Playing off yet another year of construction at the State capitol, the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) will start the 2016 legislative session with a theme of “constructing our future.”
More than four dozen members of the consortium attended the group’s annual meeting December 4 at Goodwill-Easter Seals in St. Paul. They looked ahead to the 2016 legislative session, elected board members and reviewed 2015 accomplishments.
The consortium’s board and staff are gearing up for the next legislative session. The 2016 Minnesota Legislature convenes Tuesday, March 8. It will be a short session, so advocates need to be ready to mobilize quickly on their bills. Disability policy summits were held throughout the state this fall to gather information from community members and discuss what priorities should be.
MN-CCD members reviewed a draft policy agenda with Policy Committee co-chairs Susie Schatz and Dan Endreson. Endreson said the policy agenda will continue to be reviewed, up until the session starts. The MN-CCD lead policy initiative this session will be Medical Assistance (MA) Reform. MA provides adults and elders with disabilities access to services and supports that keep them living in the community. But state-mandated asset and income standards force too many people to spend down assets and live in poverty to keep services and supports needed for independence. Many people contend that the spend-downs make it difficult to maintain any kind of good quality of life. MN-CCD is asking state lawmakers to raise the MA income and assets standards in order to reduce the spend-downs.
In 2015 progress was also made on raising the MA excess income standard or spend-down from 75 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline to 80 percent. MN-CCD and its member groups want to continue to focus on a continued raise.
“The crux of this issue will be personal stories,” said Schatz. MN-CCD is collecting stories from people affected by the spend-downs and will feature them in the 2016 version of the annual Faces of Disability exhibit.
The exhibit has been a centerpiece of the lobbying effort for people with disabilities. Because of ongoing capitol construction, 2016 will mark the second year in which the popular exhibit won’t be in the capitol rotunda. Instead, it’s likely that posters will be displayed throughout the State Office Building near state lawmakers’ offices. That was seen as effective way to get the word out about the need for MA reform.
MN-CCD will also be involved in a coalition policy initiative, with the Best Life Alliance, which is working to obtain a five percent increase to address low wages and the crisis in home and community-based services. (See related story.)
In ongoing policy initiatives, MN-CCD will be following two efforts that have both been years in the making. MN-CCD will be advocating for implementation of the Olmstead Plan. The plan is to provide guidance to better integrate people with disabilities into the great community. Olmstead is likely to be a focus on many bills.
The consortium will also be monitoring and weighing in on Community First Services and Supports (CFSS), tracking the transition into and implementation of the program. CFSS will replace the longtime Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program, once everything is in place for it to move forward.
MN-CCD will also be involved with two different collaborative efforts, on what it calls policy partnership. The Move Minnesota group is now called Transportation Forward. The statewide group is seeking changes as well as more transparency in how transportation of all types is funded. A key issue for the disability community is how to best meet paratransit needs, especially outside of the Twin Cities. But the group has already lost out on a possible gas tax increase, as Gov. Mark Dayton has announced he is not bringing that idea forward in 2016.
The second effort is the Homes for All campaign, which focuses on expansion of affordable housing statewide. A focus for the group has also been accessible housing and that is expected to continue in the upcoming session.
MN-CCD’s Grassroots Advocacy Committee members are encouraging community groups to get involved with the Tuesdays at the Capitol. The events draw more than 500 people in 2015. More than half of those who attended identified themselves as self-advocates. Sixteen different legislators attended. Sponsor or co-sponsor groups are sought for the 2016 session.
The advocacy committee also honored outstanding advocates and legislators, and sponsored a button contest to celebrate self-direction, independence and life in the community. Three button designs were chosen from more than 70 contest entries, with buttons handed out at the annual meeting.
MN-CCD also elected five new or returning board members December 4: Randall Bachman, Axis Health Care; Kristen McHenry, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute; Susie Schatz, Lutheran Social Services; Linda Simenstad, Rudolph Community and Care, and Joan Willshire, Minnesota State Council on Disability.
Nikki Villavicencio and Gayle Syrdal have resigned from the board, so there are two openings, said Board Chairman David Hancox. MN-CCD will continue to seek members to fill the openings.
MN-CCD represents more than 50 disability advocacy organizations. It recently hired a new director, Sheryl Grassie. Grassie has been meeting with member organizations since taking the lead position.
For more information, go to www.mnccd.org or visit the consortium’s Facebook page.