Jeff Bangsberg: Strives to make lives of others just a little bit better

Editor’s note: Jeff Bangsberg is the recipient of the 2011 Charlie Smith Award, given for outstanding service to Minnesota’s disability […]

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Editor’s note: Jeff Bangsberg is the recipient of the 2011 Charlie Smith Award, given for outstanding service to Minnesota’s disability community. The award was presented at the Access Press banquet Nov. 4. The following is excerpted from Bangsberg’s acceptance speech.

I’m truly humbled to receive this award for two reasons: Charlie Smith was a close friend of mine for years before he passed away; and, I see this award as a recognition from my peers.

I view this award as a legacy for the things I was fortunate to be part of, from the days when I first became involved in Project Mobility; the days in the late 1970s [when the] personal care assistance program [began]; when I had the opportunity to chair the State Rehabilitation Council; and contracting with the Minnesota Department of Health in evaluating health care homes as a consumer representative.

Years ago, I met Clint Schultz, who is no longer with us, and found out that he was trying to solve the problem of being able to live at home in the community without the need to live in a nursing home. In other words, how we as physically disabled individuals would be able to get all activities of daily living help we need in order to stay out of a nursing home or relying family. At last, we saw the personal care assistance program come into play.

I remember when I dipped my toe into public policy the first time. Tom Haben and I would go down to the capitol to speak with legislators. I can’t even begin to tell you how scared we were. It was an intimidating experience! We would sit outside of their offices for what seemed to be hours. One day, Jim

Ramstad, who was our state senator at the time, took the two of us into his office, sat us down and role- played with us until we felt comfortable. Then, he literally walked us to one of his colleagues’ offices and said, “Senator, these two gentleman would like to talk to you.” Well, there we were. . .

Charlie Smith, the man whom this prestigious award is rightly named after, was with me before Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MAEPD) even became a concept. MA-EPD is a thriving program that allows people with disabilities to go to work without fear of losing health benefits. Before MAEPD, people who wanted to work would have to pay huge amounts of their income to maintain their PCA services.

Charlie and I were together the day it all began— encouraging lawmakers to look at the MA-EPD issue.

It was in the early 1990s, we were sitting outside a committee room looking at the agenda for the hearing that was going on inside. The topic in the room was welfare reform and they were taking public testimony on the proposed changes at that time. We thought we should say something about the large amount of money we have to pay while working. Many of you know the term “spend-down”. The people testifying were upset by the new proposals for people on AFDC being required to work in order to receive their benefits.

They had very legitimate reasons why they could not work, and it was sort of apples and oranges because our situation was completely different than theirs. It was our one chance to make the legislators listen, our opening was just sitting there plain as day – we told them that we wanted to work, but couldn’t because of MA rules.

The rest happened over the next few years, with surveys, resolutions, and legislation to pass the MAEPD program. When this legislation was brought to the Minnesota House of Representatives, it passed 137 to 0.

During this time, I was working at Becklund Home Health Care seeking reimbursement increases at the legislature for all of the caregivers in home care. If it wasn’t for Rhoda Becklund, I would not have had the opportunity to work on additional health care-related issues like MA-EPD. I would like to thank her for her vision in promoting home care and the issues she believed in for people with disabilities. As a result of my work with Becklund Home Health Care, I later had the opportunity to represent the entire home health care community by working for the Minnesota HomeCare Association. I was privileged to be part of that association, for over five years and have Steve Lund and Neil Johnson to thank.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family who drove all the way from South Dakota, as well as my mother-in-law and great friend Gary, and most importantly, my wife Anita, my best friend and partner of over 16 years now—I love her ever so much.

In closing, I want to acknowledge my mother for teaching me compassion toward others. And my father who taught me the value of our environment. He taught me to “always leave the campsite better off than before I got there.” I take this little saying and try to apply it to everyday life and work.

It’s how I view my life—how can we make it just a little bit better.



Anita and I want to send out a great big Thank You to those who attended the Charlie Awards Banquet, hosted by Access Press on November 4th. We were honored to be part of this wonderful event, and your warm presence made it a truly memorable evening.

Thank you again to the Board of Directors and staff of Access Press, and to Luther Granquist for entertaining us as the emcee. To Anne Henry and Steven Kuntz – your nomination and introductions were a total surprise. I cannot think of a more appropriate pair to introduce me because you two have been a big part of my life for so long. Many others have also worked with us on disability issues for many, many years. We didn’t even get a chance to talk to all of you, let alone give you the acknowledgement you deserve. Thank you for being with us!

— Jeff Bangsberg

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