Regional News in Review - April 2019

Special Olympics spared federal funding cuts

A Trump administration plan to cut $17.6 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics drew outcry around the nation. Games organizers in Minnesota joined their national counterparts in protesting the threatened cut, unveiled in March by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In the face of outrage President Donald Trump announced that the cuts wouldn’t happen. According to the online news website Politico, the threat appears to have become a boon for the nonprofit.

Rather than cutting off the Special Olympics from all federal funding, lawmakers are weighing a possible increase for the fifth year in a row as high-profile advocates rally behind the organization and its programs in thousands of schools. The social media outcry over the threat to its funding stream is boosting the Special Olympics’ message — and private donations are expected to surge. It also shows the political risk when an educational program beloved by Democrats and Republicans alike becomes a target.

“In some ways the most powerless, vulnerable, forgotten people in the country brought to their knees the most powerful people in the country,” said Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International, speaking to advocates gathered at the Save the Children and Save the Children Action Network Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Probably in my 39 years of professional life, I’ve never had more attention than we got last week on anything I’ve ever worked on, honestly,” he said. Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is the second generation of his family to lead the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded to the program.

All of Trump’s budget requests since he took office have proposed doing away with federal support for Special Olympics, and they’ve all been rejected by Congress. Instead, the funding has risen sharply from $7.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $17.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $17.6 million in fiscal 2019. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who heads up the Appropriations panel that funds education, is a Special Olympics champion.

DeVos stuck up for the proposed cut before a Senate subcommittee but also pointed out that she didn’t “personally get involved” in the decision to slash funding. After Trump said the funding would be restored, she lauded the decision, saying she had fought for the money “behind the scenes over the last several years.” DeVos last year announced she would donate nearly $50,000, a fourth of her salary, to the Special Olympics. (Source: Politico)



Ruling could open doors

Employment lawyers are buzzing about a recent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that liberalized workers’ compensation law to permit related discrimination suits under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. It reverses a ruling from three decades ago.

Former Minneapolis firefighter Keith Daniel, 57 was forced into early retirement in 2016 by job-related injuries. He recently settled a workers’ compensation claim for $125,000.

In a 5-2 decision earlier this year, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Daniel can return to Hennepin County District Court to pursue a claim that was rejected earlier under the Human Rights Act. That’s because fire department management allegedly discriminated against him by refusing to allow him to wear doctor-prescribed tennis shoes that relieved his condition. Daniel wanted to wear the prescribed shoes around the fire house, but his bosses insisted that he wear standard boots that aggravated his ankle injury.

Daniel alleged discrimination because the response to his disability not only prevented him from working but violated his civil rights by harming his dignity and self-respect as a disabled employee. “His claims arise under the human rights act’s disability-accommodation requirement, which makes it unlawful for an employer to fail to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified disabled person unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an ‘undue hardship’ on the employer,” Justice Margaret Chutich wrote in the decision. “Unlike the workers’ compensation act, the human rights act is a civil rights law that protects employees from unlawful employment discrimination.”

Emma Denny, employment lawyer with Minneapolis-based Halunen Law, called the decision “quite significant” and estimated that “this means hundreds more employees every year will be able to bring disability discrimination claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act in addition to pursuing remedies under the Workers’ Compensation Act.” The Daniel case now goes back to Hennepin County District Court. (Source: Star Tribune)

County adds Vitals app

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has announced that deputies will begin using the Vitals First Responder App in April. The Vitals app provides first responders with crucial information about vulnerable individuals, increasing the effectiveness of situational response and vastly expanding the potential for successful and safe resolutions. Vitals enrollees, or their family members, voluntarily provide the individualized information in this cutting-edge program revolving around technological innovation.

“We are actively looking for ways to better respond to people with disabilities that we may encounter,” said Hennepin County Sheriff David P. Hutchinson. “Vitals will help us do our jobs even better. We will use this technology to help keep our residents safe and help engage the county’s diverse communities on the topics on mental health and cognitive disabilities and conditions.”

Hennepin County has a population of approximately 1.3 million and more than 35 municipalities. Law enforcement responded to 1,660 mental health crisis calls in 2017. More than 280,000 Hennepin County residents qualify for social services supporting mental health, intellectual, developmental, and behavioral conditions and disabilities, as well as elderly services.

“We are excited about adding Hennepin County to our growing list of locations. Our goal is to serve as many people as we can. Working with the largest county in Minnesota will help us reach thousands of people who can benefit from this new technology,” said Janeé Harteau, president of Vitals Aware Services.

Dakota County and Crow Wing counties already use the app, along with 60 other public safety agencies. The service is free to people living with various conditions and disabilities. To sign up, text “vitals” to 797979, open the link and fill out the form.

Registration can also be completed on the website at www.thevitalsapp.com
(Source: Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department)



Survey shows challenges ahead

Nearly 3 ½ years after top Minnesota state officials pledged to embrace integration for people with disabilities, thousands of individuals are still living segregated and isolated lives. A rare and indepth survey, examining the quality of life of Minnesotans with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, found that many of them still have limited freedom and little control over their daily lives. Everyday decisions that many people take for granted — such as where to live and the choice of pets — are often determined by others, including paid support staff whom they had no choice in hiring.

The recently released survey also found that people who live and work in cloistered settings, such as group homes, are more isolated socially and have far fewer interactions with the community than other Minnesotans.

The findings underscore the challenges ahead for the administration of Gov. Tim Walz, as it seeks to implement a state plan to move people with disabilities out of segregated settings, help them live more independently and participate in community life.

Despite marked progress in some areas, such as helping people obtain jobs in the mainstream workforce, Minnesota has struggled to improve access to community services and to comply with a 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision, which requires states to ensure that people live and work in the most integrated settings possible.

Members of Walz’s Cabinet, including the commissioners overseeing human services and housing finance, have publicly pledged to continue a multiyear effort to eliminate obstacles to integration. Yet their efforts have been impeded by a severe shortage of support workers who help people with disabilities live on their own; as well as a recent, 7 percent cut to rates paid through a state “waiver” program, which helps 47,000 Minnesotans with disabilities pay for services such as transportation and personal caregiving that help them live and work in the community.

The survey and a larger survey that preceded it have given state officials much more sight into the lives of people with disabilities. For two consecutive years, the survey found that choice-making power can be severely limited for people who live and work in segregated settings. Large and small life decisions — including where to live, how to spend funds and even what foods to buy — are mostly left to paid staff, including guardians. Respondents with disabilities had about 30 percent fewer monthly outings into the community last year than the general population as a whole.

The study also found that, among Minnesotans who live and work in segregated settings, poverty is pervasive. (Source: Star Tribune)