Join the Minnesota Budget Project team as our Senior Policy Advocate

The Minnesota Budget Project seeks a Senior Policy Advocate to advance effective strategies to address poverty. This key member of our team will provide analysis, explore policy solutions and engage with state and national partners to advance public policies that reduce poverty and improve the economic well-being of low- and moderate-income Minnesotans. The ideal candidate will have a combination of analysis and advocacy skills.

The Minnesota Budget Project is an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits that combines sound research and analysis with advocacy, engagement and communications strategies in support of policies that expand opportunity and economic security to all Minnesotans.

More information, including how to apply, is available at our website. The application deadline is September 11.

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Minnesota Budget Project seeks a Communications Manager

I am excited to announce that we are looking for a Communications Manager to join the Minnesota Budget Project team.

The Communications Manager will be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive communications plan to enhance the effectiveness of the Minnesota Budget Project in meeting its mission. The ideal candidate will have skills in strategic communications, media relations, new media, and writing and editing.

Applications will be accepted through August 25. A full job description and information on how to apply is available online.

-Nan Madden

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Minnesota ends budget year on a high note

Minnesota ended the recent budget year stronger than expected, according to preliminary analysis from Minnesota Management & Budget.

Their July Economic Update finds that state revenues have come in above expectations. The state’s 2014 fiscal year ended on June 30. State revenues came in $168 million, or 0.9 percent, higher than projected in the February Forecast. This is mostly due to higher income tax and sales tax collections. The Update cautions that timing issues could be at play with these preliminary figures, and these numbers could change as they are finalized in August.

While the news for state revenue was welcome, the national economy is a different story. The July Update’s outlook for U.S. 2014 GDP growth is a full percentage point lower than in the February Forecast. This is due to a much weaker start to 2014 than expected, with factors including the harsh winter taking their toll. But the economy is already rebounding from this temporary setback. Higher consumer confidence, faster employment growth, and improved factory production are all expected to contribute to strong growth for the rest of 2014 and into 2015.

The economic forecasters are fairly confident in their projections, and assign a 70 percent probability to their baseline economic forecast. They give a 15 percent chance for a more pessimistic scenario in which economic growth stalls and the U.S. barely avoids a recession; and a 15 percent change that the economy will be even stronger than the baseline predictions, due to better than anticipated foreign growth and related depreciation of the U.S. dollar.

This update brings the state good news. It also reminds us that the economy can take unexpected turns. It’s important for the state to prepare for the unexpected, and the increase to the budget reserve made in the 2014 Legislative Session is an example of the kind of sound planning that policymakers can undertake so that Minnesota can best meet the needs of its residents in good times and in bad.

-Caitlin Biegler

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Too many Minnesotans find affordable housing is “out of reach”

Minnesota’s new minimum wage will increase the incomes of 325,000 Minnesotans, but there’s still more to do for all Minnesota workers to achieve economic security. A recent report finds that minimum wage workers in Minnesota and throughout the country don’t earn enough to afford market rate rental housing.

When there is a wide gap between incomes and housing costs, families can’t afford other basic needs, families may have to live in substandard housing, or workers can’t move to where the jobs are.

Out of Reach 2014: Twenty-Five Years Later, The Affordable Housing Crisis Continues from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition calculates the “Housing Wage” for various parts of the country. The Housing Wage is the income needed to rent a two-bedroom unit while not spending more than 30 percent of a household’s income on housing. Minnesota’s Housing Wage is $16.46 an hour.

That means that a household needs 2.3 jobs at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to afford a two-bedroom apartment. If Minnesota’s new minimum wage of $9.50 was in effect today, a family with two minimum wage workers could afford an apartment. But housing would still eat up too big a share of the income of a family with one worker at minimum wage. For a county by county look at the report’s results, the Washington Post has put together an infographic.

In some parts of Minnesota, the Housing Wage is even higher. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, a worker needs to earn $18.19 an hour, or 2.5 jobs at the federal minimum wage, to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

There is not a single state in the nation where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a Fair Market Rent for a one- or two-bedroom rental unit.

The report calls on policymakers to close the growing gap between wages and housing costs by raising the minimum wage and increasing affordable housing opportunities.

In the recent legislative session, Minnesota policymakers did both.

  • The minimum wage increase means more low-wage workers will be able to afford housing.
  • The capital investment bills allocated $100 million for affordable housing, including provisions to preserve public housing in House File 2490 and projects to create more affordable rental housing in House File 1068.

These policy changes will help more workers achieve the financial stability that affordable housing can provide, and helps Minnesota’s growing communities to attract the workforce they need.

-Caitlin Biegler

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Minnesota’s economic growth beats national average while Wisconsin lags

Minnesota’s economic growth has outperformed the majority of other states, according to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The new report finds that Minnesota’s GDP grew by 2.8 percent in 2013, well above the national figure of 1.8 percent.

And that’s just a shapshot. The analysis also shows that Minnesota outperformed the national economy from 2010 to 2013. While the United States GDP grew by 6.1 percent over this period, Minnesota grew by 7.5 percent.

We have also outperformed many of our neighboring states, including Wisconsin, the state to which we are most often compared. Wisconsin’s economy has been weaker than the national average, growing by 4.5 percent from 2010 to 2013. This is despite strong claims that its tax and budget policy choices would result in stronger economic growth. As our friends at the Wisconsin Budget Project point out:

“Some conservatives have argued that Wisconsin’s economy would grow more rapidly because our state has been cutting taxes and practicing austerity…[But] Minnesota’s growth has been stronger for each of the last three years.”

This recent report is certainly good news for Minnesota. Additional good news is that Minnesota policymakers took action in the recent legislative session so that the benefits of economic growth will reach more Minnesotans. Raising the minimum wage will boost the incomes of about 325,000 Minnesota workers, and recent improvements to the Working Family Tax Credit and the Renters’ Credit will mean more families can make ends meet.

-Caitlin Biegler

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Number of Minnesotans without health insurance drops dramatically

It was announced yesterday that since September, the number of uninsured Minnesotans has fallen by over 40 percent. That means that 180,520 more Minnesotans now have health insurance through public and private health insurance options. Only 4.9 percent of Minnesotans remain uninsured.

Minnesota took important steps to expand health coverage through options under the federal Affordable Care Act. These include creating a state-based health insurance exchange (MNsure), covering more Minnesotans under Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid program), and preserving and improving affordable health insurance for working people through MinnesotaCare.

The report released yesterday, Early Impacts of the Affordable Care Act on Health Insurance Coverage in Minnesota, by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) shows that Minnesota has made substantial progress in covering the uninsured.

MNsure has reported that to date, about 236,700 Minnesotans have used it to find health insurance. We’ve reported before that MNsure is making a difference for many Minnesotans, and that many Minnesotans are using it to sign up for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare, as well as private insurance options. But this report gives us a first snapshot of how health insurance coverage has changed since the implementation of health reforms in Minnesota. SHADAC plans additional research that will tell more about the Minnesotans who still lack insurance.

The report released yesterday shows that many Minnesotans are gaining affordable, quality health insurance, and it’s an important step toward positive health for all Minnesotans.

-Caitlin Biegler

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Where the surplus went

After more than a decade of frequent budget deficits, a state budget surplus opened up the opportunity for different kinds of conversations in the 2014 Legislative Session.

The state’s two-year budget was set last year, but a projected $1.2 billion positive balance for the FY 2014-15 budget cycle allowed policymakers and advocates to discuss improving our tax system, increasing funding for critical services and saving for a rainy day.

surplus pie chart

By the time it adjourned, the Legislature allocated most of the surplus through two major tax bills, a supplemental budget bill and a capital investment (or bonding) bill. These bills included provisions to expand opportunity for more Minnesotans and make our tax system work better.

The largest portion of the surplus – 45 percent – went to the tax bills, which total $550 million in FY 2014-15 and over $1 billion in the next budget cycle.

  • The first tax bill (House File 1777) reduced income taxes for many Minnesotans through provisions that mirror federal tax changes, and repealed three business-to-business sales taxes. It also increased the Working Family Credit by about 25 percent, making our tax system fairer and helping families working at low wages to make ends meet.
  • The second tax bill (House File 3167) increased property tax refunds for homeowners and renters, and increased state aids to some cities and counties.

About one-fifth of the surplus went to the $262 million supplemental budget bill (House File 3172). The bill included investments in improving the quality of life for vulnerable Minnesotans and expanding opportunity, including:

  • A 5 percent increase in reimbursement rates for home- and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Grants to advance health equity.
  • Improved educational opportunities under the Minnesota Family Investment Program.
  • Increased funding for schools.
  • Improvements to early learning scholarships.

Policymakers also passed a substantial capital budget bill (House File 1068), commonly called the bonding bill because the state issues bonds to pay for capital investment projects. But this year, policymakers also used 16 percent of the surplus to pay directly for capital projects.

The surplus was also used to prepare for the next economic downturn through a $150 million addition to the state’s budget reserve. Healthy reserves are necessary to meet the needs of Minnesota residents even in the face of the unexpected.

Finally, three percent of the surplus went to other bills with a financial impact, and about three percent was left “on the bottom line”, or unallocated. This was a wise hedge against uncertainty, as the surplus was only a projection, not money already on hand.

-Caitlin Biegler

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MNsure makes a difference for more than 220,000 Minnesotans

More than 220,000 Minnesotans now have quality, affordable health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and MNsure, our state-based health insurance exchange where individual Minnesotans and small businesses can shop for, compare and enroll in health insurance.

As of May 19, 221,247 Minnesotans have signed up for health insurance through MNsure. MNsure has enrolled:

  • 50,683 Minnesotans in Qualified Health Plans.
  • 46,067 Minnesotans in MinnesotaCare.
  • 124,497 Minnesotans in Medical Assistance.

Before MNsure launched, approximately 500,000 Minnesotans lacked health insurance and many were unable to afford coverage. Through MNsure, qualified Minnesotans can receive federal tax credits that lower the cost of coverage or enroll in affordable public health programs.

When the initial open enrollment period for individuals closed on March 31, more than 32,000 Minnesotans who started the process of enrollment were allowed to continue to identify their health insurance coverage options by April 22.

Enrollment is still open for Minnesotans eligible for Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, small employers using SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program), and members of a federally recognized Indian tribe. They may enroll in health insurance through MNsure at any time throughout the year.

Others must wait until the next open enrollment period opens on November 15, 2014, unless they experience a qualifying life event like marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, or loss of health insurance coverage.

If the second enrollment period is as successful as the first, MNsure will be well on the way toward ensuring that Minnesotans have affordable, quality health insurance.

-Amy Brugh

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Legislature invests in health equity

While Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the nation, our state also has some of the worst disparities in terms of health outcomes between white residents and people of color. This February, Minnesota’s Department of Health (MDH) released Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota, which documents just how severe these disparities are and makes recommendations for how Minnesota can make sure all Minnesotans have the opportunity to live healthy lives, regardless of factors including race, income or sexual orientation.

This session, policymakers took steps forward to begin to address some of Minnesota’s health disparities with a particular focus on racial equity. The supplemental budget (House File 3172) includes a one-time appropriation of $501,000 for Health Equity Grants.

These grants will be administered by the Minnesota Department of Health and are available for “activities to address health equity issues, with an emphasis on refugee populations.” A portion of the funds must to be used for:

  • Advancing health equity in East African communities.
  • A conference focused on mental health in immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Women’s reproductive health projects.
  • Dementia outreach projects.

This one-time appropriation is a good first step, but the Legislature should continue to address health disparities in Minnesota. In 2015 and into the future, the Legislature must give serious consideration to the health equity report and make real progress toward healthy lives for all.

-Amy Brugh

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Supplemental budget invests in Minnesota’s future

The supplemental budget (House File 3172) approved by the Legislature last Friday and signed by Governor Dayton this morning makes some key investments to build opportunity for all Minnesotans. Using a portion of the $1.2 billion surplus projected in the February Forecast, the final supplemental budget includes $262 million in additional spending for this biennium and $850 million in FY 2016-17.

final budget table

The supplemental budget’s provisions for health and human services include investments to build opportunities for Minnesotans to lead healthy lives:

  • A 5 percent rate increase for home- and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities.
  • A funding increase for nursing facilities to fill any funding gaps that arise from the minimum wage increase.
  • Improved access to educational opportunities for participants in the Minnesota Family Investment Program.
  • Funding for health equity initiatives.

Education provisions in the final bill invest in our students and seek to narrow the racial achievement gap in our state:

  • A $23 million increase in per-pupil funding in the general education formula for all school districts.
  • Additional funding for early learning scholarships, which enable low-income children to receive high-quality early education.
  • Additional funding and improvements for English Language Learners, reduced price student lunches, and the Northside Achievement Zone and the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood.

Other provisions in the bill include funding for:

  • Housing project grants.
  • Greater Minnesota transit.

Even though this year wasn’t a budget year, policymakers took advantage of the surplus to make investments that create opportunities for many Minnesotans.

-Caitlin Biegler

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