Note: A deal to end the shutdown was reached after this article went to press.
BROWN COUNTY-As Minnesota enters the second week of the historic state government shutdown it is helpful to examine the human and personal consequences of the shutdown on the state's citizens. Often, the lost state programs and services are abstract, so the consequences of their absence isn't always immediately apparent.
Oak Hills Living Center Executive Director Carli Lindemann faced problems keeping proper staff levels because of the shutdown.
Photo by Josh Moniz
DNR Regional Director of Parks Jeff Sieve is unable to work during the shutdown and he worries about the deterioration of the state parks.
Photo by Steve Muscatello
Jennifer Bruns, married mother of an 18-month-old girl, faced serious financial problems from losing day care subsidies in the shutdown.
Jeff Sieve, Regional Director of Parks for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is among the 22,000 Minnesota state workers unable to work or collect a paycheck during the shutdown.
"I'm just waiting at home for this to end. It's extremely frustrating," said Sieve.
He said that his biggest concern about the shutdown was not for himself, but for the temporary and seasonal state workers who needed the work badly.
"It's a lot of people that really need the work. It's the college kids who need to work to help pay for college or someone who is relying on the work to be able to cover their expense for this part of the year," said Sieve
He said the shutdown posed a bigger problem for temporary and seasonal state workers than most people realize.
He also said he was concerned about the condition of the state parks and trails, which he said was a complete unknown at this moment.
"For instance, Flandrau Park's swimming pool was not drained, only idled and fenced off. That's never been done before. It's difficult to know what we'll be coming back to," said Sieve.
Finally, Sieve said he worried about all the Minnesotans unable to utilize the state parks and trails.
He said that he had no idea how long the shutdown deadlock would take to resolve, but he hoped it ended soon. He said he had no opinion on the legislators who are continuing to receive pay during the shutdown.
"They just need to keep talking to each other with civil discourse so that they can come to an agreement that will benefit the citizens of Minnesota," said Sieve.
Jennifer Bruns, a married mother of an 18-month-old girl, lost her child care subsidies until a court ruling on July 13.
The subsidies provide funding assistance to cover some or all of the cost of child care, particularly for low-income or single-parent families. The subsidy is most utilized by families that have to have all the parents work, which makes child care essential for that family. During the shutdown, the payments are not provided, so the families must cover the extra cost out-of-pocket or must pull their children from day care. For some families, this means a parent is forced to leave their job in order to stay home with the children. The recent ruling last Wednesday relieved that stress by restoring the funding.
For Bruns, the child care subsidies covers $320 of her family's $480 monthly child care expenses. She and her husband make approximately $1,000 each. Her husband's check goes entirely to the cost of the family's health insurance, so her $1,000 is responsible for cover the family's living expenses. Paying full price for day care would have eaten up nearly half of her funds by itself.
Neither parent could have afford to quit their job in order to stay home with the child. Bruns is working towards her nursing degree, and she must work a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to keep one of her scholarships. As a result, her family were forced to keep their daughter in day care and operate at a loss for the first portion of the shutdown.
"I was thinking [the shutdown] would be over in a week. We thought we could tough it out for the duration and maybe delay paying some bills," said Bruns, "Two weeks into it, it's looking like it's going to be going on a while. I'm just ecstatic that they changed their minds. It could have been very bad for us."
For the roughly two weeks before the court ruling, Bruns said her family lost a total of $240 in child care expenses beyond their usual budget.
Bruns said she thought it was bad that some state legislators were taking pay during the shutdown, despite Minnesotans losing benefits.
"It makes me really mad. We pay taxes, which covers [legislator's] paychecks. Right now, we still have to pay taxes but we're not seeing any benefit from them," said Bruns.
Bruns said that she hopes desperately that state legislators will come to their senses and find compromise soon.
"I'm hoping they realize that not everyone is wealthy as they are. Lots of families are highly affected by the shutdown, even for a short time," said Bruns.
Carli Lindemann, former Executive Director of Oak Hills Living Center nursing home in New Ulm, faced very difficult issues keeping her facility properly staffed.
Lindemann's final day at Oak Hills was on Friday because she is moving to another job in Alexandria. However, she still shared the challenges of running a nursing home during the shutdown.
She said that, initially, there was a wide variety of concerns about whether many vital services and programs, like medical assistance payments, would continue during the shutdown. Since then, many of those important programs have been deemed essential services and have been allowed to continue.
However, Lindemann said that there is still the issue of nurses and physical therapists being unable to obtain their medical license during the shutdown. She said that at Oak Hills, two nurse assistants have completed the schooling and training required to become nurses. But, the nursing assistants were not able to get their licenses processed before the shutdown began. As a result, they are unable to work as a nurse until the shutdown ends and their licenses are approved.
"The positions are open and waiting for them, so we need them to start working soon," said Lindemann.
She said that she was aware that other nursing homes also faced the problem, and that it made it much harder to keep the needed staffing level of nurses and physical therapists.
Lindemann that since there were many government employees laid off, the state legislators should likewise not collect checks for the same duration.
"I feel that I speak on behalf of all Minnesotans in saying that I hope this gets resolved as soon as possible so that we can move forward as a state," said Lindemann.
She said that she believes a mix of revenue increases and budget cuts will equally be needed to resolve the deadlock.
"In my experience running a business, you have to look at both to make it work. If you take certain options off the table with pledges, you close yourself off from being able to be open-minded to other opportunities," said Lindemann.
Waiting for Resolution
Meeting between Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican Legislature has been sparse in the over two weeks since the state government shutdown. Their main deadlock has been over whether to resolve the $5 billion state deficit through increased revenues and taxes, or through budget cuts alone.
This has left all the affected Minnesotans in limbo, anxiously waiting for the problem to be resolved. The feeling has largely been that a mixed approach will be needed to solve the budget. But, ultimately the affected Minnesotans are just hoping whatever solution is come, that it comes quickly.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)