The COVID-19 virus has created uncertain times for Minnesotans with disabilities, especially at the state capitol. The Minnesota Legislature adjourned early the morning of March 17, and isn’t scheduled to return until April 14. That has not only left dozens of key bills in limbo, it also created a situation that had disability advocacy organizations scrambling until Gov. Tim Walz issued two executive orders.
Walz on March 20 issued the executive orders to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) The orders are meant to provide flexibility to serve vulnerable Minnesotans during the pandemic, including people with disabilities. His decision was met with praise and relief.
As a result of the orders, DHS has emergency temporary authority to change administrative and regulatory requirements for food assistance, home care, public health care and other state programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Orders 20-11 and 20-12 will help ensure access to services and protection of health for over 1 million Minnesotans, including older adults, individuals with disabilities, young families with children and individuals with mental illness.
Go to the DHS COVID-19 Update website for updates on COVID-19 and how DHS is handling it.
Walz’s orders eliminate the need for a special session on those issues. While state lawmakers did pass measures to respond to COVID-19 before adjourning, the concern was that too many people needing help were left out. More than 200 organizations quickly joined forces to seek help, sending letters to Walz and House and Senate leadership.
The letter stated, “As a broad-based group of advocacy organizations and providers from across Minnesota we urge policymakers to reconvene to take action that will better ensure our friends, family members, and neighbors who depend on safety net supports can weather this crisis.”
“A wide range of basic critical policy areas administered by DHS are impacted: childcare, mental health services, services for persons with disabilities and older adults, health care (Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare), economic assistance, housing support, children’s services, supports for vulnerable populations, and the direct care and treatment system.”
“Legislators should act so that:
- Health coverage renewals can be delayed so that people don’t lose Medicaid;
- Seniors and families do not lose food assistance;
- People with chronic health issues can do assessments and other visits remotely instead of face-to-face;
- People can access sufficient critical mental health treatment via telemedicine;
- People with disabilities and chronic health conditions can access supports, including shared staffing, PCA services, and paid supports from family members, that will allow them to stay healthy and stable at home;
- Childcare providers have the flexibility they need to stay open and continue providing care for children of health care workers and first responders.
These are just a small fraction of the actions DHS should implement to meet the needs of Minnesotans during this crisis.”
With those issues addressed for now, attention shifts to other areas. Walz and legislators held a series of press conferences in March as they sought to address a rapidly shifting situation. Schools closed statewide, and many communities shut down libraries, recreation centers and other public facilities. Day activity centers and centers for independent living either closed their doors or cut back hours. Many types of businesses have closed or are offering curbside services.
Support groups, including those offered by National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Minnesota and a number of groups serving people with chemical dependencies, went online.
Senate and House leaders acknowledged that they are in what is uncharted territory. Some were visibly distracted and emotional in the hours before adjourning. Committees may meet on-call. Some leaders said the remainder of the session will focus only on critical bills, including bonding.
Some legislators have pushed back against Walz and questioned whether all of his orders are needed. But Walz’s administration has also pushed back. The governor released a new budget and economic forecast, indicating that a nationwide recession is predicted beginning in the second quarter of this year.
“Doing the right thing to protect ourselves and one another — social distancing — is hard on our economy in the short run, but it will ultimately be the right thing for all of us. In these times of uncertainty, my administration is working tirelessly to ensure our state is in the best position possible to weather whatever may come our way,” Walz said.
The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving. For updates, go to Minnesota Department of Health Diseases and Conditions.