Lawmakers still haven't finished up

While celebrating many gains for the disability community in the 2021 special legislative session, some eyes are on the calendar.

The Minnesota Legislature will gavel back into session in September. The main topic on the agenda is to make decisions on bonus pay for essential workers who toiled on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers in June passed a measure to pay $250 million to potentially thousands of front-line essential workers. That could include nurses, long-term care workers, grocery store workers, small business owners and many others. A nine-member committee is to decide how the money will be allocated. Three members will be appointed by Gov. Tim Walz, three by the Republican-controlled Senate and three by the DFL-controlled House. A seven-member majority vote is needed to allocate the money. Their recommendations are due by September 6, when lawmakers will meet again in a special session.

Action on bonding is also possible in September.

The 2021 special session, which extended into July, was highlighted by a compromise the state budget. Disability advocates and their organizations saw many gains, especially on the personal care attended compensation front.

Federal assistance and higher-than-anticipated tax revenues made many gains possible. Here’s a look at other highlights of the 2021 session and links to additional information. In recent weeks groups have been posting legislative updates on their web pages. Self-advocates should check the web pages of the groups they are involved with.

One of the most detailed legislative wrap-ups is provided by the Minnesota Council on Disability. https://www.disability.state.mn.us/public-policy/legislative-update/#7-7-21 The council is also sending out updates on individual bills.

Many gains were made in mental health, and have been outlined by National Alliance for the Mentally ill (NAMI) Minnesota. One big step is to expand the mental health workforce, increase its diversity and have it be more culturally informed. Gains include a funding increase for loan forgiveness programs and expanding it to licensed alcohol and drug counselors, cultural and regional diversity standards for licensing boards, including cultural competency in continuing education standards for mental health professionals, paying for BIPOC mental health professionals to become supervisors, creating a culturally informed and culturally responsive mental health task force, and other key items. Wilder Foundation also worked closely on this effort.

Another positive measure is in alternate pathway to children’s residential treatment. Legislation from NAMI Minnesota and Aspire Minnesota was passed, that develops an alternative pathway for children voluntarily accessing residential mental health treatment without entering the child protection system.

Legislation was also passed that expands eligibility for Youth ACT services for children as young as eight and adults up to age 25. This will ensure that more children can obtain needed intensive mental health supports.

Another win centered on the CADI (Community Access for Disability Inclusion) waiver: NAMI’s bill to suspend, not terminate, the CADI waiver when someone is hospitalized or in residential treatment passed.

Read more about mental health measures and next steps at https://namimn.org/

Another emphasis during the session was to support programs for the homeless and programs to prevent more people from becoming homeless. Minnesota will be transitioning out of the eviction moratorium this summer. The state’s housing crisis has had a huge impact of people with disabilities.

Education also saw a lot of disability-related changes, including funding for suicide prevention training, and increased funding for school-linked mental health. State lawmakers are putting $1.2 billion more into the state’s classrooms over the next four years, the largest increase in more than a decade. Special education and individualized education plans or IEPs also got needed attention.

Health care was also a big focus. The state’s reinsurance plan will continue through at least 2022. The program gets deserved credit for keeping premiums low, and for serving as a financial backstop for insurers who encounter enrollees with costly health conditions. The program, which has been a boon to many people with disabilities, has often gotten caught in the crosshairs over single-payer health care for Minnesotans.

Another focus was telehealth, which became even more of a lifeline for many people during the pandemic. A big change was to remove the weekly visits cap that public health programs struggled under. Minnesotans can access telehealth services by phone or audio-only means through July 1, 2023. Telehealth services are reimbursed at the same rate as in person treatment.

The July issue of Access Press extensively covered the changes to the personal care attendant program, as well as public safety and other changes. Read more at www.accesspress.org

This information was compiled by Managing Editor Jane McClure.