Chippewa Enterprises awaiting legislative relief

Mike Milbrandt
Chippewa Enterprises is hopeful that the upcoming state special legislation session will bring relief to Minnesota's day programs.

Montevideo’s Chippewa Enterprises is hoping that the next legislative special session will bring some much needed financial relief to the struggling day program. Due to restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility closed its doors on March 17, and has only recently began a phased reopening.

According to Gwen Nokleby, Director of Chippewa Enterprises, the non-profit has experienced a $300,000 loss in revenue, while continuing to pay for fixed business costs. “I never thought we would have had something like this to worry about,” she said.

Nokleby also said that the Minnesota Department of Human Services could have applied for a federal retainer waiver through the Center of Medicaid Services (CMS), which would have given them the funds to get Chippewa Enterprises through this difficult period. She said: “They did not do that because they felt they needed the approval of the legislature. A total fo 35 states, including all of our surrounding states, applied for and received those waivers. Some of those states even received matching funds, but we ended up with nothing.”

In Minnesota’s first legislative session, a bill providing relief to day programs was passed in the Senate, but was unable to be brought to the floor of the house before the session ended.

“We have had some champions fighting for us,” said Nokleby. “Sen. Abeler, Sen. Hoffman, and Rep. Tim Miller are on our side and have been working hard for us. We had some hope for the second session, but the bill went nowhere.”

Chippewa Enterprises has been fortunate to receive some help. “Even though we’ve been struggling, we did apply for and receive help through the Paycheck Protection Plan. We followed the rules of the loan, so the loan is forgivable. We also got a Small Business Admini­stration loan which has to be paid back, but it is a low interest loan payable over 30 years. If we didn’t get that, we would have had to close,” said Nokleby.

The past several months have been difficult for staff and clients of Chippewa Enterprises. Nokleby said: “All of our clients have been wondering when they can come back. Their guardians are wondering when they can come back. They don’t understand why they can’t be at work.”

Recently, some clients have returned to work on a very limited basis. “At the beginning of June, DHS allowed us to bring some of our clients back to their community jobs. Later in the month, we were allowed to bring clients who lived in their own homes back into our building. Those who live in group home settings were not allowed to come back to work in our building,” said Nokleby.

According to Nokleby, the number of hours those clients who can work in the building are limited. “They can only be here three hours each day,” she said, “but only a limited number can be here at one time. Right now we have a small group that comes in at 8:30 a.m., and another that comes in the late morning to early afternoon.”

Chippewa Enterprises serves a total of 35 clients and has a support staff of 15 part time employees. “Most of our staff is back working with us, but not at their full capacity,” said Nokleby. “We just can’t do that right now, and it’s been difficult for all of us.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Nokleby did mention a bright spot that has come out of it. She said: “Sometimes opportunities can come up when you don’t look for them. We began a new virtual learning program for our clients. We set up a special curriculum for those who couldn’t come to work.

“We have staff who communicate with those clients through Zoom or another online platform. They are able to do activities and watch informational videos. It is also something we can continue to provide after restrictions are lifted because there are some people who will not be able to come back for a long time due to underlying medical conditions.”

Another legislative special session has been scheduled for this month, and Nokleby hopes the third time is the charm. “We have strong legislative support for us, but we would also like community support. People should contact their legislators and Governor Walz and let them know that Chippewa Enterprises is an important part of the Montevideo community. Our clients are part of our community, and their jobs are very important to them,” she said.

Perhaps the hardest part of this situation has been not knowing what the future holds for Chippewa Enterprises. Nokleby said: “It really hit home last week when Kandi Works in Atwater and Kandiyohi closed; they were close partners of ours. That really made our situation stand out as we are in the same place.”

Hope springs eternal, and if the legislature can come together and pass a funding bill during this next special session which includes relief for day programs, Chippewa Enterprises will be able to continue providing much-needed services for their clients.