Key leaders from both sides of the aisle at the Minnesota Legislature — who reached an 11th hour, end-of-session deal that provides a long-awaited $300 million in aid to nursing homes still reeling from the pandemic employee turnover and delayed reimbursements — touted their bipartisanship in the effort at a nursing home appearance in Coon Rapids on Tuesday. The occasion came after the first direct payments went out in early August to nursing homes across the state.
“Nursing homes have been facing a crisis for years, and after begging legislators for help, they are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater. “Though I wish this funding could have been allocated much sooner than it was, it’s getting done and it’s going to help the homes we entrust to care for our loved ones. I’m so happy to see local nursing homes finally getting the aid they deserve.”
Although Housley wasn’t at the event at the Park River Estates Care Center in Coon Rapids on Tuesday, she, along with Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and other key Republicans in the House were credited with making a late effort to strike a deal with Democrats on the $2.6 billion bonding bill that originally included less than $4 million in funding for nursing homes.
More than half of the $300 million in aid will be sent out to nursing homes in direct funding, which facilities across the state began to receive on Aug. 1 and 2.
The legislation also provides a $75 million grant program for employer recruiting and retaining nursing home workers and $51 million for a temporary but daily rate add-on for 18 months. The direct payment money is split into two checks — one that was sent this month and another that will be sent in August 2024. The grants are slated to provide at least $225,000 for each nursing home facility, but larger facilities can receive a greater grant amount based on the number of beds.
At the event Tuesday, Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, repeatedly emphasized the bipartisan effort that was needed to push the nursing home appropriations through in the final version of the bonding bill that was passed in the House and the Senate right into the last hours of session, much to the chagrin of House Republican leaders, who don’t believe Democrats are giving them enough credit.
“House and Senate Republicans were the only true champions of nursing home funding, and it’s disingenuous for Democrats to be taking a victory lap after refusing to prioritize aging Minnesotans this past session,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, in a statement Tuesday.
“Despite a record surplus, Democrats consistently ignored pleas from nursing homes — Gov. Walz and House Democrats dedicated just $3.9 million to new nursing home funding in their original budget proposals, and voted repeatedly against Republican efforts to truly prioritize nursing homes and address the existential threat they were facing.”
When reporters in attendance asked Hortman and Walz for reaction to Demuth’s statement, both provided tempered responses.
“There were a lot of different things going on at the end of the legislative session,” Hortman told reporters. “There was kind of an acknowledgement among our side of the aisle that there would be a play at the end to get the Republicans on board to get the bonding bill passed.”
With Democrats holding just a one-seat majority in the Senate, they knew they couldn’t pass a bonding bill without support from their Republican colleagues. Walz said that the public tends not to care exactly how the sausage at the Capitol gets made; they just want it to taste good and be delivered on time.
“There’s going to be folks who take credit for roads, take credit for schools, take credit for veterans, take credit for that — we’re not calling those folks disingenuous,” Walz said. “That’s how legislation works.”
But Demuth held fast to the effort her colleagues put in to ensure the nursing home funding made it into the final cut.
“While we’re grateful that we were able to pass this funding to help save nursing homes throughout Minnesota, it’s disappointing Democrats played politics with the lives of seniors until the final hours of session,” Demuth said.
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.