More than 30 people attended a town hall at Crookston’s City Hall Monday afternoon with Senator Mark Johnson and Representative Deb Kiel.  Today is the first day of a three-day nine town tour said, Johnson. “This is kind of the kickoff for our nine-town hall tour. We’re going to be around East Grand Forks today, Crookston and over to Fosston.  A lot of fun, a lot of folks coming out, it’s been a great event.”

Kiel said events like this are important to find out what the community is thinking and what their concerns are. “Really pleased with the [number of] people who have come out to find out what’s going on,” said Kiel.  “Even more important is to hear what the citizens are thinking and what their concerns are.  I always take this opportunity too, to let people know to call and reach out.  My email was down, but that is back up and running.”

Senator Mark Johnson spent part of the town hall discussing the fraud that has taken place in the state-subsidized Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). “I think everybody has heard a little bit about some of the fraud that’s going on and it should anger people,” said Johnson.  “What is happening with our taxes dollars getting siphoned off and, in some cases, put on airplanes and shipped off to foreign countries.  This is not what that was intended for.  It was intended to help low-income families that need that assistance to contribute in their jobs and roles, to the state of Minnesota.  What we’ve come up with on the Senate side is to freeze the dollars, set some benchmarks so we can hold government accountable and then let’s achieve those things.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask of our state agencies.”

Johnson said that if CCAP can’t meet those benchmarks something new will need to be looked at.  Additionally, Johnson has been working on a task force attempting to address the childcare shortage looking at regulations, licensing, and ratios. “There are all these regulations and ratios and how can we streamline that,” said Johnson.  “I’ve been a part of a task force this year that we’ve really looked into what can we do to change the business of daycare so people can actually do it.  I remember growing up my mom had a number of kids come over, neighbor kids and that was her business.  But now that’s more and more difficult to do and work in our small communities.  It’s one thing down in the metro having these things in place, but it’s completely different up here in District 1.”

Both Kiel and Johnson spent a considerable amount of time discussing mental health funding and programs, which Johnson said is one of the Top 2 things he hears about whenever he talks with City Officials, Superintendents, and other community leaders.  Kiel said providing funding for mental health is important to help people and families function.  “There are a lot of aspects of mental health and certainly we need to do something to get the help to people they need to function and take care of them and their families,” said Kiel.  “I think we don’t understand enough about mental health and the issues it creates within a family.  There is funding in the health care bill for that and that’s important.”

One aspect of the healthcare bill that was of concern to both the community members and Kiel was a lack of funding for nursing homes. “There is a cut in nursing homes, I’m very concerned about that,” said Kiel.  “We’re actually seeing nursing homes get in the black again.  Financially they’ve been having a hard time covering costs, getting a bad rap and trouble hiring people. They are really working hard to make sure they can do their best to take care of people.  More importantly, they need funding and when I see the healthcare bill my concerns are it’s not there.”

Both Kiel and Johnson also expressed the view a gas tax increase would be an inequitable burden to northwest Minnesota.  “Unless there is a gun bill up, I think the gas tax fees are the number one thing people are calling about,” said Johnson.  “That is one of the biggest disproportionate tax burdens we can have. It will hit us, everything we have is shipped up here or we ship to other places.  If you add up those dollars, not just for when you fill up but the cost of products going both ways we’re going to see the burden of those increases than any other part of the state.  I’m not against funding our roads and bridges, but how do we fund it so it’s fair and equitable across the state.  This just isn’t it.”

The crowd at the town hall Monday grew to more than 30 people who heard from and spoke with Sen. Johnson and Rep. Kiel