Shared with permission
Sen. Abeler letter: 'Using people with disabilities as a bargaining chip is flat out wrong'
Minnesota State Senator Jim Abeler sent this request on August 2 to Governor Walz, other leaders and the media
August 2, 2020
RE: Gov LAC request
Dear Gov. Walz, Commissioner Frans, executive staff, colleagues, and members of the press corps,
I held my tongue on the previous round of LAC Covid funding requests, so as to not upset the opportunity in the last special session to obtain $30.4 million in critical funding for retention grants for disability day/employment and EIDBI services. Listening to the administration’s advice to find a legislative solution and its “neutrality” on the previous $30M proposal, many expected that SF12 would pass readily.
Shockingly, not only did that funding that passed the Senate 67-0 not materialize, it was not brought up in the House nor addressed by the administration.
This cannot be. Daily, dozens of critical providers of disability services face the harsh realities of just trying to stay open to provide services that dramatically affect our most vulnerable citizens, those with intellectual and physical disabilities. And I am also concerned we will be unable to provide the essential services and supports we are required to provide under federal law and court decisions. We could face massive justifiable but avoidable lawsuits.
And these places are already closing. Just this past week, on July 28, the board of Kandi Works voted to close. Tragic. Many of these sites have received $0 revenue in April and May, while expenses continued in the 50% range. Others have laid off half of their staff in an effort to remain viable or burned through their reserves hoping to stave off the inevitable.
In the Senate, we had hearings on SF 3684 during regular session, and SF133 and SF12 from the special sessions. In each case, we worked with DHS and MMB to craft workable policy and fiscal language that would deter the closings and help preserve these key services for the post-Covid world. In each case, DHS and the administration remained close-lipped about expressing concern for the future of these sites, offering instead “technical assistance” and little else, believing that the minimal income coming in from very limited services and reopenings would suffice. While the administration remained neutral on SF133 at $30M, it did not offer a position on SF12 at $30.4M. To its credit, the House was very collaborative on developing policy language for SF12. The House was unable, however, to commit to any dollar amount, declaring that it was a matter for “leadership.” After repeated inquiries at multiple “leadership” levels, I was unable to elicit any interest in the matter or commitment to any dollar amount from the administration, MMB, or DHS.
And even while it passed the Senate early in the last special session, unanimously, no action was taken in the House, despite the desperate straits the providers found themselves in and a very strong outreach from that community and concerned parties.
The only interest shown by the administration was an effort to use SF12 as a bargaining chip by Myron Frans to leverage some minor elements in the supplemental budget bill. From my point of view, using people with disabilities as a bargaining chip is flat out wrong.
Now Commissioner Frans is requesting me to approve some very worthy projects to spend Covid $ on. The projects themselves seem fine, but with the neglect of the critical day/employment and EIDBI services providers and the 10,000’s of those who rely on them, it seems that Governor Walz’s assertion to me that “he cares about people with disabilities” is simply a hollow slogan.
With the advent of deep budget deficits, now amounting to at least $7.1 billion over the next three years, doing nothing to help these very fragile providers stay afloat into 2021 to serve their clients’ needs is nothing short of irresponsible. Unless there is a direction change, the indifference of the administration to the plight of this sector is setting the stage for the collapse of many high quality providers and critical/essential services.
The administration has recently shown its concern for the homeless @ $100M, childcare providers @ $56M, and even the MN Zoo @ $6M. I find it hard to understand where the administration’s priorities lie. People with disabilities are more important than zoo animals.
We need to add these vulnerable citizens as another element to the LAC list: $30.4 million distributed along the lines of SF12.
There is precedent for this. By executive order, the bulk of SF1200 to give the DHS commissioner great flexibility was put into place. By executive order, virtually the entire SF for county/city/township CARES money was put into place.
And if the text of the $56M in childcare grants simply substituted “day/employment and EIDBI services” it would explain the rationale of why both sectors need emergency Covid money: loss of revenue, need for post-Covid continuity of critical services, higher operational costs due to Covid, and struggles to access business reliefs. While childcare is important, it is no more important that respecting the lives of our citizens with intellectual and physical disabilities.
There is still time, but not much. For some operations it is already too late. Others are currently weighing their options, facing grim prospects. The $30.4 we seek will not solve all their problems, but it will help them offset the months when they had $0 revenue. It will buy them time for their limited capacity/reopening revenue to ramp up so they may serve at least some of those in need.
Remember, many of these operations faced great financial challenges pre-Covid due to DWRS impacts.
BTW the limit of 50 persons and 3 hours a day is an unnecessary barrier. For a site that could hold 200 persons plus staff, that means that only some 35 clients are allowed on site at 50%. This is the equivalent of 17-18 “client days”, a far cry from their former 200 “client days”, and less than 10% of former revenues. If they did set up a second shift, their transportation costs would be doubled and their fiscal hole dug deeper. Some report that they are losing money by reopening on this basis.
As I understand, these concerns have been relayed to DHS but no changes have been made in the executive orders.
In conclusion, to show that the Walz administration does indeed care about people with disabilities, please take two steps:
1. Remove the 50 person and 3 hour cap for day services and similar.
2. Order a LAC request for $30.4 million in Covid $ as per SF12 and the childcare order.
I would really rather say “thank you for acting” and reestablish the collaborative relationship I attempted to forge when you, Gov. Walz, and I first met, than continue to press you and your administration on this matter.
It is time to act. There is simply too much at stake.
Short of that, I will object to each of your LAC requests and look forward to presenting my concerns at the next LAC meeting.
Senator Jim Abeler
Senator Jim Abeler
Chair, Human Services Reform
Finance and Policy Committee
3215 MN Senate Building
95 University Avenue East
St Paul, MN 55155
Serving Senate District 35
Anoka, Ramsey, Andover & Coon Rapids
See MOHR President Julie Johnson's August column