View public dollars as investment, not entitlement

Editor’s note: This is excerpted from testimony recently given at a hearing on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan. My name is Steve […]

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Editor’s note: This is excerpted from testimony recently given at a hearing on Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan.

My name is Steve Larson, the Senior Policy Director for The Arc Minnesota. The Arc Minnesota provides advocacy and supports for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. During a recent planning process The Arc developed the following vision:

The Arc’s vision for the future is that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) will have an annual budget allocation; will have clear guidelines about how they can spend it: will know how they will be held accountable; and, with appropriate support, will then be able to design their own services and supports to best meet their needs, goals, and dreams.

Another concept to consider is for all of us to view the public dollars spent on Minnesotans with disabilities as an investment rather than as an entitlement. Most investments expect a return and the return expected is that individuals with disabilities will be able to “build a life” a life which is fully integrated into the community, a life in which they attain services they choose at the right time, in the right place and in the right amount. By having the goal of “building a life” with public dollars individuals will have the freedom to design their own services and supports system that will help them attain their personal outcomes.

Each life will and should be different and will require supports that are customized to that individuals need. Some will require fewer supports and some will require more than available through our traditional systems.

So what are the keys to accomplishing our vision for individuals with disabilities to build a life? Number one is the successful implementation of MN Choices. With the implementation of a common assessment we can rapidly move to individual budgets for all persons with disabilities. This is the key to letting persons build their lives.

Currently 3,000 individuals on our waivers are on Consumer Directed Community Supports and have individual budgets and greater flexibility in designing their customized supports. With the transition from the personal care attendant (PCA) program to Community First Services and Supports potentially 20,000 more Minnesotans will have greater control of the resources available to them.

Another key is giving persons with disabilities control of their housing. Minnesota has the potential to move more rapidly than in the past to have Minnesotans with disabilities be in greater control of the housing in which they reside. A few of the tools in place are the Moving Home Minnesota federal grant, the availability of MSA Housing Assistance dollars, the Housing Access Services (HAS) program operated by The Arc Minnesota and its chapters with a grant from DHS, and moving more towards self-direction in our waiver programs through the initiatives in Reform 2020.

Housing Access Services has helped more than 700 individuals find places of their own in the past four years. Housing Access Services has demonstrated that focused efforts can achieve substantial results using a person centered process that meets the needs of individuals one at a time.

The final key point I will highlight today is measurement. For years we have been able to measure the amount of dollars we have spent on persons with disabilities, we have been able to measure how many people are receiving what services but we have not be able to measure whether we are achieving the outcomes that individuals with disabilities desire.

Numerous potential measurements are identified in the draft plan. Let’s identify those measurements that will tell us whether we are achieving our goal of helping individuals build a life with the public resources available to them. Are individuals achieving their employment, housing, and other goals to live the most integrated life possible in the community?

Steve Larson is senior policy director for the Arc Minnesota.

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