This legislative session has become unexpectedly crucial in determining the future of disability services. Currently, Minnesota uses a formula called the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS) to calculate the financial support that individuals receive for home and community-based services such as center-based supported employment, or life-enriching day programs, among others.
Because of conflicts between Minnesota’s DWRS and federal Medicaid regulations, individuals relying on these services could see drastic reductions in funding, resulting in an inability to access services that provide them opportunities to live fulfilling and community-engaged lives.
My daughter Lisa was born with hypotonic ataxic cerebral palsy and an anti-thrombin III deficiency. This means she has poor muscle tone, erratic balance and poor motor planning. This, combined with other medical complications, puts her at considerable risk of injury, and despite using a walker to assist her balance, she often has some nasty bruises as evidence of recent falls.
Lisa’s disabilities limit the kind of jobs she can do. After several years struggling with unsatisfactory job placements, Lisa came to Rise, a non-profit disability service provider. The job she was offered was a gift from Heaven. She works five days a week with 12–14 other people with disabilities, several of whom she has known since she was a child.
The work she does is real work – not a made-up task. Working at her computer, she enters information into databases for businesses which contract with Rise. She is expected thoroughly and accurately transcribe data, and she is proud of her productivity. Occasionally, her office receives specialty contracts and, because of her reading ability and willingness to try new projects, Lisa is often asked to work on these contracts, a welcome and enjoyable challenge. Her job also provides opportunities for enrichment classes like art, cooking and American Sign Language. These breaks from routine are fun changes, but she usually can’t wait to return to her data entry job.
I cannot emphasize enough how devastating this funding cut would be to services my family relies on. For Rise, a seven percent cut is an $850,000 decrease per year. This is money that provides wages to direct support professionals, who help people like Lisa learn new skills, while also assisting them with the physical and sometimes emotional challenges presented by their disabilities.
Every day, Lisa is safely transported from her apartment to her office, where works in a safe, productive and stimulating environment. You cannot imagine how difficult it was to send Lisa to unfulfilling and inappropriate jobs prior to Rise. Lisa is now proud of the fact that she doesn’t just have a job, but a good job – and one she is good at.
Organizations supporting those with disabilities provide unique and often underrepresented services in our community. The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is over double that of the general population, and cutting funding to the DWRS would only increase it. This is an unacceptable waste of the energy and intellect of vibrant, vital people. By assisting people like Lisa in finding the best job for them, and supporting them as they pursue active and purposeful lives, organizations like Rise provide a much-needed support system. A funding cut like the one being debated may appear to be a quick-fix without substantial impacts, but I assure you, the impact would be monumental. A cut this significant would directly impact thousands of your neighbors who rely on these supports.
Minnesota can point with pride to current supports which assist people with disabilities in living full, complete lives, with homes, jobs and relationships they are proud of. But we cannot be content with previous work. It is imperative that we rise to new challenges and ensure that every citizen lives up to their potential. Lisa is a great example of the effect these services have on individual’s lives. Rise has assisted her in developing professional competence as she fulfills regular tasks and takes on challenging new ones.
I urge lawmakers to take action and prevent this drastic cut to disability services. Many Minnesotans rely on services funded by the DWRS, and more still rely on this funding to keep the direct care workforce competitive. A cut this significant would leave disability services depleted and would put every provider’s ability to sustain their programs in jeopardy.
We are all only temporarily able-bodied. Any of us is only one icy patch, intractable infection, or missed step from experiencing a life not dissimilar from Lisa’s. I hope others recognize the importance of these services, and do everything they can to stop this cut. Whether it’s organizing friends and family, or contacting legislators directly, we need to work together to ensure that everyone knows the impact of disability services, and knows how devastating this cut would be to both the disability community and Minnesota as a whole.
Editor’s note: The Poppe family lives in the Twin Cities.