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Special session victory: common-sense approaches reduce barriers during pandemic

Betsy Hammer
Jul 07, 2020

Thanks to state and federal emergency declarations associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services was able to make adjustments so that people could continue to receive health care, food support, and other needed services. As we’ve all experienced, the steps taken to protect our health during the pandemic has meant finding alternatives to business as usual, such as limiting in-person interactions. The pandemic also threatens to create greater hardship as many people find themselves out of work, making it even more important that Minnesotans can get support in putting food on the table or affording to stay in their housing.

During the June special legislative session, many of these flexible options were extended to allow continued use. We are still in a health and economic crisis: we applaud these common-sense measures and celebrate the success of removing barriers to make a difference for Minnesotans.

While the language and guidance around these flexibilities is wonky and complicated, the big picture is fairly simple: these emergency provisions removed barriers so that Minnesotans could more easily and efficiently receive the services they need to stay healthy, safe, and get by. Examples include: 

  • Automatic eligibility renewals for people who get their health insurance through Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, except in circumstances like an out-of-state move;
  • Recognizing the high levels of unemployment by temporarily lifting the work reporting requirements that some Minnesotans face in order to access to food support through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and providing increased emergency benefits;
  • Extended eligibility for refugee social services to help folks who need continued supports or are unable to find work due to the pandemic or recession; and
  • A host of options to receive health care and supports remotely, like telemedicine and phone visits with health care providers, including physical health, mental health, and adult care settings.

During the late June special session, policymakers passed House File 105 (Liebling), extending the length of time these flexible provisions can be used. The length of the extensions varies based on a complex web of state and federal authorizations, but generally speaking, Minnesotans will have more time in which they’re able to receive the services they need with fewer barriers. Keeping these flexible adaptations in place also allow those who deliver these services at the state and local levels to continue to do outstanding work during challenging times to ensure that Minnesotans have what they need.

Without the important action in House File 105, these flexible options could have ended abruptly after formal emergency declarations end, even while the need for them continued. That would present even more challenges and crisis for those who can least weather the storm. 

As the state of Minnesota, and the world, continue to navigate the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis, many of us will continue to turn to these essential resources to put food on the table, stay healthy, and keep a roof overhead. These sensible modifications are what’s needed to adapt to these unprecedented times.