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The Minnesota Legislature needs to keep working to support those most in need

During our most recent session, Senate Republicans stopped the Legislature from providing critical support to the very people our faiths implore us to protect: the poor, the elderly, and the homeless.

Minnesota State Capitol
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minnesota State Capitol
The holidays are a time for many of us to reconnect with the faith teachings that guide us throughout the year. As a Catholic, the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 25) is a lynchpin to both my faith and the work I try to do in government. When Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, whatever it is we did for “the least of these” is what we did for God.

Being in government means I have the responsibility to practice this in the policies we enact. Unfortunately, that’s not how Senate Republicans see it, despite so many of their own proclamations of faith.

And as a daughter of a single mom who counted on food stamps and housing aid to make ends meet, I know government is integral to keeping Minnesota’s promise to care for those in need. During our most recent session this month, Senate Republicans stopped the Legislature from providing critical support to the very people our faiths implore us to protect: the poor, the elderly, and the homeless.

Senate GOP stopped one-time $500 payment

Minnesotans are struggling to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads. But Senate Republicans stopped a one-time emergency payment of $500 to our lowest-income families. I can’t imagine a time when these funds could have helped working and struggling families more: months into a pandemic that has devastated their way of life and a few weeks before Christmas. But the truth is for Senate Republicans, the very notion of this one-time money – which wouldn’t have raised any taxes — was a non-starter. They left out our poorest children and families.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for Minnesota’s long-term care facilities. Residents are older and many have underlying medical conditions, making them more susceptible to serious symptoms or death due to COVID-19. This risk was compounded by the congregate living settings and staffing shortages that existed long before the pandemic. While our administration’s Five-Point Plan successfully mitigated some of this impact, many of these strategies – like emergency staffing, testing programs, and case management – cost money. Without further funding, these life-saving strategies could end. Despite Republicans repeatedly claiming Minnesota should prioritize long-term care response, they decided to stop funding these critical efforts. They left out our elders in long-term care.

Plight of Minnesota’s homeless

And finally, our neighbors experiencing homelessness are especially susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19. They are five times more likely to end up in the hospital or ICU than Minnesotans in general. Bringing people inside safely from the cold is life-saving work, and essential to keeping hospital beds open and reducing demand on heroic health care workers. But even once inside, shelters are often crowded. Tight quarters limit safe places to distance and isolate from others, which is critical to stopping the spread of the virus. Along with the DFL caucuses in the House and Senate, we requested funding to provide services to adults, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. This funding would maintain access to spaces where Minnesotans experiencing homelessness can safely isolate and provide more support for shelters and outreach workers who are doing critical work to keep COVID cases low among Minnesota’s homeless population.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Senate Republicans stopped this much-needed support for the homeless. They have jeopardized the efforts of shelters and outreach workers across the state. They left out our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Right before Christmas, they told them there was no room at the inn.

Federal relief won’t fill gaps

I am grateful that the federal government’s recent relief bill will support many of the programs we fought for – but we know there was a lot left out at both the federal and state level. It will not fix the gaps that Senate Republicans have chosen not to fill. As Minnesotans, we have long prided ourselves on setting aside politics for the greater good. We donate food to the hungry, coats to the cold, and gifts to those who wouldn’t otherwise have them under the tree. Never is that tradition more celebrated than during the holiday season – and at a time when COVID has laid bare disparities that many Minnesotans face, never has that tradition been more needed.

As we celebrate, we are called to be generous, to hope, to love one another. This pandemic isn’t over, and neither is our fight for Minnesotans. As we move toward a new year and a new legislative session, I am more determined than ever to fight for our Minnesota values so that we can continue to care for Minnesotans who need us most.

Peggy Flanagan is the lieutenant governor of Minnesota.

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