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House 10B candidates talk social issues

BAXTER--Both candidates for state House District 10B found some common ground Wednesday night at a forum at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.

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People gather to hear from DFL challenger Erin Wagner (left) and Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, of House District 10B Wednesday during the Lutheran Social Service candidate forum at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER-Both candidates for state House District 10B found some common ground Wednesday night at a forum at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.

Republican Rep. Dale Lueck and DFL challenger Erin Wagner discussed social issues like mental health, homelessness and resources for people living with disabilities.

Housing

Both Lueck and Wagner agreed the state government has a large role to play in ensuring Minnesotans have access to stable housing. There's limited residential facilities where people can seek treatment for mental health issues, Wagner said, so the staffing levels at those facilities need to be increased to meet the need. It's also important to offer more mental health services in schools, she said, adding because mental health issues start early it's critical to treat them early.

"We need to make sure that our buildings are updated," Wagner said. "And we need to install outreach programs so we get people off the street and admitted into facilities where they can be treated."

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Federal, state and county governments play crucial roles in providing housing options for the elderly and people living with disabilities, Lueck said, and they should continue to do so. Resources like Lutheran Social Services also help people find stable housing and provide assistance, he said.

"It's really about working together as a community to provide services so people can really be truly independent and reach their best and highest potential," Lueck said.

Homelessness is a major issue for Minnesota's youth population and both Lueck and Wagner agreed there should be support systems in place for their unique needs. In previous experience working with victims of domestic abuse, Wagner said she helped victims find an apartment so they had a place to stay for a while after they left their homes. She also worked to help them find jobs, practice interview skills and fill out job applications. Systems like that work and should be expanded, she said, in conjunction with more homeless shelters in general.

Systems like foster care are in place to help kids who can't stay in an unstable home situation, Lueck said. The problem comes when the child gets closer to age 18 and has to go out on their own, he said, and leave the foster care system. It's a blind spot that needs more focus and more resources, he said.

"Surround them with the kind of success situation and get them back on their feet," Lueck said.

Workforce shortage

Organizations providing services for people with disabilities are facing a workforce shortage, which is partly related to what those organizations can pay care workers, Lueck said. It's a complicated, technical issue, he said, but it's one that needs more work in order to address the workforce shortage.

"We lost really great workers in the nursing homes because they could go to McDonald's or they could go to the Dairy Queen and make as much or more money," Lueck said. "We've really got to fix that because we are blessed with some wonderful people that work in this field."

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Another part of the workforce issues for care workers is a high turnover rate, Wagner said, which comes from those employees feeling undervalued. A good way to keep those employees is to pay them what they're worth, she said, and to provide excellent benefit packages, so those employees stay in their field.

"Between the pay and the benefit packages, we would put together a program that says 'We, as Minnesota, value our caregivers,'" Wagner said.

Debt crisis

Both Lueck and Wagner agreed the growing student loan debt crisis is a huge problem and proposed different ways for the state government to address it.

Students who are borrowing money to pay for their education should focus on whether the career they've chosen will pay them enough so they can pay back their student loans, Lueck said. The state government could also address shortages in health care careers by offering debt forgiveness to students who work in those fields, he said.

"You need to go into that career," Lueck said. "You need to expect to stay in that career and pay back that loan."

Wagner and her husband both work in the fields their degrees are in, she said, and both went to public universities. Despite that, she said they both imagine they'll be in their 40s before they've paid off their student loans. It's a huge problem, one she said she'd work to address in the state Legislature.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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