by Julie Johnson, MOHR and Sue Schettie, AARM
The community of those working for continual progress towards a more inclusive and supportive Minnesota for people with disabilities entered 2018 with cautious optimism that this would be a year for making real advances in public policy.
A host of advocacy priorities from a combination of groups sought greater flexibility for providers to meet people’s support needs and independence goals, stronger self-directed resources, and expanded supports for employment and independent housing. Most significantly, everyone was getting ready to drive forward new strategies for addressing the critical shortage of direct support professionals of all types in our state.
Then the 7 percent cuts to Medicaid waiver rates for home and community-based supportive services were announced and we were all on the defensive again, needing to fight not for progress, but to stop yet another funding backslide and digging a deeper workforce shortage hole to climb out of. Instead of working together towards opening opportunities and improving quality of life, we were now fighting just to maintain a tenuous status quo.
Our organizations and our members fought hard to pass a legislative fix to stop the cuts, and thanks to the thousands of calls, emails, and visits from passionate and dedicated advocates, we came close. Dozens of legislators from both parties sponsored and helped pass legislation stopping the cuts. But the fix fell victim, along with so many other priorities, to the political brinksmanship at the end of session between legislative leaders and Governor Mark Dayton.
We continued the fight, in partnership with several individuals who will be irreparably harmed by the negative impacts to their supportive services as the 7 percent cuts take effect, by suing in Federal Court to stop the cuts, because state law still requires the Minnesota Department of Human Services to maintain funding levels. That effort fell short as well, with the judge ruling that administrative appeals must first be filed. We continue the fight there, working with our members to assist in filing rate appeals for hundreds of individuals impacted during the first round of cuts.
Why are these fights so important? Because we collectively are driven by the shared value that everyone deserves the opportunities to choose and live their best lives, and that ensuring people have stable access to high quality services and well-trained direct support professionals is critical to achieving that value and empowering people to maximize their abilities.
While these past several months have been discouraging, we feel the tide starting to shift. Across Minnesota, new about the shortage of professionals who support people with disabilities is being told. The hiring crisis for day programs, residential providers and individuals needing PCA services has become a drumbeat, with mentions in story after story. A large bipartisan cohort of legislators prioritized these issues in the final days of the legislative session, and continues to be passionate champions. Legislative leaders and voters are now being asked more directly about the quality of life people with disabilities should have, and the services needed to make that happen.
This is a conversation that each family, each individual with a disability and each person who provides supports needs to have with their legislators, every candidate for state office and, frankly, with their neighbors, family and friends. Each of us has a voice, and when those voices combine to share our messages, they impact attitudes and decisions that directly affect our communities.
It’s typically not the majority that brings change, but small groups of citizens that are very vocal, determined, and focused on their goals. They will win the hearts and minds of elected leaders, and those around them, to build something that’s lasting and valued. We must tell our stories, and make it personal and impactful so leaders won’t brush aside these significant issues when the time for voting comes.
You’ll be so glad you did.
Together, MOHR and ARRM represent more than 250 home and community-based service providers in Minnesota. Both are members of the Best Life Alliance, which advocates for the direct support professional workforce. Julie Johnson is President of MOHR and Sue Schettle, CEO of ARRM.