“We deserve to have our voices heard and our issues addressed.” Those words, spoken by Apple Valley parent Kelly Kausel, summed up the sentiments of this year’s Disability Matters Day at the Capitol.
A large crowd packed the February 28 event, filling the rotunda and lining up two deep along the second and third floor railings. Attendees cheered and chanted, to convey a message that a variety of supports are needed for people to lead independent lives in the community.
The rally drew self-advocates from around the state, family members and allies. They called for the 2017 Minnesota Legislature to support policies that promote inclusion, choice and independence for people with disabilities and their families. The Arc Minnesota, Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, Get Up Stand Up to Cure Paralysis Foundation and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities organized the rally and lobbying day.
State legislators also spoke, telling the crowd that they would stand with them on tough issues. Rep Laurie Halverson, DFL – Eagan, said she and other lawmakers are willing to fight for people with disabilities and their families. Citing the state’s budget surplus, she said, “We have the resources to help those in need.”
Sen. Jim Abeler, R – Anoka, told the crowd that they are important and that they all make a difference in the state of Minnesota. He and other state lawmakers and advocates urged everyone to continue telling their stories to state lawmakers, and speaking for what they need.
Issues including high parental fees, the caregiver crisis and needed Medical Assistance spend-down changes were addressed at the rally. Kausel was among the speakers, talking about how current state policies make life untenable for her family. Her son Noah has autism and the family pays high parental fees to get Noah the help he needs. They live paycheck to paycheck.
“Families like mine have gone through terrible hardships,” Kausel said. “I know families who have faced bankruptcy, divorce, home foreclosure and stress-related medical problems.”
One repeated theme was the need to for people with disabilities to support each other on issues. “I am here to help you help yourselves,” said Jeff Bangsberg. “Let people know what the issues and needs are.”
Bangsberg is working with the Complex Care Coalition, which is seeking higher wages for caregivers whose clients need a increased level of care.
Citing the low wages and high number of caregiver vacancies, Bangsberg said, “We have a critical crisis out there that is affecting many people, every day.” Rob Wudlick, who has quadriplegia, is involved with Get Up Stand Up. He spoke about the need for people to get involved in legislative issues and strength in numbers. “The very act of being here shows we are motived … Although we may be here on different causes and issues, we are working together and empowering each other.”
Another large rally will be Tuesday, March 14 at the capitol. ARRM, MOHR and Rise will be bringing in a large group to show support for legislation including the Best Life Alliance campaign for caregiver wage increases. The rally is 10-11 a.m. at the rotunda. A resource room will be offered 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 500S, State Office Building. Feel free to stop by this room to eat lunch, drop off your coat, or relax between meetings. Contact the groups for resource information prior to the rally day. Information is available to help those who wish to meet with their legislators and there is still time to register.
The rallies take on more importance as many disability-related bills face key deadlines in March. The first deadline, March 10, is for committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin. March 17 is the second deadline, for committees to act favorably on bills, or companion bills that met the first deadline in the other house.
The third deadline, March 31, is for committees to act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills. Committee action on a bill after deadline Deadlines don’t apply to House committees on Capital Investment, Ways and Means, Finance, Taxes, or Rules and Legislative Administration, nor to Senate committees on Capital Investment, Finance, Taxes, or Rules and Administration.)
Bills acted upon favorably after deadlines must go through a referral process before they can move on and have ruled waived. Go to www.leg.state.mn.us for more info.