As the 2013 Legislative Session closes, the final budget bills have been passed by the House and Senate. Last week the omnibus jobs, economic development and housing bill (House File 729) received its final vote in both houses, investing $89 million in additional general fund resources to strengthen the state's economy by creating jobs, increasing workforce training opportunities and improving affordable housing options.
The conference committee agreement follows Governor Dayton's recommendation for providing loans and grants to local governments and businesses through the Minnesota Investment Fund and the Minnesota Job Creation Fund, investing an additional $54 million in these funds in FY 2014-15. The goal of these funds is to create between 12,500 and 15,000 new jobs in the state. The agreement also includes a one-time $1 million grant for economic development and job creation in an economically depressed area of the state and a one-time $6 million increase to a program that helps redevelop areas for various economic development purposes.
The plan increases funding for workforce and business development grants to nonprofit organizations and other entities by $1.8 million in FY 2014-15. The bill opens up most of the grants to a competitive process, where organizations must apply for funding. The final bill also directs $2 million in additional resources to services that help individuals with mental illnesses or significant disabilities maintain employment.
Also included is an unemployment insurance tax rate reduction for businesses, following the Governor's budget recommendation. The reduction will mean a savings of $57 million for businesses over the next two years, while keeping the unemployment insurance fund solvent.
Stable and affordable housing is important for attracting and keeping a high-quality workforce. In support of this goal, the Housing Challenge Fund, which builds rental housing in support of economic development, will receive over $4 million in additional funding in FY 2014-15. A new Housing and Job Growth Initiative, which builds affordable housing in areas of the state with job growth, will receive $10 million.
The final bill also makes additional investments in the Housing Trust Fund, which focuses on providing rental assistance. The agreement increases overall funding for the fund, but also targets rental assistance to stabilize housing for children whose families move frequently, ex-offenders reintegrating into the workforce, and a demonstration grant for high-risk adults.
Other housing investments include:
- Family homelessness prevention;
- Rental assistance for individuals with a serious mental illness;
- Rental rehabilitation throughout the state;
- Weatherization assistance to improve the energy efficiency of homes for low-income families.
However, not all valuable investments made the final cut. For example, there is no additional funding for Job Skills Partnership, which works with businesses and educational institutions to train Minnesotans to meet needs in the labor market; or additional affordable rental housing for low-income families throughout Minnesota.
The final omnibus economic development and housing bill takes important and timely steps forward in supporting job growth and developing a strong workforce.