Regional News - February 2021

Regional News - February 2021

Tentative pact provides 15 percent raise

Minnesota home care workers in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have voted on a tentative contract agreement that increases base pay by $2 per hour, increases paid time off and provides funding for worker training.

The agreement was reached in mid-January after a marathon 18-hour bargaining session with state officials. The tentative contract also increases paid time off and adds two floating holidays for workers.

More than 2,000 workers across the state began voting on the tentative contract after the agreement was reached. Voting was to take place over a two-week period.

If approved and funded by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Walz, the new contract would take effect in July 2021. Base pay for workers would increase from $13.25 to $14.40 in October and to $15.25 in July 2022.

Walz tweeted in support of the agreement. He said that home care workers have been “fighting on the frontlines of this pandemic — they deserve to be recognized for it.

“While we may not have gotten everything that we had hoped to get, we came out with a really good contract, that’s going to help a lot of people. That is a really great feeling,” said Dawn Burnfin, a member of the SEIU bargaining committee and a home care worker in Chisholm.

“Many people who do this job still qualify for state assistance for food stamps, Medicaid, and a lot of other things, because we’re still below the poverty level,” she said.

Burnfin said she hopes the pay increase will attract more workers to a chronically understaffed industry. “Hopefully with this wage increase, that will get more people into the field, and we will be able to help take care of that crisis, so people will be able to actually use their paid time off,” she said.

This is the fourth union contract since Minnesota home care workers voted to unionize in 2014. A 2019 contract increased workers’ base pay from $12 to $13.25 per hour.

(Source: Minnesota Public Radio)

Student-athlete wants to play

An Ashby High School senior had his athletic eligibility restored after receiving a preliminary injunction against the Minnesota State High School League. Hennepin County District Judge Jacqueline Regis ruled recently in favor of Deklin Goeden’s family. The Goedens accused the MSHSL of illegal discrimination by reason of their son’s learning disability.

Under the MSHSL’s Bylaw 110, student-athletes are allowed 12 consecutive semesters (six consecutive years) of eligibility beginning in seventh grade. Because Goeden repeated seventh grade due to a learning disability, he used up his eligibility and was told he must sit out his senior year. The MSHSL’s Eligibility Committee denied the family’s appeal in June 2020.

“This is an important decision,” said Goeden family attorney Justin Page. “It’s the first of its kind in Minnesota. I think this will make the Minnesota State High School League look at the way it deals with making exceptions. The league has to give these situations the individual analysis the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act requires.”

Attorney Kevin Beck, who represented the MSHSL in court, did not comment to the Star Tribune.

Going into the current school year, Goeden had only competed in 11 semesters worth of activities. He competed in six wrestling seasons. As a junior last season, he did not play football. His track and field season was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Goeden’s father, Darren, said the court’s ruling, “felt good knowing that we weren’t alone. Talking to the high school league, everything was a no. I’m glad someone else is looking out for kids who just want to participate.”
(Source: Star Tribune)

More accessible housing eyed

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) has approved $195 million in grants and loans to create and preserve 2,387 affordable homes across the state, including rental units and single-family houses. MHFA Commissioner Jennifer Ho said the funds will be used to build new single-family houses, fix up older housing, and help low-income Minnesotans buy their first homes and others in need pay their rent or make mortgage payments.

One focus of the program is housing for people with disabilities, either to rehabilitate existing units or build new ones. All Minnesotans deserve access to affordable homes, Gov. Tim Walz said.

“2020 has been a very trying year for all of us,” he said. “Home has never meant more as we seek stable places to live, raise families and shelter from the (coronavirus).”

The 73 projects selected — funded in large part by $100 million in housing infrastructure bonds that the Minnesota Legislature passed in October 2020– are expected to create 5,300 jobs and leverage $334 million in private and local resources to provide more than $529 million in total development costs, Ho said.

The projects will be evenly split between greater Minnesota and the metro area, she said. The grants go to local governments, tribal entities, non-profit housing developers and community land trust organizations.

The agency selected 40 projects that will create almost 400 new or repaired older single-family homes. It also will fund 22 apartment and townhouse projects, and advance 11 other proposals for further review that together will create or preserve more than 2,000 multi-family homes. The projects will provide housing for the homeless, seniors and people with disabilities, among others.

Nearly one-third of the projects will be “deeply affordable” for households earning less than 30 percent of an area’s median income.

(Source: Pioneer Press)

Did district violate civil rights?

The Fargo School District is the subject of a lawsuit filed in federal court, alleging civil rights violations. Katy Barnum recently filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son, stating that he was restrained, secluded and consequently traumatized.

Barnum claims that the Fargo School Board, school district and Superintendent Rupak Gandhi are responsible for reneging on agreements and failing to provide her son with a “free and appropriate public education” as required by federal law.

Barnum isn’t seeking punitive damages and just wants her child back in the school that was agreed upon by her and Gandhi, according to court documents. Her son was diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and is a special education student.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act stipulates that children with disabilities have a right to a free and appropriate education with “related services designed to meet their unique needs.” Children are to be in the least restrictive environment in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible.

The lawsuit asserts that Fargo Public Schools failed to comprehensively evaluate her son in all areas of suspected disability; that her son’s annual goals weren’t being properly monitored or assessed; that instructional methods weren’t consistent with her son’s needs; and that the district failed to consistently maintain complete and current records of her son’s in-school behaviors.

“The heart of this case is really about having the district live up to its promises they made to this young child. There was a settlement agreement that was reached in (July 2020) this year, and within weeks the promises made in that agreement we believe were walked back,” said attorney Mac Schneider.

Laura Tubbs Booth is representing Fargo Public Schools. When contacted, Tubbs Booth said the district does not normally speak publicly about legal matters, but that she would be contacting the district to find out if the case will be going to trial or settled out of court.

(Source: Fargo Forum)

Changes eyed for outdoor access

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is reviewing ideas for improving access to improving access to Minnesota’s wildlife management areas. The goal is to make areas more accessible for people with disabilities.

A comment period ended recently. The areas are referred to as WMAs.

“We want to hear how we can improve recreational opportunities and reduce barriers on WMAs,” said David Trauba, southern region wildlife manager. “Public lands are for all Minnesotans, including those with disabilities.”

The DNR manages a system of 1.3 million acres of land in about 1,500 WMAs. This land is open to everyone for a variety of outdoor activities, including hunting and trapping, fishing, wildlife watching and nature photography.

Most parts of WMAs are closed to motorized access, but people with mobility disabilities can use “other power-driven mobility devices” with a permit. More information about applying for and using such permits is available on the DNR website. The best way for people to begin the process of obtaining a permit is to contact the area wildlife office in the county where the WMA is located.

People can search for wheelchair accessible WMAs by using the WMA Finder on the DNR website at dnr.state.mn.us/wmas/. This search will direct users to WMAs with infrastructure like hunting blinds or trails with grades and surfaces accessible using a wheelchair. In addition, each year the DNR administers 16 special hunts for people with disabilities.

The DNR will use the input to shape recommendations the agency will make to the Minnesota Legislature in February about increasing accessibility. The DNR continues to work closely with the Minnesota Council on Disability and others to identify ways to increase access to the state wildlife lands. Legislation championed by former Rep. Dan Fabian (R – Roseau) and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in 2020 requires the DNR to make it easier for people with disabilities to access WMAs and requires the agency to then publicize access opportunities.

Fabian retired at the end of 2020 so other state lawmakers will have to champion the access cause.

(Source: Minnesota DNR)

Two conditions added to program

Sickle cell disease and chronic vocal or motor tic disorder will be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions for participation in the state’s medical cannabis program. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has announced the conditions will be added in August 2021.

MDH regularly conducts a formal petitioning process to solicit public input on potential qualifying conditions and delivery methods for medicine. Petitions were submitted in June and July 2020, followed by a public comment period and panel review.

Sickle cell disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders, affecting mainly people who are Black or African-American. One health problem sickle cell disease triggers is severe pain, caused when sickle cells get stuck in small blood vessels and block the flow of blood and oxygen to organs in the body.

“Giving sickle cell patients a more direct pathway into the medical cannabis program will permit them a non-opioid option to manage their pain,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Minnesota’s medical cannabis program already has Tourette’s syndrome as one of its qualifying medical conditions. Vocal or motor tic disorder is distinct from Tourette’s syndrome in that patients experience only vocal or motor tics, where people with Tourette’s experience both vocal and motor tics. Evidence from Tourette’s patients who participate in the program shows that medical cannabis can effectively treat tics.

MDH considered a petition for anxiety, but it was rejected pending further study this year. 2020 marked the third time anxiety was petitioned for the program.

“Anxiety is a broad term for a group of specific disorders,” said Malcolm. “We want to dig into specific anxiety disorders more and move forward carefully. The large number of patient testimonials submitted during the petition process tells us there is something there. However, we want to avoid unintended consequences – there is evidence that cannabis use can actually contribute to and make anxiety worse for some people.”

Patients certified for sickle cell disease or chronic motor or vocal tic disorder will become eligible to enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program on July 1, and receive medical cannabis from either of the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers starting August 1. As with other qualifying conditions, patients need advance certification from a Minnesota health care provider.

When the Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of the state’s medical cannabis program, the law included nine conditions that qualified a patient to receive medical cannabis. Since then, the list of qualifying conditions has grown to 15. The conditions on the current list of qualifying conditions include glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, autism spectrum disorders, chronic pain, obstructive sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable pain, seizures including those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease, terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of less than one year and cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting.

(Source: MDH)

Housing set for Le Sueur

An affordable housing project could begin construction in Le Sueur within the first quarter of 2021. CommonBond Communities is partnering with the National Affordable Housing Trust (NAHT), on a second phase of the Le Sueur Meadows housing project, with UnitedHealthcare investment. The first phase of housing dates from 2002.

The plans for Le Sueur Meadows II include 39 more units, eight of which will be targeted toward people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities, said Paul Cummings, senior vice president of NAHT.

“It’s a credit to CommonBond to really make the commitment to identify places where the need is there,” he said.
CommonBond, a St. Paul-based affordable housing nonprofit, was behind Mankato’s recent Dublin Crossing and Dublin Heights projects. The apartments added 95 units and had services available on-site to assist residents.

Le Sueur Meadows II will be much the same. CommonBond Housing will offer services ranging from financial accounting to building maintenance to connecting residents to social services.

The nonprofit has a great track record in Minnesota and neighboring states, Cummings said. He anticipated construction would start in Le Sueur in the coming months.

The goal would be to complete construction by the end of this year. Residents could then begin their leases in early 2022.

CommonBond manages 152 properties with 54 of them managed by third parties. NAHT partnered with CommonBond on four recent developments including the one in Le Sueur.

“We deeply appreciate our partnership with NAHT to provide 39 new homes for families in the city of Le Sueur,” said Cecile Bedor, CommonBond’s executive vice president of real estate. “The committed and talented team at NAHT genuinely shares our vision and values.”

“It’s great that there are organizations like CommonBond who are really trying to help create and preserve more quality affordable housing,” Cummings said. ” … It says a lot about an investor like UnitedHealthcare to come in and invest in their backyard.

(Source: Free Press of Mankato)

Input sought on life sharing

Interested in life sharing as an option? The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) seeks public comments on new resources for life sharing. Life sharing is a relationship-based living arrangement that carefully matches an adult 18 years or older who has a disability with an individual or family who will share their life and experiences and support the person using person-centered practices.

Currently, life sharing is not a formal waiver service. However, these new resources include information about how lead agencies, providers and interested individuals and families can use existing disability waiver services to create life-sharing arrangements for people who choose this option. The resources aren’t related to the Waiver Reimagine project.

Drafts for review were released recently by DHS. State officials are asking what was missed that should be added, what needs clarification and other questions. One issue to be addressed what are any community concerns about using existing waiver services to provide life sharing? The public comment period ends at 4 p.m., Friday, February 5. To learn more go to www.dhs.state.mn.us/ and search for “life sharing.”

(Source: Minnesota DHS)

Insulin help is available

Need help obtaining insulin? The Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program was created to help Minnesotans who face difficulty affording their insulin. The Minnesota Insulin Safety Net Program is implemented by MNsure, the state’s health insurance marketplace, and the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy

The program has two parts. The urgent need program and the continuing need program. Under the urgent need program- eligible Minnesotans can receive a 30-day supply of insulin immediately at their pharmacy for no more than $35. The continuing need program allows eligible Minnesotans can receive up to a year supply of insulin for no more than $50 per 90-day refill.

To be eligible for the urgent need program, participants must live in Minnesota, have an urgent need for insulin, have a current prescription for insulation, pay more than $75 each month for insulin and not be enrolled in Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.

Applicants must present identification proving Minnesota residency in the form of a valid Minnesota identification card, driver’s license or permit, or tribal-issued identification. For minors under the age of 18, a parent or legal guardian must provide the pharmacy with proof of residency. Visit MNinsulin.org and complete the application form to apply for the program. Pharmacists can provide help if needed. A completed application is then taken to a pharmacy with valid identification and an insulin prescription. Insulin can be give immediately but there is a co-pay of up to $35 for a 30-day supply.

MNsure certificated navigators can help Minnesotans enroll in the continuing need program. The website includes frequently asked questions and a list of navigators. To learn more about the program go to www.mninsulin.org

(Source: MNsure )

Waiver changes announced

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) CADI Waiver amendment package, which includes Waiver Reimagine streamlined service changes, effective January 11.

CMS has now approved waiver amendment packages that include Waiver Reimagine streamlined service changes for the Brain Injury (BI), Community Alternative Care (CAC), Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) and Developmental Disabilities (DD) waivers. Lead agencies can now begin to authorize CADI service agreements with Waiver Reimagine streamlined services in Medication Management Information Systems. DHS previously directed lead agencies to begin authorizing BI, CAC and DD service agreements in the December28, 2020, eList announcement.

CMS didn’t approve all of the changes sought in the waiver programs. DHS proposed adding remote support as an alternative service delivery option across the waivers through many services. CMS didn’t approve the expansion of remote support in this package of amendments.

DHS has temporary federal approval to use remote support as an alternative to in-person service delivery, through an approval that is only is effective until March 31.

Nor was a change for prevocational services approved. DHS proposed modifying the service description for prevocational services to add a requirement that people receiving prevocational services must also receive an employment service or day support services. CMS did not approve this amendment, which means people new to receiving prevocational services do not need to also receive an employment service or day support services.

With approval of the CADI Waiver amendment, DHS now has the authority to implement the streamlined service menu for all waivers as part of the first phase of the Waiver Reimagine project.

Starting January 11, a person on the CADI Waiver who receives a service affected by the streamlined service changes will receive the streamlined service during a service change or at their annual reassessment. For more information about changes to service names, updated HCPCs and frameworks, see CBSM – Waiver Reimagine streamlined service crosswalk.

The approved amendments also address the intent of the Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) settings standards more fully to support community inclusion and expand services to create more options for people.

Read the complete announcement, the history of the proposed changes and find links to other details at https://tinyurl.com/y65acntf

(Source: Minnesota DHS)

Allianz is games’ sponsor

Allianz SE, parent company of U.S.-based Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life), Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Allianz Partners and Euler Hermes, officially began an eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements as of the start of 2021, building on a collaboration with the Paralympic Movement that began in 2006. As the Worldwide Insurance Partner of the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee, Allianz companies around the world, including in the United States, are now supporting the athletes, teams, volunteers and fans that are part of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements.

“Allianz is proud to be the Worldwide Insurance Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements,” said Oliver Bäte, Chief Executive Officer of Allianz SE. “As a supporter of the sports ecosystem and through shared core values of excellence, friendship, inclusion and respect, Allianz and our 148,000 employees and 100,000 agents are excited to care and deliver for athletes, their families and their ambitions.”

Allianz is the sponsor of Allianz Field in St. Paul, home of Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC.

In the coming months, Allianz will expand local initiatives to connect with athletes and fans across the world. “Our teams have already been working together in key pilot markets to support athletes and the Olympic Movement,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “As we start this new Olympic year, we are excited to begin in earnest our global collaboration with Allianz.”

“Allianz brings global visibility to the athletes and values of the Paralympic Movement, and we look forward to our next phase working together,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons.

(Source: Allianz Life)