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Minnesota flexes human services policies in pandemic

More than 30 changes to date bolster essential health care, economic supports


In the past five weeks, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has temporarily modified more than 30 rules and regulations to preserve access to critical human services such as health care, economic assistance and child care during the coronavirus pandemic.

The scope of the emergency waivers and modifications is unprecedented in the history of the state’s human services programs. With more than 1 in 5 Minnesotans relying on these programs, the changes have unfolded in stages:

• Health and safety was the initial focus, to ensure that people didn’t lose health care coverage or other vital support services, such as economic assistance and child care. This included changes to postpone renewals for state health insurance programs and allow people to get a 90-day supply for maintenance medications.

• Telemedicine and other remote services became the next priority, so that people could get care and services through phones and computer screens.

• Flexibilities to address workforce challenges came into focus next, as the agency works to support providers as they continue services to keep people as connected and healthy as possible.

“We are here to support Minnesotans in this difficult time,” Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said. “We are doing all that we can, as fast as we can, to keep these vital programs and services available and accessible through the COVID pandemic.”

On March 20, Governor Tim Walz gave Harpstead temporary emergency authority to flex certain policies during the peacetime emergency. Leaders of legislative committees that oversee the department must be notified of the changes promptly and can object. Harpstead approved the first 12 changes within five days of the governor’s order. Quick applications for federal waivers resulted in the first approvals within a week. To date, the federal government has approved all of Minnesota’s requests for emergency waivers during the pandemic.

“We are very grateful for the flexibility that enabled counties to pivot quickly to remote means of interacting with residents,” said Julie Ring, executive director for the Association of Minnesota Counties. “Letting residents address their needs from home has made an enormous difference. Letting county social workers remain in contact with clients using telephone and video options, rather than face-to-face visits, has enabled them to maintain high-quality services without risk to residents or workers.”

On April 24, Governor Walz signed an executive order to ensure that people who rely on state health care and economic assistance programs won’t be penalized for receiving federal stimulus money.

In collaboration with interagency work groups established by Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, the Department of Human Services has also been distributing emergency funding across the state for housing and child care providers, and issuing emergency food aid to individuals and families who rely on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The department serves more than 1 million Minnesotans, with programs and services that include health care, economic assistance and much more.


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