Despite our strong economy, one-in-five of our Minnesota neighbors rely on Medical Assistance (MA) for free government healthcare. That’s more than one million Minnesotans. The discussion in our state and across the nation is about what we can do to stem the growth of public welfare programs, while ensuring the sustainability and viability of these safety net programs for those who truly need it.

    MA, which is funded with state and federal tax dollars, was originally intended to help the disabled, children, and pregnant mothers. Obamacare dramatically expanded the program in 2014, and with the help of Governor Dayton, the number of people receiving free healthcare from Medical Assistance has nearly tripled, costing taxpayers over $11 billion annually. It is one of the fastest-growing parts of our state budget, and if we do nothing it will continue to grow rapidly, crowding out other critical priorities like education, roads and bridges, and more. Worse still, it will threaten the very viability of the program for those who need it most.  

    Looking at the unsustainable growth of this program, we are advancing a solution at the Legislature that centers on this simple, commonsense proposal: if you’re a healthy adult who is not the primary caregiver for a child or dependent, it’s reasonable to expect that you should be working, looking for work, volunteering or participating in a job training program for at least 80 hours a month.  

    Minnesotans are a compassionate people, and we all agree MA is a vital program for many. That’s why our legislation would not apply to a child's or dependent’s sole caregiver, or anyone with a disability, certain medical diagnoses, addictions, or other barriers to employment.

    Our legislation will bolster Minnesota's workforce and lift more Minnesotans out of poverty by connecting them with the thousands of good-paying jobs that are currently vacant. We learned earlier this year that for the first time in recent memory, Minnesota has more job openings than job seekers, and bringing more people into the workforce is a win for our economy, and a win for those whose new skills will bring them a healthy paycheck.  

    Additionally, this bill also saves Minnesota taxpayers money. Today, there are about 200,000 childless adults served by the program, and moving even a fraction of these individuals off of government welfare and into a good-paying job will curb the cost of MA in the long-term, ensuring it remains a financially viable program into the future.

    And to make implementing this policy as seamless and simple as possible, we’ve aligned requirements for our bill with requirements already in place for the federal nutrition program SNAP, meaning anyone who is meeting the requirements for the SNAP program would fulfill the requirements under this proposed legislation. Our goal is to provide maximum flexibility to craft a program that works for counties and participants on this public program, and there are measurable standards already in place.

    Our economy is growing, but so too is enrollment in our public programs. We want people to have healthcare that is better than a government program, and that can be achieved through employer-based insurance or purchased on the individual market. As we’ve shared in legislative hearings, with our constituents and with folks across the state—no one who meets these reasonable requirements would lose their healthcare, and the requirements will be tremendously flexible to ensure people can continue receiving the care they need.

    This is an outstanding opportunity to lift more Minnesotans out of poverty and help people get the skills they need to reach their full potential, seek out fulfilling careers, succeed in our economy and have a good-paying job. We think that’s a win for everybody.

State Sen. Mark Johnson
R-East Grand Forks
State Rep. Kelly Fenton