2018 is in the history books, so it’s time for our look back at the people and events that made headlines over the past year.
• A newly signed federal tax law could have disastrous consequences for people with disabilities and the organizations that serve them. Dozens of
Minnesota nonprofits, including many groups that help people with disabilities, weighed in against the law before the House and Senate passed it. They criticized the result of massive benefits to corporations and wealthy Americans, at the expense of many others. Crucial human services support programs including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food programs and other needed supports could soon be in the cross-hairs.
• Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minnesota), was working on legislation at the
federal level to promote use and availability of tracking bracelets for people
with various developmental and cognitive disabilities. She was concerned about people becoming lost.
• Many happy campers had Ed Stracke to thank for their memories of summer and winter fun. After 33 years, Stracke stepped down as president and chief executive officer of True Friends, which provides outdoor experiences for people with disabilities.
• A short session, an upcoming election and more than the usual political acrimony loomed over the Minnesota Legislature, which began on February 20. Disability advocacy groups were ready in the face of a tight timeline in which things could get done. Consumer-directed community supports, the MNChoices program and direct care support staff wages were issues making a repeat capitol appearance.
• It was “snow” joke as heavy snowfalls left hazardous conditions for Minnesotans with disabilities. Weeks after a January 22 storm that dumped more than one foot of snow on parts of the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota, people were still struggling with snow-packed and icy sidewalks. It’s an annual concern for many people with disabilities, especially when it comes to having clear sidewalks and crosswalks.
• Responsibility for getting sidewalks and crosswalks cleared can be a flash point. One issue activists have raised is that by not quickly removing snow and ice, cities, counties and the state may be out of compliance with Federal Highway Administration rules and funding tied to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
• Disability Day at the Capitol highlighted several crucial community needs. The calls for more spending for needed supports and services was bolstered by the budget forecast released at the end of February. A surplus of $329 million was projected. A deficit had been predicted in December 2017. While state officials cautioned that the positive balance was a slender amount in the context of the state budget, community advocates urged that funding is needed for the workforce crisis and other programs. More than 450 people filled the capitol rotunda to rally for needed services and supports.
• Improvements to Twin Cities area paratransit services were debated by the Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Legislature and community members. Recommendations proposed by a task force were touted as providing flexibility and expanding service while remaining in compliance with state and federal regulations. But the notion of using companies like Uber and Lyft as part of the region’s future paratransit system drew criticism from some Metropolitan Council members and community members concerned about poor service and lack of background checks.
• Self-advocates and disability-related organizations mobilized to fight a pending seven percent cut to disability services in Minnesota. The cut would take effect July 1, unless the Minnesota Legislature acted. What worried many service providers is that the funds for some services had already been spent. The July 1 cut was expected to affect about 27 percent of those who receive services, with more cuts phased in over the next 18 months. Stopping the cut was a focus of the March 13 rally during ARRM/MOHR Day at the Capitol March 13. Many waved signs, including signs that stated, “I made this with help from my staff.”
• A diagnosis of severe autism disorder for son Josiah rocked the lives of parents Tahni and Joe Cullen. At 22 months Josiah became nonverbal. Josiah later began writing on his iPad. Words of great wisdom, spirituality and understanding came from a seven-year-old. His words were the basis for the book Josiah’s Fire: Autism Stole His Words, God Gave Him
a Voice, a book Tahni Cullen co-authored with Cheryl Ricker.
• Accessibility improvements to four Minnesota state parks, as well as renovations and additions to state academies and Department of Human Services (DHS) treatment facilities, remained o the table as the 2018 Minnesota Legislature approached its May 21 adjournment date. The Minnesota Council on Disability led the charge on the state parks funding, which would have provided $20 million to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to design, develop and complete comprehensive
packages of accessibility improvements and upgrades at Fort Snelling, Minneopa, Nerstrand Big Woods and William O’Brien state parks. The improvements were anticipated for day facilities, campground areas, trails, parking facilities, interpretive buildings and exhibits, and other public use areas.
• How do Minnesotans feel about health care costs, especially against the backdrop of possible changes to Medicare and Medicaid? A survey of more than 1,000 state residents shows that while the vast majority have health insurance, respondents are worried about the rising costs of health care. Drug prices are a concern, as are looming changes at the federal level. The survey was done by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD).
• Months of work disappeared with a few pen strokes as Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the 2018 Minnesota Legislature’s two major bills. Dayton nixed tax and supplemental budget bills, sparking a war of words with the Republican-led House and Senate. The vetoes included money to rectify a looming seven percent cut in waiver services, cuts to children’s mental health residential facilities and special education funding. Many initiatives community members worked hard to pass were set aside until one big push was the Best Life Alliance’s social media campaign to ask for restoration of the seven percent cut to waiver services. That effort generated more than 1,000 tweets and retweets.
• Rev. Harry Maghakian was remembered as someone who helped transform the care of Minnesotans with mental illness. What began as a program for homeless veterans needing a place to go evolved into the nonprofit People Incorporated, one of the Upper Midwest’s largest community mental health services providers. Maghakian died at age 94 but his work to help people with disabilities live with hope, dignity, and purpose continues today.
• One more resource for Minnesotans in mental health crisis was no more as Canvas Health shut down its crisis hotline, Crisis Connection. Like many other health needs statewide, funding for Crisis Connection was involved in the ongoing dispute between Dayton and legislative leaders. Canvas Health sought $1 million to support the crisis call center, but that funding fell to Dayton’s veto pen. Other services stepped up to fill the gap.
• Tough times were ahead for many Minnesotans with disabilities and their service providers. Efforts to stop a seven percent cut to waiver services fell short June 28. U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright issued a 13- page ruling that allows the cuts to go forward, starting July 1 and continuing to December 31, 2019. Wright ruled against a group of four people representing a larger group of plaintiffs as well as the service provider coalitions MOHR and ARRM. Wright’s ruling stated that the disability groups failed to demonstrate that the cuts would create irreparable or imminent harm. She said claims of harm were speculative.
• Court oversight of work on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan will continue, the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. A three-judge panel rejected an appeal by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which sought to have the oversight by federal court officials ended. DHS had the option to appeal the decision but chose not to do so. Disability rights advocates saw the ruling as a critical win. “This decision recognizes and reconfirms the fundamental reality of a historic settlement signed by both the State of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Human Services, requiring compliance with their agreement to protect people with disabilities from abuse and neglect, and provide meaningful plans on a statewide basis to transition and support them in the community,” said attorney Shamus O’Meara. The court case stems from litigation filed in 2009 by families whose relatives were housed at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options (METO) facility in Cambridge.
• A special day to spotlight mental health awareness and new, accessible buildings were among the many highlights at the 2018 Minnesota State Fair.
• Efforts were stepping up to implement the enhanced rates for Minnesota
DHS programs. The programs involved are Personal Care Assistance (PCA)
Traditional and PCA Choice, along with Consumer-Directed Community
Supports (CDCS) and the Consumer Support Grant (CSG). One piece of
the enhanced rates recently took effectfor PCA and CGS programs. Enhanced rates are seen as a way of helping people with high-need disabilities to have more highly trained staff and more control over services and supports. A key focus is on helping people who need a higher level of care, and care for 12 or more hours per day.
• Handi Medical celebrated 30 years in business. The stores began when
Mary Miller was studying nursing and working as a personal care assistant to Darcy Pohland. Pohland was a Twin
Cities reporter who had broken her neck in a diving accident. When Miller called for medical supplies, she would often have to wait weeks for delivery. She founded the business with a loan from her grandfather.
• Equip-a-Life offered loans to help people with disabilities work and be involved in their communities.
• A debate over a proposed state medical supply program continued.
Opponents of the state’s Preferred Incontinence Products Program led by the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services and Supplies
fought a DHS plan to do bulk purchasing. While bulk purchasing is touted
as a potential cost saving, limits are opposed by those who rely on incontinence products. Possible health effects of lower-quality products are just one red flag raised, as was the contradiction with the movement toward person-centered care and going against access to choice. The state was trying to dismiss the lawsuit and institute the program.
• As St. Paul city officials moved toward approval of a $15 per hour minimum wage, workers with disabilities, employers, and people who provide direct
support for people with disabilities were two different sides of the coin. Elected officials heard from direct support staff members who need more pay, people with disabilities who want more pay, and employers of people with disabilities who worry that a higher wage could mean that workers with disabilities could be the first ones laid off.
• A delay in acting on recommendations to address Minnesota’s direct care worker crisis prompted objections at an Olmstead Subcabinet meeting. The report, Recommendations to Expand, Diversify, and Improve Minnesota’s Direct Care and Support Workforce Workplan, had seven focus areas, with more than 120 strategies to address the workforce shortage. The subcabinet, the group overseeing efforts for full community inclusion for people with disabilities, was to approve report recommendations in October but didn’t act until November. DHS called for more time to review the work group’s recommendations. The delay dismayed self-advocates who worked for many months on the direct care staffing study. They noted that there are more than 10,000 direct care job openings statewide.
• Before he was old enough to vote, St. Paul Highland Park neighborhood resident Louie McGee had competed in a triathlon, started a nonprofit organization, won a presidential award and appeared on the cover of a national publication. That’s just a small sample of what the Cretin-Derham Hall senior has accomplished— and he has done it all while living with blindness.
• With the 2019 Minnesota Legislature starting its session January 8,
Minnesotans with disabilities and their advocacy groups were getting ready. It would be a new ball game, with new Gov. Tim Walz. A DFL majority in the
House is taking their seats and new commissioners leading state departments. Very little got done at the capitol in 2018, with much legislation being wrapped into two omnibus bills and the bills facing the veto pen. Waiver services, the direct care crisis and worker compensation, special education, state parks access and a wide range of mental health issues are among the concerns to be brought to the capitol. Although many issues that failed to pass in 2018 are likely to make a return appearance, new leadership brings the opportunity for rolling out new initiatives.
• VSA Minnesota, which has served Minnesota artists and audience with
disabilities for more than three decades, is shutting down at the end of September The closing was announced in early December. The nonprofit began to find other homes for its various grant and arts programs.