As time ran out on the 2023 session, Minnesota legislators hammered together a $2.6 billion infrastructure and nursing home aid package. The agreement came together the final weekend of the session.
The aid to nursing homes is seen as critical, with Republican legislators sounding the alarm throughout the session. Several nursing homes around the state have closed or are in danger of closing, with 15 closures since 2021. Many are struggling to hire and retain staff.
The package pulled together puts aside $269.8 million in appropriates for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Minneapolis), sets aside grants of at least $225,000 to nursing homes. More money is available based upon a formula based on how many active beds are in a facility. Dollars go to nursing facilities in two equal lump sums on August 1 of both 2023 and 2024.
“This is a great opportunity for us to address the needs of our seniors,” said Noor. Direct payments to nursing facilities make up the largest portion of the bill’s appropriations, totaling $173.5 million. Another $75 million would go toward a workforce incentive grant program designed to help recruit and retain workers. The bill also earmarks $21.3 million in fiscal year 2024 and $15.2 million in fiscal year 2025 for a temporary daily rate add-on for facilities that would come to $12.32 per resident day.
Administration of the programs adds up to an extra $1.2 million.
“Nursing homes had to do what they had to do, which is drain their reserves or take out lines of credit in order to pay people to keep their doors open as well as they could,” said Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne). “With this, they can really get back up and start hiring nurses. … Being able to free up some of those lines of credit and getting a little more breathing room in their operating costs and the cash flow issues that they’ve faced.”
An amendment added $18 million for partial reimbursements to hospitals for qualifying avoidable patient days.
There is some flexibility for how nursing facilities can use the funding. For example, awards under the workforce incentive grant program could be used for hiring and retention bonuses, employee-owned benefits and employee contributions to a 401k, as well as professional development, child care, meals, transportation and housing needs of employees.
In addition, a $100 million loan program for financially distressed nursing facilities was included in the human services finance bill.
Nursing homes greatly struggled during the pandemic. That created more risks for people with disabilities, who often rely on nursing homes for respite care or when they lack staff. In some cases disabled people have been forced to move into homes longer-term.
The nursing home measures were part of a bonding bill, which was on its second time around this session. The first $1.9 billion package failed to gain a supermajority needed for passage.
Different measures were debated as pressure for some kind of infrastructure package grew. That includes several disability-related requests. Under the final agreement, House and Senate Republican caucuses would each receive $100 million in cash for agreed-upon projects. Gov. Tim Walz and the House and Senate Democrats would each get $30 million more for their priorities.
One of the big winners in this year’s bonding package is True Friends, with $10 million for improvements at its Camp Courage facility.
Minnesota state academies received $9.037 million, with $1.2 million of that going for asset preservation. Another $7.837 million is for dormitory predesign work and renovations. The focuses are on Kramer, Brandeen and Rode halls on the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind campus, and for Pollard Hall on the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. Both schools are in Faribault.
In the Department of Natural Resources (DNR allocation, there us $1.2 million for the design and construction of accessibility improvements at state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas.
The Department of Human Services received $28.8 million. Of that amount there’s more than $24. 5 million for facilities work at the St. Peter campus, and another 410 million to provide regional behavioral health crisis facilities in Duluth and in Dakota County.
Accessible playground projects received assistance, in Apple Valley ($1.41 million), Fridley ($500,00) and St. Paul ($2 million).
Accessible Space Inc. received $1.150 million to create accessible housing units in St. Paul.