Minn. government shutdown puts lives on hold

  • Article by: AMY FORLITI
  • Associated Press
  • July 13, 2011 - 3:55 PM

MINNEAPOLIS - Lyda Hanson thought she was one of the lucky ones. Even before graduating from beauty school, she landed a job at a "perfect" salon and was ready to get started on her dream career.

But when Minnesota's government shutdown prevented her from getting her cosmetology license, the hair stylist job went to someone else — and Hanson had to start her search again, telling prospective employers she has no idea when she can start.

"I feel kind of stranded at the moment," said Hanson, 19, of Prior Lake. "I'm just kind of taking it day by day, trying to figure things out."

While Minnesota's budget impasse has forced 22,000 state employees out of work and shut down many services, it has also left countless ordinary citizens in limbo — unable to work or facing serious business losses because they can't get the paperwork needed to do their jobs.

Cosmetologists, nurses, dentists and other professionals can't get licenses to practice. Would-be drivers can't take license tests and get behind the wheel. Some businesses are hung up because they can't get required inspections. Hundreds of restaurants and bar owners can't buy liquor, and fear serious fallout when current supplies run out.

"I've done everything that I was supposed to do," said Erik Forsberg, owner of The Ugly Mug restaurant and bar in Minneapolis. "I followed the rules. Why is the state trying to put me out of business?"

The shutdown entered its 13th day Wednesday with no talks planned between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders. Dayton has outlined several ways to raise tax revenue, including new taxes on the rich and eliminating tax breaks. GOP leaders don't want new taxes.

Bars, liquor stores and other venues selling alcohol — like bowling alleys or golf courses — must renew what is called a retailer buyer's card each year to purchase booze from wholesalers. Around 320 businesses currently don't have valid cards, and if the shutdown drags into August, roughly 400 more will see their cards expire, said Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.

Forsberg knew his card expired June 30 — the day before government went dark — so he renewed it. He has a receipt showing he's current, but the state couldn't issue his actual card before closing down, so wholesalers won't sell him the liquor or craft beers he specializes in.

Because he accidentally ordered too much liquor in his last shipment, he thinks he can get by for about four to six weeks. And he'll continue to sell food. But his rent near the Minnesota Twins' Target Field is expensive, and liquor sales are a huge part of what he brings in.

He's already lost revenue. He planned to host an event for a new Belgian brewery that would have brought 1,200 people into his restaurant. Since he couldn't buy the brewery's product to put on tap, the brewery took its event elsewhere.

"That's real dollars, in a sluggish economy, in a slow month," he said.

The shutdown is causing hardships for others, too.

Kinya Gilbert finished her driver's education classes on July 1 — Day One of the shutdown. The 15-year-old from Richfield wanted to take her written test right away so she could get her learner's permit and get on the road to independence. But the test isn't being offered. So she waits.

In Minnesota, drivers age 18 or under must have an instruction permit for six months before they can get a license. The delay in a permit, and a delayed license, is a hassle for both Gilbert and her parents, who have to drive her and her little brother around.

"I have swimming every day after school and I do it all year round too, so I'm going to have to get there somehow," she said. "I've been taking the bus and riding my bike, but it would just be better to drive."

Professional licenses are also on hold, with many boards that issue those certifications shut down.

Sara Cisneros, 24, of St. Paul, says she has wanted to be a nurse since age 11, when she cared for her dad after he fell off a roof. She recently graduated from St. Catherine University's nursing program and has passed her boards — but can't get a license to work with patients.

Cisneros has a work permit that's good through Aug. 2, allowing her to practice under another registered nurse. She's training at a nursing home in Roseville, where she has a job lined up.

"But if my work permit expires before the state opens, then I have to stop working," she said. She has been at the nursing home for four years in the medical records department, and says she might be able to return to that post if she can't get her nursing license right away.

"But it's very disappointing to go back, when I've worked so hard to nurse," she said.

Hanson also felt inspired to be a hair stylist, and wants to get started on a career where she feels she'll help people feel good about themselves. She graduated from the Minnesota School of Beauty in Lakeville on June 30. She finished her requirements three days earlier, and called state officials that week to see if they could issue her license before July 1.

But the state requires some original documents — not copies — and officials told her they were already backed up two weeks. Fearing her irreplaceable documents would get lost during a shutdown, Hanson didn't feel comfortable sending them in.

For two days she watched, hoping the state would keep running. When it shut down, she kept her fingers crossed that it wouldn't be for long. Then, she learned she lost a position at a salon that she called "the perfect salon for me." The salon needed someone immediately and opted to hire a different stylist who already was licensed.

"I was completely heartbroken," Hanson said. Thinking she was going to start a new job, she had already cut back hours at her other job — and can't get those hours back.

Susan Brinkhaus, executive director of the Minnesota Salon and Spa Professional Association, said the shutdown also affects salon licenses, instructor licenses, and anyone trying to renew their individual licenses — current cosmetologists must renew their licenses during the month of their birthday. So anyone with a July birthday will see their license expire this month, and likely won't be able to get it renewed. There are about 30,000 licensees in Minnesota.

"It's going to affect a lot of people," she said. "In this case, they are just plain stuck."

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