(Source: Cloquet Pine Journal)
Programs that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are among the many affected by COVID and wage issues.
Many programs providing employment and day enrichment supports had to shut down at the start of the pandemic. Once they were able to reopen, they were unable to find adequate staffing.
“We’re chronically short 15 to 20 positions across the state,” said Steve Skauge, president of Productive Alternatives, a service that connects adults with disabilities to employment opportunities. “Most of our jobs are really hands-on with people with disability needs of one sort or another, so it’s very difficult for us to try to find other ways (to fill them).”
Productive Alternatives is based in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, with additional branches in Moorhead, Perham, Brainerd, Little Falls and Alexandria.
As a result, people with disabilities end up not getting served. “We have waiting lists all over the place because we just don’t have enough staff to provide the service,” Skauge said. “We’ve got people who can and want to work that we’re trying to serve, but if we don’t have the staff to support those folks out on the job, then they can’t get hired.”
Part of the problem is money, Skauge said. “Our wages are barely competitive,” he said. “It’s exacerbated now by the wage inflation that goes on currently. The bottom line is, we don’t have the ability to set the price for our product. … We only get what the legislature or the county will give us.”
COVID also had a “huge” effect, Skauge said, because of enforced closures. “When you’re closed for a long period of time, you’re not getting any revenue, and people quit,” he said. Not all employees came back.
While Productive Alternatives was able to stay solvent, a lot of providers didn’t, Skauge said.
As for now, Skauge said he is trying to raise awareness of the issue.