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Some Hubbard County functions could be affected by state shutdown

If you have a driver's license renewal coming up, better get on it.

Ditto for a July wedding. Get the license now.

As Minnesota moves closer and closer to a government shutdown, county offices that perform state functions are preparing for the worst and asking questions they aren't getting answers to.

Loretta Mattson wants to know if county personnel can even take driver's license photos in Hubbard County and send them into the state, pending test results. They know they cannot administer the tests.

Are we essential or not? That question may or may not be decided in Ramsey County District Court Thursday as the landscape of what will be covered changes hourly.

Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler holds out hope both sides are posturing in the public relations war.

"Clients are already calling us" because of letters sent out by the Department of Human Services last week when 600,000 recipients were told their health and welfare benefits could abruptly stop if the state runs out of money July 1.

"I think it's a pile of doo doo," a disgusted Bessler said at last week's county board meeting. The letters tell clients to go to the county for answers, but Bessler said he does not have divine providence and can't ascertain what will happen. He resents the state throwing the problem on the county's back.

Because programs such as food stamps are federally funded, Bessler says the state must continue to administer those programs or risk losing the funds. However, delays in payments and benefits is almost a certainty, he added.

"The big dollars are in the medical assistance program," he said. "If the state's gonna collect the (federal) money it has to operate by the rules and regulations," he said. "We don't make the payments, but we're still taking applications to determine eligibility.

"There's a lot of political posturing," Bessler said. "The pressure is on to come up with a resolve." Bessler expressed disappointment the state "spent $300,000 in postage sending out these notices" to county social service clients.

Attorney General Lori Swanson asked that law enforcement functions and health care programs be deemed essential services. The governor Monday asked the courts to decree that health care providers be paid even if the state runs out of money.

"If the state shuts down the people processing the claims could be cut and you'll hear moaning and groaning," Bessler promised commissioners.

"Some smaller providers, the non-profits, may have to borrow money to stay afloat," Bessler said.

Local offices have become inundated with questions like: "'Is Gramma going to be able to stay in the nursing home? What if my childcare provider won't take my kids?' People are getting bent out of shape," Bessler said.

The smaller mental health providers could experience cash flow problems without prompt state reimbursement, Bessler believes.

But Bessler has long believed social services programs are their own worst enemy, fostering a system of dependence rather than self-sufficiency.

"I'm expecting a 30-day shutdown," Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne said.

"I think 30 days will get some of them legislators unelected," commissioner Cal Johannsen suggested.

Meanwhile courts and public defenders are getting notices, Dearstyne said. And in 2005 although courts were deemed to be performing core functions, that's not necessarily guaranteed this go-around.

An in the ultimate irony, state employees receiving layoff notices qualify for unemployment "but if there's no one staffing the unemployment offices," requests for benefits won't be processed, he said.

And rumors that dangerous offenders will be released because the prison system will have a meltdown are just that, Dearstyne said. Rumors.

Parks such as Itasca could fall victim to the political strife at the height of the holiday and tourist season.

Monday the driver's license counter at Hubbard County was crowded with renewals.

And prospective newlyweds may want to plunk down their money for a license before saying, "I do," before the state says "closed for business."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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