For a few moments today at least, there was a bipartisan celebration of good work politicians can do.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and Republican and DFL legislators were all but embracing as Dayton did a ceremonial signing of the omnibus Health and Human Services bill. (The signing was ceremonial because Dayton actually signed the bill last Friday to meet constitutional requirements.)
Watching it all was Charles Van Heuveln, who has had a key role in influencing disability policies while living with cerebral palsy.
Van Heuveln played a huge part in a small portion of the bill that the Republican majority and Dayton made possible. That portion allows those with disabilities to continue to work and still receive Medicaid.
Legislators, such as Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, have been working on lifting the work restrictions for years. The restrictions have limited those such as the 64-year-old Van Heuveln to be paid no more than $681 a month after age 65 and still maintain Medicaid, which is vital to the welfare of the most disabled.
But that low income ceiling means disabled people often can’t afford to keep their homes.
“I couldn’t live like that,” said Van Heuveln, who for 18 years has been employed by the St. Paul school district. “I would have lost my home.”
The new HHS bill lifts the wage restriction, at a cost of only about $437,000 a year to the state.
During the signing ceremony, legislators turned to Van Heuveln as the key reason this area of law has been changed. Before the session, he wrote personal letters to each legislator explaining the situation. Republicans and DFLers alike responded.
This is not the first time Van Heuveln has had major impact on state policy. Going back four decades, he has been working to make fundamental changes in the lives of so many, advocates for the disabled said.
For example, it was his work as a young man that helped create the momentum to make the state Capitol accessible for all.
Again, the employment piece is a small part of the $18 million HHS bill. Recall that HHS had to cut its budget by almost $1 billion last session. This bill restores some of those cuts.
The new law also includes $5.9 million to fund a one-year delay in a planned cut in rates for personal attendants who care for relatives. In addition, $4.7 million has been restored to a program that provides cancer and dialysis treatment for immigrants living in Minnesota.
It also delays a 1.67 percent long-term rate reduction cut, giving the state more time to negotiate a federal waiver. Several other programs either received funding restorations or delays in when cuts will be applicable.
Most of the funds come from caps the state — and Jesson – negotiated with health care providers last year.
For Jesson, this was a huge day. It was just last week when she was called to Washington, where she was harshly criticized by a congressional committee for her oversight of the state’s Medicaid program. That criticism involved a $30 million refund/donation from UCare to the state in a deal negotiated by Jesson.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, accused Minnesota — and Jesson — of trying to “rip off” the feds by not sharing the money.
But any thought that Jesson might become a political target of the Minnesota GOP seemed to melt away in the warmth of today’s signing.
“She doesn’t deserve the treatment she got [in Washington],” said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chairman of the House Human Services Committee. “She’s done a great job.”
Other GOP legislators also were singing the praises of Jesson and bipartisanship this morning.
“There are a lot of good things we work on together over here,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. “They just don’t get noticed.”
Jesson’s smile was nearly as big as Van Heuveln’s.
“This week is starting a lot better than last week,” she said.