With social isolation and shelter at home still in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, Chippewa Enterprises and other day programs in Montevideo, as well as the rest of Minnesota who serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are under extreme financial stress. As a result, there is questioning as to whether they will be able to reopen once the shelter at home order is lifted.

With social isolation and shelter at home still in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, Chippewa Enterprises and other day programs in Montevideo, as well as the rest of Minnesota who serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are under extreme financial stress. As a result, there is questioning as to whether they will be able to reopen once the shelter at home order is lifted.

“We simply cannot come back from this crisis with a decimated infrastructure for these crucial community disability services, where people with disabilities will not have access to innovative, individualized supports during the day,” said Julie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). “We cannot turn back the clock on our progress. We must ensure day programs remain viable when we get through this pandemic.”

These programs provide structure and support, which are crucial to individuals with disabilities. Losing these programs could have a detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of these individuals.

For over 40 years, Johnson has worked to turn the institutional model of disability services into a community-based and person-centered basis of support and services. Compared to other states, Minnesota has proven to be a leader in this advancement, bringing quality of life to numerous communities through work opportunities, life enrichment, and community integration.

To help keep these services active not only for the community of Montevideo but the rest of Minnesota, MOHR is asking individuals and their communities to contact state legislators to pass a bill titled, “Disability Day and Employment Services Fixed Cost Relief.” This would provide emergency funding, so Minnesotans with disabilities are able to access some day supports during this pandemic, and are able to return to their day and employment services once it is over and things return to normal.

“This emergency funding is needed so service providers can try to support these individuals in new and different ways during this short-term pandemic. I am asking you to please push to pass a Disability Day and Employment Services Fixed Cost Relief Legislative proposal as soon as possible,” said Johnson.

Day service providers are nonprofits, and only get paid when clients attend their programs. With services suspended, most have no revenue coming in and have little or no cash reserves to cover fixed costs while these individuals stay home. MOHR is working with the state Legislature and the Department of Human Services to ensure emergency funds are available during this period of service suspension.

“Many do not understand the important training role these services provide to teach simple job skills or to teach social skills,” said Sheri Wallace, president of the Wallace Group, partnered with MOHR to promote their public relations and get the word out. “The closing of these centers, specifically those that are in smaller communities, gets us back to the institutions where those with disabilities are out of sight and the general public forgets they are human beings. We have come so far in the past 40 years to encourage and support these individuals to succeed in areas beyond anyone’s expectations, family, friend, or professional.”

According to Johnson, day programs not only provide employment training and job support, but are integral to people’s social lives and integration with wider society.

“Many of the people we serve need staff to get out in the community, attend events, take in a movie and do other things that many of us take for granted,” Johnson said. “MOHR’s mission is to advocate support to its nonprofit members in providing meaningful services to persons with disabilities and communities served. Members are committed to respect each other for each individual, a person-centered approach, and expanding work opportunities.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Disability Day and Employment Services Fixed Cost Relief Bill was introduced to state legislation. authorizing retainer payments to service providers, including day programs and employment services for individuals with disabilities as well as adult day services for the elderly. The payments are would be equal to 50 percent of the past revenue for those services.

Those interested in voicing support for the bill, and ensure individuals do not lose access to critical programs, can contact Minnesota State Representatives Andrew Lang, Tim Miller, and Governor Walz. A list of those representatives and their contact information can be found on the People’s Voice page of the American-News.