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Minnesota expands health care for poor

ST. PAUL -- Another 35,000 poor Minnesotans will get health care under a bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed Tuesday.

The bill expands Medical Assistance, the state's Medicaid program. The federally funded expansion would save $129 million in the next two-year budget, supporters say.

Opponents worry that the state could be left paying a big bill if the federal government does not come through with promised money.

"This bill is another example of Gov. Dayton's reckless government spending and is a gimmick," Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said. "It just doesn't make sense for the governor and the current state Legislature to say we should burden future Minnesota state budgets."

Democrats supported the bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.

"Minnesotans who will be covered by this legislation desperately need

better-quality health care," Dayton said. "Instead of taking their health crises to emergency rooms, thousands of low-income children, families and individuals will be able to see doctors sooner and live healthier lives."

Huntley added: "This legislation allows us to cover more Minnesotans with health insurance and at the same time get more bang for our buck for Minnesota taxpayers."

The senior citizen advocacy group AARP praised the action.

"We represent thousands of consumers who have either gone without health care for years because they didn't qualify for coverage or have lost their health insurance during the economic downturn; they will benefit greatly from this expansion," AARP Minnesota Director Michele Kimball said.

Contracts OK'd

Minnesota state workers are getting a raise.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed new contracts Tuesday for five employee groups after lawmakers passed them earlier this month.

The contracts provide a 2 percent wage increase for most employees, starting retroactively from January.

State agencies will not get new money for the raises, and will be forced to absorb the $76.2 million increased cost this year.

Homeless aid

A House committee gave its blessing Tuesday to a bill providing money to help homeless youths.

The bill, with more committee stops to make, would spend $8 million to provide more counseling, housing and other services to avoid homelessness. Supporters of the legislation say 2,500 Minnesota youths are homeless.

"Acting now will allow young people to reach their potential as students, workers and future builders of our community rather than slip through the cracks and spend much of their lives, and too many of our collective resources, in emergency rooms and other costly public systems," said CEO Tim Marx of Catholic Charities.

Marx said homeless youths who are given help can earn thousands more annually and would cost governments $750,000 less in prison, health and other expenses over a lifetime.