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Federal Affordable Care Act expansion impacts Douglas County Social Services

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Douglas County Social Services is preparing for what could be an influx in medical assistance cases come January 2014. An estimated 1,500 people could be added to the department's case load since the federal Affordable Care Act passed the House and Senate quicker than anticipated.

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Social Services Director Mike Woods said at Tuesday's Douglas County Board meeting some people on MinnesotaCare will be coming back to county-provided medical assistance.

"Certain assets and income guidelines have changed," Woods said. "The numbers are going to be huge."

Under current criteria, 25 percent of applications are denied. New eligibility requirements will change that amount, which means more people may turn to county assistance. Because the number of people needing help will rise, Woods requested to hire two new financial workers, with the option to hire two more should the need arise. Douglas County commissioners unanimously approved Woods' request.

Two financial workers will become eligible for retirement in July so if the anticipated growth in cases is not as high as the extreme scenario, hiring of two additional workers may not be needed. Woods said starting the hiring process now will start preparing the department for an expansion.

Governor Mark Dayton's budget includes implementing an optional medical assistance (MA) expansion to 138 percent of federal poverty guideline (FPG). This would include adults without dependent children with income between 75 and 138 percent of the FPG. The governor's budget also includes expanding MA to maintain coverage for children and pregnant women up to 275 percent of the FPG. Statewide, under the new eligibility standards, 107,472 people (57 percent of cases) would be transferred from MinnesotaCare to MA and 81,538 people (43 percent) would be new enrollees.

Under the new guidelines, one person is in poverty if their income is $1,284 per month or less. A family of four could make up to $2,614 per month, according to Douglas County Social Services staff.

In addition to the new positions, Woods received approval from the commissioners to replace 43 computers. Woods said computers that are three or more years old are starting to slow down and are not up to minimum requirements to run state software.

"We need computers that have bigger specs than the ones we're replacing," Woods said.

The department will be spending $10,000 to $15,000 for the new machines and software. Matching funds will offset the actual cost of $34,639. Some assistance will be provided through a 50 percent federal match; other aid comes from a 25 percent Social Services Information System match.

"My recommendation is to bite the bullet and get that number replaced this year so we're ready for the changes that are coming up," Woods said.

Although the computers are not equipped to handle the needs of the social services department, they are adequate for standard use. Woods said machines have been donated to nonprofits and educational facilities or recycled in the past. The county Internet technology department wipes all information from machines before donating or recycling.

SOMBER SILENCE

A moment of silence was observed at the start of the meeting in honor of Douglas County Library Director Karen Simmons who died Monday morning in a car accident near Glenwood. During the invocation, Pastor Mike Bartolomeo asked that Simmons, her family, and Haley Klimek, the other driver involved in the crash, and her family be remembered through thoughts and prayers. Klimek, 19, of Lowry, survived the crash and was transported to the Glenwood hospital. Simmons, 62, was four months away from retirement.

SHERIFF'S OFFICE DONATIONS AND GRANTS

Sheriff Troy Wolbersen presented the board with $450 in donations to the sheriff's department. Betty Reese, widow of Roger, and Norma Sorenson, widow of Delano, each donated $100 to the Honor Guard. Roger Reese and Delano Sorenson were retired officers from the Alexandria Police Department. Geneva Capital donated $250 to the D.A.R.E. program for supplies needed to promote the program in area schools.

Commissioners accepted an $18,057 boat and water safety grant. The amount granted in 2012 was slightly less than $18,000, Wolbersen said. Funds are used to offset expenses for the boat and water safety program over the summer.

REQUEST DENIED

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved a motion to deny an abatement of penalty and interest request in Carlos. Donald Froemming asked that a penalty of $1,310 and interest in the amount of $177 be waived as he was unaware the 2012 taxes on the property had not been paid. Froemming's understanding was that the amount due was prepaid as part of the purchase agreement when he bought the property in 2011. Commissioners did not approve his request as it could be seen as setting a precedence for future cases. Commissioner Jim Stratton voted to waive the fees.

PERMITS APPROVED

Commissioners approved two conditional use permits previously approved by the planning and zoning commission. Robert and Jeanne Shields will be allowed retail sales of lakeshore recreational equipment and outdoor storage of watercraft at Carlson Dock and Barge in Miltona.

Donald Froemming was granted permission to operate a non-retail auto body repair shop in Carlos. Froemming owns Image Auto Sales. Stratton expressed concern regarding vehicle overflow on the property. Stipulations in the permit restrict the land area rather than car limit, which Douglas County Land and Resource Director Dave Rush said should prevent the area from becoming a second car lot.

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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