Regional News in Review – December 2013

More housing will be built UnitedHealth has announced it is supporting a fund that will help construct hundreds of low-income […]

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More housing will be built

UnitedHealth has announced it is supporting a fund that will help construct hundreds of low-income housing units in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. The $50 million investment by the nation’s largest insurance company also aligns with a corporate belief that stable housing is a key component of better health.

The company is working with the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, a 17-year-old nonprofit that recently created a new program to attract Minnesota companies as investors. The businesses provide the equity capital to finance low-income housing projects, and, in return, are awarded federal tax credits for 15 years.

Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth is the first and largest investor in the program, known as the Minnesota Equity Fund, and the insurer’s participation is expected to draw other businesses. Discussions are underway with half a dozen other companies in Minnesota interested in “mission-related investing,” said Warren Hanson, CEO of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.

“It’s a way to build healthier communities and healthier lives,” UnitedHealth spokeswoman Lynne High said. “It fits with our mission perfectly.”

Four projects worth $18.5 million are complete or nearing completion, adding 118 rental housing units. Three of the projects are in Minnesota and one is in Illinois. A number of other projects in Minnesota will be announced in coming months, officials said. (Source: Star Tribune)



Money to help people remain healthy

Minnesota was given a green light to deliver better care and more choices for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The federal government has granted formal approval for the state to proceed with its Reform 2020 initiative—a nation-leading, innovative approach to delivering long term care services. This initiative, the result of bipartisan efforts, aims to help more seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes and remain active and independent rather than being forced into costly nursing facilities.

“Minnesota has been recognized as having the best long term care system in the nation,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “But we can do better—and we will do better—under this new model. Minnesotans deserve the choice to live with dignity, and get the quality care they need in their own homes for as long as possible. Hard-working Minnesotans, regardless of their abilities, should be empowered to contribute meaningfully in their communities and in the workplace. And if doing both of those things will save the state money in the long-run, that’s even better.”

Federal approval for the state’s new Alternative Care initiative will free up an additional $58 million over four years in state funds to reinvest in services that will keep more seniors and people with disabilities in their homes and communities. Those services include more employment opportunities, more help in choosing long-term services and quality care, more funding for community-based care to let people stay in their own homes, and consolidation of more than 160 separate services to provide one location to report the abuse of seniors and other vulnerable adults.

These measures represent just one portion of the state’s bipartisan Reform 2020 initiative. All told, the initiative is expected to save and reinvest an estimated $121 million over the next four years by transforming the state’s long term care system. Other key components of the initiative are still awaiting federal approval.

“We know Minnesotans are getting older, and that is going to put more fiscal pressure on our state in the future,” said Jesson. “Reform 2020 anticipates this and looks to get people help earlier so they can live as independently as possible for as long as possible.” (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)




Service dog returned to owner

A service dog reported stolen from outside a St. Paul gas station was reunited with its owner. The dog, which had been tied up outside of a SuperAmerica store because a clerk claimed to have allergies, was taken December 1. Video showed a vehicle pulling up and taking the dog off of its leash.

The little white dog, named Gummy Bear, helps the dog’s owner cope with seizures. The dog was wearing a green vest when it was taken, which should identify it as a service animal. St. Paul Police said the people who took the dog thought it had been abandoned and planned to take it to the Animal Humane Society.

Charges will not be filed. A police spokesman said the people who took the dog apologized and said they had no idea the dog had an owner, let alone was a service animal. (Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press)



Boards eyed for changes

State boards, committees and commissions are set for changes by Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers. State officials are eyeing more than 180 groups, which have a total budget of $321 million per biennium.  The groups eyed for change include some that serve people with disabilities. Some boards have not met for years. Others have membership requirements that are difficult to meet, leaving seats open for many years.

“I am not against the boards and commissions,” Dayton told the Star Tribune. “I am against the micromanaging that gets to be absurd.” The roster of boards has expanded with every new administration, change in legislative leadership and shift in public sentiment. Many were created to tackle specific, complex issues, while others appear to have been little more than consolation prizes for constituencies that did not get satisfaction from state lawmakers.

The group that has already asked to be downsized is the Minnesota State Council on Disability (MnSCOD). It has been downsized from 21 to 17 members. “We are the land of 10,000 boards,” said Joan Willshire, the disability council’s executive director. “That’s a good thing. That is one of Minnesota’s strengths. We really work with the people.” (Source: Star Tribune)

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