Good morning, and happy Friday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Lawmaker calls for changes to Snowbate program. State officials stressed Thursday they are moving to craft new rules for a film and television production incentive program, while a Republican lawmaker called for legislative scrutiny into a quarter-million-dollar rebate to the “Tonight Show” when it was in Minnesota for the Super Bowl. Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, said he was bothered to learn of the subsidy in a report from MPR News. The “Tonight Show” accessed incentives through the Minnesota Film and TV Board’s Snowbate program. While the NBC late-night show told the state it spent millions on the 2018 episode, it qualified for more than $266,000 award in return. State law prohibits rebates to talk shows, but the “Tonight Show” was ultimately deemed a variety show. West said the fact that some associated with the board were troubled by the arrangement means lawmakers should be, too. “We need to really nail down these guidelines so they can’t reclassify this show to get funding. That was ridiculous,” West said. “We need to know how much of this gamesmanship is going on.” Nolan is part of the GOP House minority, so he would have to convince Democratic committee leaders to convene a hearing. A spokesman for the House DFL caucus was looking into how his committee chairs would proceed in response to the request. (MPR News)
2. Two top staffers leaving Human Services Department. Two top officials in the Minnesota Department of Human Services are leaving the agency. The departures of deputy commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson were confirmed Thursday in an emailed statement from DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey. “I am grateful for the decades of service from Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson, and for their willingness to stay in their positions through the transition from the Dayton to Walz Administration,” said Lourey. “Their guidance, leadership and wisdom was invaluable during the legislative session. We are working to identify an interim deputy commissioner of policy and hope to announce that information in the coming days.” The department did not provide dates or any other information about why they are leaving. The departures are happening seven months into the administration of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who appointed a slew of new commissioners and retained others to run two dozen state agencies as part of the transition from the previous administration. Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the departures seem “unplanned” and “hasty.” “I’m very concerned about this. It leaves a very big hole in the leadership of DHS,” said Abeler, who chairs the chamber’s Health and Human Services Policy Committee. (MPR News)
3. Fraud investigator still on leave. Minnesota’s top investigator of child care fraud has been paid about $42,000 since she was put on leave nearly four months ago. Inspector General Carolyn Ham was put on paid leave March 18 after an audit singled her out in detailing a rift within the ranks of those responsible for rooting out fraud. She makes $132,880 a year, according to the Department of Human Services. Ham had been put on leave while DHS officials investigated a complaint against her. The department said Wednesday that the investigation is still going, and refused to elaborate further. State laws require officials to acknowledge the existence of a complaint against a public employee, but the details of the complaint are not disclosed unless a worker is disciplined. A March report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found “pervasive” fraud in a state-administered child care program. The audit painted a picture of a team of 14 fraud investigators who seemed on a different page than their boss, Ham, who oversees some 250 employees charged with oversight of human services programs. State Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, questioned the length of the investigation. She criticized DHS and the administration of Gov. Tim Walz for not firing Ham earlier. “I’m not exactly sure where this investigation is going,” Franson said. “The fact that she is sitting at home, doing nothing, getting paid for her incompetence, is only going to enrage taxpayers further.” Ham could not be reached for comment. (Pioneer Press)
4. How will we pay the growing cost of senior care? By 2030, 1 in 5 Minnesotans will be 65 years old or older. And those numbers alone will pressure on the state’s long-term care systems in ways never seen before. “[Even] if services weren’t getting more expensive, just the sheer number of people that will be accessing services increases the investment significantly,” said Rajean Moone, executive director of the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging. “And many of these are entitlement programs, so the increase is not capped. If you qualify for Medical Assistance, you’ll get Medical Assistance and we’ll pay for the services that you need.” Medical Assistance — the state’s Medicaid program — pays for a lot of seniors’ long-term care services like nursing homes, assisted living or home care services, among other things. When someone paying for long term care has nearly exhausted their savings, they qualify for Medical Assistance, which then pays for the care. How Minnesota addresses those rising costs — either through increased funding or cost-cutting — while also funding other priorities like education and infrastructure, is far from settled. “We need to talk about it now because this is such a huge challenge,” said Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley. Eken has proposed a long-shot idea — a constitutional amendment that would dedicate funding to long-term care in the state. Eken’s goal is to ensure senior care doesn’t compete with general fund dollars from other priorities such as infrastructure or education. (MPR News)
5. New U of M president says she’s ready to get started. The new president of the University of Minnesota is ready to hit the ground running. Joan Gabel gave her first report as president to the university board of regents on Thursday. She told regents she is ready to take leaps where needed and incremental steps when necessary to advance the mission of the university. Gabel is 11 days into the job of president. She’s the first woman to hold the position at the University of Minnesota since it was founded in 1851. She called it a historic moment that she was honored and humbled to be a part of. “It’s very important that anyone, who might not see themselves reflected in the position or goal that they aspire to achieve, know that it’s possible for them,” Gabel said. “I hope that I’m showing that not only to women and girls on campus and in the community, but anyone who doesn’t see themselves reflected in what it is they hope to achieve.” When asked what she will focus on in her first months, Gabel talked about making effective use of the institution’s budget and investing in student well-being. (MPR News)