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Minnesota veterans home projects miss out on 2020 federal funds

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An artist's rendering of the new veterans home in Bemidji. (Submitted drawing)
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BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Three planned veterans homes in Minnesota will have to wait another year to break ground as the projects received no funding from the federal government this year.

According to a press release, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs was notified this week that none of the state's proposed projects in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston will receive federal funding. The notification came after the United States Department of Veterans Affairs released its state home construction grants for the 2020 fiscal year.

"While we are disappointed that none of our new homes' projects secured the critical federal support in this funding cycle, we recognize that Minnesota is competing with other states' projects for the same pool of federal money," said Larry Herke, Minnesota Veterans Affairs commissioner in the release. "We remain committed to these projects and will continue to pursue these funding requests going forward."

Nationwide, veterans home projects are built with 65% of the cost covered by the federal government and 35% paid by local and state entities.

In total, the three Minnesota projects are requesting $79 million from the federal government. Because the requests exceed federal funding abilities, the U.S. VA maintains a rolling project funding priority list, which is updated annually. Projects that don't receive funding remain on the list and move up in rank until they're funded or the applicants withdraw.

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According to the Minnesota VA, the state's projects were ranked 39th, 40th and 41st on the 2020 list and will move up the line in 2021. On Wednesday, the Minnesota VA office confirmed all of the funds collected by state and local entities will be reserved and available when the federal government moves forward on the projects.

"We appreciate the Minnesota Legislature's support of our veterans and these projects," Herke said. "We are committed to completing these projects and will leave in place our federal funding requests for all three new home projects."

Bemidji's home, titled "The House in the Woods," will be constructed on land donated by Sanford Health. The facility will have 72 beds and accommodate residents for short- and long-term stays. The home will also include rooms for physical and speech therapy, as well as laboratory, X-ray, dental and optometry services.

"There's good news in that we moved ahead in the list," said Kay Mack, Beltrami County administrator. "They bumped us up. It just won't happen this year, but it gives us hope for it to be funded next year."

Matthew Liedke is a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is originally from International Falls and now resides in Bemidji. He's a 2009 graduate of Rainy River Community College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead. At the Pioneer, he covers government, politics, health and economic development. He can be reached at (218) 333-9791 or by email at mliedke@bemidjipioneer.com.
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