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10A candidates agree on problems, offer differing solutions

BAXTER--In the second local legislative forum in as many days, Minnesota House District 10A candidates fielded questions about their views. Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and DFL challenger Quinn Nystrom were two of eight participants in a forum...

People gather to hear from DFL challenger Quinn Nystrom and Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Baxter, of House District 10A Wednesday during the Lutheran Social Service candidate forum at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery
People gather to hear from DFL challenger Quinn Nystrom and Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Baxter, of House District 10A Wednesday during the Lutheran Social Service candidate forum at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch - Gallery

BAXTER-In the second local legislative forum in as many days, Minnesota House District 10A candidates fielded questions about their views.

Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and DFL challenger Quinn Nystrom were two of eight participants in a forum Wednesday night at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. The forum, attended by about 75 people, focused on affordable housing, homelessness and care for those with physical disabilities and mental illness.

The forum was moderated by Anne Gustafson from Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

Supporting stable housing

Whether the state should play a role in ensuring access to stable housing and what the role should be was the first question posed to candidates. The question included statistics about the proportion of homeless adults experiencing mental health issues-60 percent, according to the Gustafson.

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Heintzeman and Nystrom were in agreement that the state "absolutely" should assist Minnesotans in acquiring stable housing.

Heintzeman said he wanted to assure the record was correct in reflecting what the Legislature has accomplished on support for those experiencing homelessness. Reading from his smartphone, he listed multiple programs that were funded this biennium, including those supporting youth homelessness and the Safe Harbor Act, which assists survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking.

"The list goes on and on and on and on," Heintzeman said. "The state absolutely does have a very large role in making sure they are taking care of vulnerable folks. We certainly are continuing to do that."

Nystrom said access to stable housing was an issue in northern Minnesota and Crow Wing County in particular, where just one organization provides housing for homeless families-not individuals.

"We need more stable options and access for people to be able to have a home," Nystrom said.

Without a stable home, Nystrom noted addressing issues such as anxiety or depression becomes much more difficult. This ultimately has an impact on people's abilities to perform in their jobs, she said.

Mending the caregiver workforce

Ways to fix issues within the workforce of caregivers was another topic discussed Wednesday.

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Nystrom relayed a story shared by a constituent she met while knocking on doors recently. The single mother struggled with retaining a caregiver for her disabled daughter in their home. The mother quit her job to care for her daughter full time, and did not have retirement savings.

"Wages are not at a certain level," Nystrom said. "People then will just go to Costco or they will go to wherever the higher wage is."

Nystrom said providing a wage commensurate to the expectations of the job of caregiver was critical, along with supporting training for the skills necessary to perform it.

Heintzeman said he supported an initiative mentioned by Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, which would provide for a 5-percent increase in funding for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

He also shared experiences of visiting group homes and talking to those managing them. He said staff changes at the homes was the most disruptive for those being served. Caregivers are often tasked with deciding what's best for their own families in leaving the underpaid positions, he said.

Heintzeman said raising the minimum wage in the state led to unintended consequences, when often workers can go to someplace like Culver's and make more money than continue working in caregiving.

Addressing youth homelessness

The third topic broached by Gustafson was youth homelessness and the unique needs the problem faced.

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Heintzeman said there was a "significant lack of resources" for families that open their homes to foster children, noting he has close friends who house teenagers through the foster care system. He again pointed to funding for the Homeless Youth Act, which amounted to about $7.5 million through 2019.

"These are real needs that we have, and it's not as though it's just popping up on our radar," Heintzeman said.

He said although he does not serve on the health and human services committee, he is aware of the needs through contact with constituents.

Nystrom said it's disheartening to know that 4,000 young people are homeless each night. She said in addition to funding programs to help the problem, it would take "trying to be very creative" to find solutions.

She pointed to area organizations such as The Shop, Lutheran Social Service and churches that are working to solve the problem of youth homelessness. Pooling people's talents and "putting the best minds together" could help.

She also addressed a related issue of unsupervised children, pointing to sky-high activities fees preventing families from affording to keep kids busy after school. If kids have two working parents, she said, they might have nowhere to go.

"After-school activities really help with getting kids involved and looking to their future and building a skill set," she said.

Reversing the student loan debt tide

Gustafson took one question from the audience, which came from Becky Pakarinen, a financial counselor with Lutheran Social Service. Pakarinen asked candidates to explain how they planned to address the growing student loan debt crisis.

Nystrom said she was finishing graduate school and would soon be dealing with debt herself. She said educating young people early in life on debt, credit cards and being smart with money was important. She added students should be aware of a lot more options and know that choosing an out-of-state school or a private university would likely be more costly. This could also help in addressing the workforce shortage in the area, she said, by teaching young people about "all the different kinds of industries they could go into that maybe wouldn't require going such a long time to college."

Heintzeman said he was proud of the Legislature's move to freeze tuition in the last session, and also pointed to a open source textbook bill he introduced.

He said making open source textbooks available to students could have a significant impact on costs for students and families. Instead of purchasing physical books at $100 to $150 apiece, textbooks could be coordinated through the entire state colleges and universities system and could be updated throughout the entire semester.

"It's a great way to save kids a ton of money," Heintzeman said.

 

--UPDATE--

This story was corrected to state Rep. Josh Heintzeman is from Nisswa, not Baxter. 

The Dispatch regrets the error.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016HOMELESSNESS
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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