The 2015 session is off to a very productive start. Minnesota’s economy continues to grow and the outlook for this next biennium is strong. Because this is a budgeting year, priority legislation for the next several weeks will have policy implications impacting the 2016-2017 budget.
I have a number of initiatives I am chief authoring and will share a couple that have had recently committee hearings. I also wanted to share information on the very important Homeless Youth Act that just passed the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.
Your views are very important to me and I appreciate the many recommendations I have received from so many of you.
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Senate File 39, Minnesota Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE Act).
Chief Author: Senator John Hoffman
On December 19, 2014, after many years of bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate and House, The Achieving a Better Life
Act became law. This federal action has paved the way for states to enact their ABLE Act. SF 39, when enacted allows eligible individuals with disabilities the right to establish Minnesota Achieving a Better Life Experience accounts for beneficiaries. With passage of this law, it is estimated that over 100,000 Minnesotans of any age, with disabilities diagnosed before the age of 26, will be eligible to establish accounts. The ABLE Accounts will function much like 529 accounts (qualified tuition accounts) used to save for higher education.
Currently, people with disabilities begin losing benefits if they have savings of more than $2,000.00. With passage of the Minnesota ABLE Act, annual total contributions from all sources to any single ABLE account may not exceed $14,000 and there can be no contribution that would cause an account balance to exceed $350,000. If an account exceeds $100,000, Social Security Insurance and Medicaid benefits are suspended until the account is spent down to under $100,000. For perhaps the first time, public policy is recognizing the extraordinary expenses people with disabilities and their families face. Earnings on an ABLE account may be withdrawn tax-free provided the funds are used for the beneficiary’s qualified expenses. SF 39 has passed the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, the Judiciary Committee and will soon be taken up by Finance and Taxes.
Senate File 36, Advocating Change Together (ACT). Chief Author: Senator John Hoffman
SF 36 is legislation to appropriate money for training in the furtherance of implementing the Olmstead Plan. The Olmstead Plan requires the state of Minnesota to establish greater integration and inclusion for people with disabilities. This means people with disabilities living, learning, working, and participating in life and in our communities in the most integrated setting possible. This establishes equity in Employment, Transportation, Supports and Services, Lifelong Learning and Education, Healthcare and Healthy Living and Community Engagement.
Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a non-profit, disability rights organization that is run for and by people with disabilities. ACT’s programs seek to build the awareness and skills of individuals with disabilities. ACT does this by building the awareness and skills of individuals by providing information, training, and leadership opportunities.
SF 36 will appropriate modest funding FY 2016-17 from the Health and Human Services budget so that ACT provides training to self-advocates to advance the goals of the Olmstead Plan. Most of the funds will be awarded as sub-grants to facilitate the implementation of the Olmstead Plan throughout the state. SF 36 has passed the Health and Human Services Finance Committee and may be included in the Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill.
Senate File 06, “4K for Kids”. Chief Author: Senator John Hoffman
SF 06 would provide the opportunity for every 4 year old in Minnesota to enroll in a public school Pre-K program for free. This would extend the constitutional guarantee of a free and equal public K-12 education, to an E-12 education. It is optional and every family would decide what is best for their young student.
If Minnesota wants to be on the cutting edge of educational achievement and workforce development, and we do, investment in more quality early childhood education is essential. We know through studies that 90 percent of brain development occurs before the age of 5. Right now, fewer than half of Minnesota’s children (15,400) are fully equipped with the basic skills they need to be successful in school.
The Pre-K programs will be run through public school districts that: meet stringent requirements for curriculum assessments; will employ licensed teachers; will offer comprehensive family services; and develop collaborative partnerships with school-based early childhood programs, kindergarten teachers, other school officials, Head Start programs and community-based child care programs.
The Governor also has a universal Pre-K proposal and I look forward to working with him to bring a strong enhanced Pre-K bill forward. SF 06 has passed the E-12 Education Policy and Finance Committee for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Education bill.
Senate File 548, Homeless Youth Act. Chief Author: Senator Scott Dibble
On any given night, an estimated 4,080 Minnesota youth experience homelessness. To provide comfort and care for these youth, legislation has been introduced to fund an additional $2 million a year for programs under the Homeless Youth Act. I want to commend and thank the community of Brooklyn Park for opening the very first homeless overnight youth shelter in the Twin Cities suburbs.
The need for support for homeless youth is large: in the last year alone, the Department of Human Services received applications for over $20 million from 51 organizations statewide. Furthermore, 25% of homeless adults first experienced homelessness before the age of 17. The burdens of homelessness cost society a great deal of resources in health care, education, housing, and social services.
With additional funding, homelessness organizations can host and help more youth, expand emergency shelter beds, and provide more transitional housing options, as well as increase street outreach and drop-in centers. By helping our homeless youth through these and other resources, we can help them find sustained and stable housing, allowing for a future that is increasingly safe and dependable. SF 548 has passed the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee and been re-referred to Finance.