Local Lawmaker's View: State willing to spend — just not on those in nursing homes

From the column: "Facilities had staffing limitations, as employees who were COVID-positive or -exposed were out for 14, 10, seven, or five days over ... two years — without a second or third line like in hockey."

Contributed photo / Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar hugs her Great Aunt Helen Anderson.

I hope this finds you well this Easter season. After near-record snowfall, I think everyone feels ready to dig out of winter 2023. While we are digging out of snow, I have been digging through more than 3,000 bills introduced on the Minnesota House floor. While most did not get heard at committee, there are many on the record.

The last general-fund budget was $51.6 billion, and the Democrat’s next budget is $71.9 billion. This is a proposed 28% increase in spending. With a session that started with nearly $20 billion in surplus, it seems strange to me to see this level of spending.

Since many of you write to me daily or call, I want to let you know that the House and Senate minority party has called for the vote on the floor to eliminate Minnesota’s state tax on Social Security once and for all. The DFL majority voted this down both times.

I authored H.F. 2181 and H.F. 1217 to eliminate the taxes on public pensions and Social Security. I am not giving up hope the Democrats will come together to get this done for seniors across Minnesota.

Speaking of seniors, I am very disappointed the budget includes zero additional funding for nursing homes. There are 300 in the state; four closed last year, and two are slated to close — with more likely to follow.


Duluth and area hospitals are full and waiting to discharge seniors, and if more nursing homes close this will increase a pressing bottleneck problem for in-bed hospital stays and ER beds. This results in seniors in the highest-cost center possible, the hospital. Currently, nursing homes are the only other setting with 24-hour nurses. While I appreciate the funding for assisted living, disabilities, home care, and personal-care-assistance services, I am sounding the alarm for Minnesota. When assisted living facilities have residents with change of conditions that exceed their care level, or someone is in need of highly skilled services, the nursing home is where providers and families seek.

I was surprised to learn nursing homes were fined $1 million during COVID, and assisted living facilities were fined $3 million. These fines were based on surveys with expectations of a non-COVID environment. The reality is most facilities had staffing limitations, as employees who were COVID-positive or -exposed were out for 14, 10, seven, or five days over the course of two years — without a second or third line like in hockey. It seems odd that the very entity setting the rules would then fine the providers during a pandemic. These fines put many providers on credit lines to pay for food, supplies, and payroll. Just like homeowners, these settings have mortgages to make, too, and many are in jeopardy. The reality is you can’t grow an employee in a petri dish.

If H.F. 2, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, passes, many unintended consequences are likely in every community. The reality is the program costs money and then every employer also has additional costs to do shift replacement at a time when every Minnesota workplace is struggling. You will find many restaurants open only on certain days or for limited hours. What will 24-hour settings do?

This is not the time to add a monumental program with a potential for granting 24 weeks off per year, plus vacation and sick time, not with every business, health care provider, school, county, and city recovering financially. I think more work can be done on this to find solutions that work for everyone, and now is not the time. When I look at the seed money of $1.6 billion to start this new government program, I realize the state is willing to spend — just not on those in nursing homes.

It is all about choices. Let’s put those who built this state and country first.

Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar, R-Fredenberg Township, represents Minnesota House District 3B. She wrote this for the News Tribune.

Natalie Zeleznikar
Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar

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