Now is the time of the legislative session when we have to make tough decision regarding our budget. In many areas, such as education and Local Government Aid (LGA), we are making investments to counteract years of neglect and decline in funding. However, one area of our budget did end up seeing a significant cut.
Health and Human Services (HHS) will be seeing a decrease of $150 million in funding in our budget in the House. Now, when put in perspective, this cut is not quite as devastating as you might think. The HHS budget is over $11 billion total, so the cut amounts to something like 1.5 percent. And while I want to ensure we have a responsible budget that both cuts inefficiencies and invests in critical programs, I voted against this bill. I wanted to send a message to my colleagues in the DFL party that I will not stand for cuts to our local hospitals.
The one bright spot is that I did have a chance to improve the bill slightly. My amendment will decrease the surcharge on nursing homes by over $25 million statewide ($440 per bed) starting in the next biennium. This will help keep our nursing homes on more solid financial footing. But the bill will still be hurting our local hospitals in Elbow Lake, Breckenridge, Graceville, Wheaton, and Morris. Each will end up losing thousands of dollars under this bill.
We are doing great things for education, local property taxes, and many other things this session. We were even able to get pay increases for nursing home and long term care workers. But our hospitals need to be more of a priority as well. We don’t know what the full impact of this bill will be, but it won’t be positive. Hospitals may be able to weather this new financial burden and avoid closing down, but I will not take that chance. I will not sit by and watch our communities lose critical access hospitals that save lives.
I will be fighting as hard as I can to get funding returned to those local facilities. It won’t be an easy fight. It might not even be possible to fix in this year’s budget. I’ll probably have to disagree with some Democrats and also some Republicans along the way. But I will continue fighting for these local hospitals for as long as it takes.