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Aid to nursing homes, grants for workers pass House in session’s final hours

Nursing homes were a frequent talking point for Republican legislators at press conferences throughout this session. Statistics were often presented about how many had already closed and how many more were in danger of doing so. It was suggested that the state needed to take some sort of action to help stem the losses.

This weekend, members of both chambers and both parties struck a deal to throw a lifeline to the state’s nursing facilities through $269.8 million of appropriations in fiscal year 2024. In the final hours of the 2023 session, the bill passed the House, as amended, 132-0 Monday and moved on to the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), HF3342 would provide grants of at least $225,000 to nursing homes, with additional funds available based upon a formula involving how many active beds are in a facility. The outlays would go out to nursing facilities in two equal lump sums on Aug. 1 of both 2023 and 2024.

“This is a great opportunity for us to address the needs of our seniors,” Noor said.

Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar and other House members applaud following the passage of HF3342, a bill to support nursing home facilities. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

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.

Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) spoke of the pandemic being the chief cause of the facilities’ financial crisis.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The bill was amended to add $18 million for partial reimbursements to hospitals for qualifying avoidable patient days.

There is some flexibility in the bill 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 that passed the House on Friday.

“I’m happy and disappointed at the same time,” Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said. “This has been a crisis, and we failed to address it until the last possible moment.”

“Better late than never,” said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring).

“This bill is going to go a long way toward taking care of those senior citizens who can’t be taken care of by those who desperately want to do so, their families,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch). “This is some of the best money that we’ve spent all session.”

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