A well-deserved retirement means Minnesotans with disabilities are saying goodbye to one of their strongest champions and legislative strategists. Steve Larson, senior policy director for The Arc Minnesota, stepped down July 7. He and his wife Joan Breslin Larson were honored at a retirement party June 28.
While he’ll miss his work and the many people he has worked with over the years, it’s time to retire and make changes, Larson said, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter.” The Larsons plan to travel, downsize from their longtime family home and spend more time with family during retirement.
Larson had many kind words for those he has worked with over the years and urges everyone to continue the quest for needed services and supports. His retirement caps a 43-year career in human services.
His work in human services began in Olmsted County in the 1970s, where both Larsons worked with group home residents. That work gave him an understanding of what direct support workers do, and workers’ importance to their clients.
He moved on to work at Bear Creek Services, then to supervise developmental disability programs in Olmsted County. He continued that focus with a move to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), where he led the Disability Services Division.
Larson has made self-directed services for people with disabilities and their families one of his priorities throughout his career in advocacy at the capitol and at meetings with state agency leaders and legislators. This spring he received an award at the National Applied Self-Direction Conference for his commitment to expand access to and improve consumer-directed services in Minnesota. It’s one of many kudos he has received in the weeks leading up to retirement.
“He is the ‘go-to’ person in Minnesota to initiate and follow-up on legislative initiatives that are critical to expanding and supporting self-directed service options in our state,” the award nomination stated. “He continues to work tirelessly to ensure that self-direction is an integral part of our service system.
Steve does an amazing job of determinedly, tirelessly bringing forward legislation each year to support and promote self-directed services and then advocating strongly to get that legislation passed.”
Larson was unable to be at the self-direction conference and accept his award in person. Vicki Gerrits, one of the people who submitted the nomination, presented the award to him at a June 5 meeting.
Larson has been a champion for self-direction since he started at The Arc Minnesota in September 2002. When families’ budgets for consumer-directed community supports (CDCS) were cut dramatically in 2004, he led efforts to restore those cuts. The Arc held public forums to inform families about the changes and give them an opportunity to share their stories.
In 2005, the Minnesota Legislature approved language to help families continue to use CDCS. Budgets for those receiving CDCS have often been too low to meet an individual’s or family’s needs, so Larson and other volunteers and staff from The Arc have worked persistently with DHS to revise the methods used to calculate those budgets.
In response to the struggles families and individuals were having in accessing and effectively using CDCS, Larson helped build an effective coalition to advance access to self-directed services. This coalition is a collaboration of individuals utilizing self-directed service options and their families, DHS, county representatives and other key stakeholders.
In the 2017 legislative session, The Arc Minnesota was one of the primary agencies that advocated for and gained legislative approval of a bill to make CDCS work better for more adults. As a result of the legislation, CDCS policy was changed to expand the exceptions to accessing CDCS and create a pathway for individuals residing in institutions to use the CDCS option more quickly.