Reform and redesign offer the best hope for taxpayers and people with disabilities

There’s a deficit problem in St. Paul that goes beyond the $5 billion budget shortfall. This deficit involves a lack […]

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There’s a deficit problem in St. Paul that goes beyond the $5 billion budget shortfall. This deficit involves a lack of innovation in some programs, as much as any lack of funding. It’s a shortfall of efficiency and accountability in other areas, as much as any shortfall in staff or resources. Compounding the problem, there’s no deficit of red tape and regulations.

People with disabilities and those of us who have the privilege of working with them recognized this innovation deficit years ago. We made a strategic decision to collectively take a more reform- centered approach to delivering the highest quality of services and greatest opportunity to the most vulnerable Minnesotans at a better price.

Through the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, (MN-CCD) a coalition with dozens of members large and small, we took action for the same reason as private sector businesses in these challenging economic times. We understood that the projected growth in the health and human services budget would be unsustainable in the long run if we did not reform the way we provide disability services. We had to come forward with ideas for doing things smarter in order to succeed in our mission of advancing public policies that provide the most cost-effective delivery of services and help individuals with disabilities maintain their health and live as independently as possible in their community.

The result was a set of bills with bipartisan support that will increase the quality of disability services and allow us to stretch the state taxpayer dollar further over time. In order for the state to save money in the long-term, we need to provide the supports that enable a person with a disability of any age to access a spectrum of services based on need and cost that includes remaining in his or her own home or community. This is more beneficial to one’s health and quality of life and generally costs the state less than pigeon-holing people into settings and services they often don’t need or want.

These bills streamline rules and statutes into a single set of standards; increase coordination of health and long-term care services and make it easier for Minnesotans with disabilities to have control over those services.

Specific examples, of provisions of the bills include allowing the use of monitoring devices in lieu of staff when appropriate for overnight sleep supervision of individuals. Providing incentives for primary service providers to coordinate the various services accessed by an individual. And, informing individuals with disabilities of the annual budget available for their services, allowing them to make more informed decisions about how to most effectively use these funds.

The ability of our legislature and Minnesota’s disability community to work together in moving forward towards a sustainable future for disability services should be of interest to all citizens. After all, most disability service providers are businesses that operate in hundreds of communities and pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in wages across Minnesota. Furthermore, the adage that one never knows when they or a loved one may need to access disability services rings even truer today, due to medical advances and the aging of the baby-boom generation. Indeed, a person aged 65 has a 70 percent chance of acquiring a disability as they grow older.

This redesign is the next logical step in Minnesota’s long and proud tradition of leadership in transitioning people with disabilities of all ages out of institutions and into less costly and more desirable community settings. Now that we have momentum, it’s important to keep pushing for common sense reforms and opportunities, such as a recently announced federal wellness grant that could lead to reduced health care costs and improved community based services.

We are on the road to innovation and welcome all ideas on how we can continue to streamline and develop new service models to make sure taxpayers get the most return for their investment . Suggestions and solutions should be sent to the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. Contact information is available on our website at


Chris Bell and Steve Larson are co-chairs, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD)

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