Chuck Van Heuveln has been a lifelong Minnesotan, a resident of St. Paul and a member of the disability community. Born with cerebral palsy, he has worked all of his adult life. He now is having a difficult time understanding why he can’t keep what he’s earned and why some citizens, just because they require state services, are being forced to give up everything they worked for and live in poverty. “I am a working, taxpaying citizen who just wants to continue contributing and live out my life on my own pension and savings,” said Van Heuveln. “Now the state is taking it all away.” The St. Paul resident is caught in a bureaucratic snafu that could soon result in the loss of his home and many of his other assets.
Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) officials are aware of Van Heuveln’s situation.
About 30 people face similar issues every year. But making changes could take time. “We [DHS] don’t have the authority to make any exemption for this gentleman [Van Heuveln], at this point in time, it’s just not for DHS to decide,” Assistant Commissioner, Continuing Care Administration Loren Colman said.
Many of Van Heuveln’s friends and fellow activists are sympathetic to his plight. “Chuck ushered in the dawn of the disability rights movement in Minnesota, said veteran activist Mel Duncan. “I well remember all the indignities and barriers he witnessed in registering voters for the 1972 election which propelled him to seek changes in the 1973 legislative session. Now, 40 years later, he once again meets the indignities of an inaccessible community with the same courageous activist spirit.”
“We do think the issue of encouraging employment, especially people with disabilities is something we strongly support. We are aware that there are increasing numbers of people that want to work after the age of 65 and the policies really has not kept pace with these changes,” Colman said, “We are interested in more options for an aging population, in this case an aging population that’s on MA-EPD. At this point, we have to wait in accordance with the governor’s instructions until we see the release of February forecast. Then we will be able to reassess and see what option may be available to modify the policies around employment of MAEPD. We are very much aware of the dilemma that this situation causes people who are reaching ages 65 in the MA-EPD program. Were very interested in strategies that help people continue employment and we certainly interested in looking into this issue again.”
Van Heuveln has worked for the St. Paul Public School System for the past 18 years. During that time he has been enrolled in the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) program. MA-EPD is a program permitting him to pay a percentage of his earning over the poverty level towards his medical expenses to Ramsey County Human Services. Van Heuveln needs MA because of his need for PCA service that is not covered by Insurance or Medicare. “Over the years, I’ve earned enough to buy a small condominium, which I am proud to call my home,” said Van Heuveln.
But he was notified last spring by Ramsey County that the day he turns 65 years of age, he will be cut off the MAEPD program and be placed on the straight Medical Assistance (MA) program. An individual is only eligible for MA-EPD from age 16 to their 65th birthday. Under the MA program a person pays back to the county whatever the amount of their gross income (SSDI or other earned income) is over $677 a month as a medical spend down and is only allowed $3,000 in assets.
“Everyone’s encouraged to work and people with disabilities were even given more incentive with the MA-EPD program. It’s the American dream, work hard, buy a house and retire on a pension. But everything I work for including my pension will be taken away when I turn 65 because of the assets and income limits; what kind of American dream is that?” said Van Heuveln. “I thought that the word ‘disability’ was included in the equal rights amendment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota equal rights bill of 1972. If this disability and age rule isn’t discrimination, what is it?” he added.
“I have worked hard all my life and I have volunteered in the community. I was involved with legislation for people with disabilities,” Van Heuveln said. “I was partly responsible for five major bills in the 1970s’ legislative session involving people with disabilities.
The bills which all became law, were as follows: 1) Requiring all public buildings built after 1972 to be accessible to the disabled, 2) Requiring polling places to be barrier free, 3) Public transportation accessible to the disabled, 4) The signature stamp bill making a rubber stamp a legal signature, and 5) Adding the word disability to the state human rights law.”
Van Heuveln wouldn’t be required to give up his home according to state policy. But, he could no longer afford the mortgage payments with $677 a month as an income restriction. He would have to move into state subsidized housing or a nursing home. In addition to the loss of his home and independence, this would be far more costly to the state and the county.
Van Heuveln said, “who’s profiting here, not me, not the taxpayers of Minnesota but those owning the subsidized housing and for the wrong reason. I’m not saying subsidized housing is bad but why use it when you don’t have to; subsidized me, it’s cheaper! I just want to continue working so I can subsidize myself.”
During the 2011 legislative session, state lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton had a chance to change this age restriction. Legislators voted against the amendment to extending the age limit on the MA-EPD which forces people with disabilities to retire. The amendment was rejected because it is seen as a cost savings measure to not allow people with disabilities to continue working, even if they want to and are fully capable of staying employed.
Van Heulven notes that this action was taken because there wasn’t enough money in the state budget to cover human services, which will force many disabled senior citizens to live at poverty level. “However, now the governor and the legislators are seeking huge amounts of taxpayer money to fund a Vikings football stadium, a privately owned company. Is the state of Minnesota using our tax dollars in the proper way?” he said.