Below you will find an update on AARP Minnesota’s legislative priorities during the 2021 Minnesota Legislative Session, as well as ways you can learn more and take action.
Minnesota Legislative Session Update – June 30, 2021
Lawmakers were in a race against the clock to finish their work before the end of June when the current budget expires, averting a partial government shutdown on July 1. The 2021 Minnesota Legislature passed a $52 billion budget after failing to agree on a budget back on May 17, the constitutional deadline set in statute for adjournment. Since that date, the legislature had been operating with limited transparency in working groups tasked with hammering out an agreement on the differences between House and Senate priorities.
AARP Minnesota fought hard on several issues impacting older Minnesotans, including helping older workers laid-off during the pandemic, funding the work of the Governor’s Age-Friendly Task Force, protecting vulnerable seniors in public housing, supporting essential workers and family caregivers, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.
In the end, AARP won passage of several priorities, including the repeal of the Social Security offset to Unemployment Insurance (UI), the extension of the Governor’s Minnesota State Age-Friendly Council, which includes funding for the Council’s work and for communities focused on improving the quality of life for older Minnesotans and protections for vulnerable seniors living in low-income housing.
AARP is pleased that lawmakers also used federal funds to make big investments in the home and community-based services older Minnesotans rely on.
Thank You AARP Volunteers & E-Activists
AARP Minnesota wants to thank our volunteer advocates and E-activists for taking action this legislative session to improve the lives of Minnesota’s 50+ population. Their voices helped make legislators aware of the many issues facing older Minnesotans. For more information on how to get involved contact Meghan Redmond at email@example.com. Stay up to date on opportunities to take action by signing up for our advocacy e-alerts at aarp.org/getinvolved.
AARP Minnesota 2021 priorities:
AARP is excited to report that lawmakers extended the Governor’s State Age-Friendly Council through 2024 and appropriated $3.9 million from federal COVID relief funds to conduct its work, which includes nearly $3 million to develop grants to communities. While AARP had pushed for an independent Age-Friendly Council, we are pleased with this outcome and will advocate for a permanent council next year. The Governor’s Council will coordinate the work of state agencies, local governments, communities, and the private sector to build a more age-friendly state. Grants will support communities to become age-friendly with an emphasis on structures, services and community features necessary to support older adult residents over the next decade.
By committing to becoming more age-friendly, Minnesota can improve the quality of life for older residents. This work will allow us to tap into the opportunities and solve the challenges of an aging population, and create communities equipped to be more resilient during times of crisis and disaster.
AARP wants to thank Representative Schultz (D, Duluth) for championing this legislation and for the support from Senator Jim Abler (R, Anoka) and other House and Senate Conferees in conference committee.
AARP fought hard to advocate for a repeal of the Social Security (SS) offset to Unemployment Insurance (UI) that unfairly penalized older workers who were laid-off during the pandemic. The final agreement repeals the law beginning on July 3, 2022.
While we are disappointed that it is not retroactive, and thus does not help the many low income older adults who were economically devastated by this law during the pandemic, the 2022 repeal date was a compromise from the Senate position which made older workers wait two years or even longer until the UI Trust fund had a positive balance.
AARP is pleased Minnesota joins other states in repealing this law.
Minnesota is the only state in the nation that reduces by 50 percent Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits for laid-off workers who, within the first year, either receive, have applied, or intend to apply for Social Security (SS) benefits. As a result, many low-income older workers were denied all state UI and federal benefits designed to help workers during the pandemic economic crisis.
AARP members across the state wrote letters, spoke with reporters, and virtually testified at the Capitol to tell legislators how this law created financial hardship for older workers in Minnesota. During a press conference, Roger from Rochester, MN, explained that finding himself ineligible for UI benefits was "….heartbreaking...I had no additional income or hope of returning to my job. I cut back on expenses including medication."
AARP thanks our volunteers for speaking out against this law. We also want to acknowledge the support of our authors, Representative Davnie (D-Mpls) and Senator Rarick (R-Pine City), and lead negotiators on the Jobs bill, Representative Noor (D-Mpls), and Senator Pratt (R-Prior Lake).
When the 2019 law was passed requiring Assisted Living (AL) licensure, several publicly operated and subsidized housing units known as Housing and Urban Development (HUD) facilities were exempt from the licensure law. Advocates, including AARP, knew the vulnerable populations served in these facilities were still in need of protections and fought to preserve the existing protections in law. Without action by the Minnesota Legislature before August 1, 2021, thousands of elderly Minnesotans would have lost rights and protections that have been in place for 25 years.
Though not as robust as AL protections, advocates were successful in keeping these rights in place including staff dementia training requirements and requirements for a written emergency disaster plan that has evacuation plans, addresses elements of sheltering-in-place, and identifies temporary relocation sites. AARP plans to bring forward next session legislation to strengthen the rights of these seniors to bring them up to the new AL standards.
AARP advocated for an emergency sick leave for essential workers left out of the Congressional Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as part of our agenda to improve nursing home staffing and infection control. This law would have provided emergency sick leave for essential workers, including nursing home workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also is an important public health issue and important for seniors who rely on these workers for their care. These hardworking, dedicated workers put their own lives at risk and saved lives by continuing to show up to their jobs even as their workplaces became the epicenters for infections.
Instead of adopting this provision, lawmakers agreed to “Hero Pay” for essential workers and appropriated $250 million. A panel of nine people will be appointed by the Governor, Senate, and House to determine who qualifies. According to the long-term care industry, if all nursing home and assisted living workers qualified for $700 each the cost would be $28 million. Clearly, there is enough money to pay for these workers and AARP will urge the panel to do so.
AARP was successful in garnering support and passage of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, authored by Rep. Morrison (D, Deephaven) in the Minnesota House of Representatives but, unfortunately, we were not able to get a hearing in the Senate and the policy was rejected during conference negotiations.
Like too many Minnesotans, AARP member Jessica struggles with the high cost of prescription medications. She testified to the shocking price tag of $56,000 she is charged to manage her rheumatoid arthritis, "Consumers can’t say no to the drugs that they need to live their lives. I can’t say no to a drug priced more than four times as much as my mortgage." It is stories like Jessica's that help lawmakers understand the impact of the high cost of prescription drugs as they consider policies to help Minnesotans.
The Board, which was the top priority for the Attorney General’s task force on prescription drugs and has passed in several other states, would evaluate drug prices and set limits on how much certain payers, including employers and state and local governments, pay for high-cost prescription medications. AARP believes much more must be done to lower the cost of prescription drugs and will continue to advocate for this important policy with Senators.
AARP believes we must do more to support unpaid family caregivers who are the backbone of our long-term care system. Without paid family and medical leave, caregivers can suffer financial setbacks, emotional hardships, and dire health consequences. As such, AARP has been advocating for several years for the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act which would allow up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a seriously ill family member or a worker’s serious health condition.
The House passed the Paid Family Leave legislation but once again the Senate did not hear the bill and rejected it in conference. In this legislative session Toni from Rochester, who has been fighting alongside AARP for years, shared her experience with lawmakers of the financial difficulty caring for her family members, “The value of a family’s emotional support and presence during a loved one’s illness cannot be measured, and it should not be degraded or punished by the fear of financial difficulty."
By passing a paid family and medical leave plan, we can keep workers who are caring for their loved ones on the job longer and help to reduce the placement of older Minnesotans in high-cost nursing homes often paid for by taxpayers.
GET INVOLVED - JOIN THE ADVOCACY TEAM
If you’re interested in creating positive change for Minnesotans 50 and older, then the AARP Minnesota Advocacy Team is for you! The Advocacy Team is a diverse group of volunteers working to educate on and advocate for issues that are important to AARP members and Minnesotans 50+. Advocacy Team members participate in monthly calls and regular meetings to stay informed about AARP-led state and federal advocacy efforts. Advocacy Team volunteers work alongside AARP Minnesota’s staff to visit local, state, and federally elected officials to discuss the benefits of legislation or policies, write letters to the editor, participate in and track issues during the legislative sessions, and more. Our volunteers play a key role in AARP’s mission to lead positive social change. If you’re interested in learning more or becoming a member of the Advocacy Team, fill out this short application and a member of the AARP MN Team will follow up with you shortly.
This story is provided by AARP Minnesota. Visit the AARP Minnesota page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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