities, those in recovery from substance use disorder, recipients who rely on our waiver services to help them thrive, and more.” 

Several measures moved ahead. Community residential settings serving up to six individuals would be exempt from rental licensing regulations imposed by any town, municipality or county. This is seen as a way of keeping local governments from forcing the facilities to shut down. (See commentary on page four.) 

Individuals in assisted living facilities are now counseled on long-term care options so they may make informed choices. The bill would expand that provision to individuals across all critical care spectrums. 

The bill would also provide for continuity of care for seniors receiving personal assistance and transitioning onto the medical assistance elderly waiver program. 
Another change would affect the state’s Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind, & Hard of Hearing by increasing the number of at-large members from seven to 10. Voting members could not serve more than three consecutive full terms. The bill would limit advisory committee members to three consecutive terms and no more than nine years in total. 

The bill would also reduce the burden for those receiving Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) by requiring recipients to qualify once each year. People in the program must qualify twice each year. 

But an effort to eliminate premiums for MA-EPD participants is up in the air. There is an effort to provide a short-term solution,  meaning that people on MA-EPD could not be removed from the program if they cannot pay their premiums. But the total elimination of premiums may have to wait until 2025. 

The House Human Services Finance Committee approved a supplement budget April 18 and sent it on to Ways and Means Committee. 

Sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Minneapolis), the bill would appropriate $42.13 million in fiscal year 2025 and $14.86 million in the 2026-27 biennium to the Human Services and Corrections departments for myriad disability services, aging services, substance use disorder services, civil commitment matters, and direct care and treatment services.  “We’re never done until the end, so we’ve got some more work to do,” Noor said. “We’ve done an amazing job, a transformative job … and this will be an ongoing conversation.” 

The biggest appropriations in the bill are $7.18 million in fiscal year 2025 and $13.22 million in the 2026-27 biennium for forensic services or specialized mental health treatment for patients who have been charged with a crime and are civilly committed as mentally ill and dangerous. 

The expansion of a nursing home loan program would receive $7.69 million in fiscal year 2025. 

A new program to pay parents and spouses for serving as personal care assistants for their loved ones who require physical assistance with daily living activities would receive $4.83 million in fiscal year 2025. The Minnesota program was approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Noor said. 

The Department of Human Services is trying to roll out the program smoothly so that it may commence in June, said Kristy Graume, the department’s director of legislative and external affairs for behavioral health, disability services, and housing. 

The bill would appropriate $1.65 million in fiscal year 2025 and $4.29 million in the 2026-27 biennium for a new program to help individuals eligible for medical assistance to enroll prior to re-entering their community after serving time in a correctional facility. 

Transportation network companies update 

The Minnesota Council on Disability has put a strong effort into law changes affecting transportation network companies (TNC) and worked on a compromise bill. That bill currently includes wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) pay incentives for drivers. But it looks like an ask for a study or grant program for WAVs has stalled this session as there isn’t an attached fiscal note.  Much is in the mix, with Minneapolis city leaders postponing increased TNC wage requirements until July 1. Lyft and Uber, the largest service providers, are still planning to leave Minneapolis then. The change was to take effect May 1 but was postponed to seek time to find new service providers. 

Minnesota RISE Act 

The Minnesota RISE Act has been moving ahead. The act would provide comprehensive support and accommodations within higher education institutions for students with disabilities. As Access Press went to press, it was part of the higher education policy omnibus bill. 

Episodic disabilities eyed 

An amendment to the state human rights act is proposed, which would align state protections for episodic disabilities with federal standards. Episodic disabilities are those that come and go, such as recurring cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and psychiatric disorders. People with these types of disabilities have often struggled to gain equal rights, as well as needed supports and services. 

As April ended the change was in the in the Human Rights Department policy omnibus bill. 

Another amendment to the state act would make changes to the definition of a service animal. It would be more inclusive of the types of disabilities where a service animal is needed, and would expand the types of animals that can legally be considered service animals. 

So what’s next? 

Many committees held their final meetings the third week of April, marking up, debating and voting on comprehensive supplemental budget bills in advance of the April 19 final deadline for those bills to have had favorable action taken on them in order to proceed. 

That deadline does not apply to the taxes, bonding or ways and means committees. The work of those committees and several efforts to aid Minnesotans with disabilities will take center stage in the weeks to come as changes are made and a capital investment bill is likely assembled and debated. 

This article was prepared with information from MNCCD, the Minnesota Council on Disability, NAMI Minnesota and Session Daily. 

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