Funding was approved by Minnesota Legislature in 2017, but has subsequently been denied by federal agency

    On the good news front, the Minnesota Legislature in 2017 approved legislation paving the way for a 7 percent funding increase through the Minnesota Department of Human Services that would benefit organizations like the Polk County Developmental Achievement Center, which has a facility on Crookston’s south end.

    Now, the bad news: This past February, the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid informed the Minnesota DHS that Minnesota’s legislatively approved investments in the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS) had been denied. The DWRS determines service rates for Minnesotans with disabilities who access community-based disability services.   

     While on the surface it might seem like a budget-neutral situation, with a 7 percent budget increase being awarded but then taken away, Jo Bittner, director of the Polk County DAC, tells the Times that the funding approved by the legislature was built into the 2018 budget and if it goes away cuts will be necessary.

    The funding, Bittner explained, was supposed to kick in on July 1, 2018. If it ends up not being allocated, she said the Polk County DAC is facing a staff reduction. “We actually have not filled a position in East Grand Forks as we await our future,” she added.

    The Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) has stepped in on behalf of its service provider members like the Polk County DAC to advocate for the funding to be allocated as promised.

    “All we are looking for is for some sense of long term stability,” said Mike Burke, president of MOHR.  “Stability in a system that will allow us to pay our staff competitive wages, which ultimately helps thousands of people with disabilities across the state who rely on our services for their quality of life.”

    Bills have been authored in the Minnesota Legislature to correct the problem. Bittner said District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel, a rural Crookston Republican, is pushing for the funding to be restored. She said she is still waiting to get a response from District 1 State Sen. Mark Johnson, a Republican from East Grand Forks.

    Organizations like MOHR have been advocating for a funding increase for the past five years, and Bittner said initial discussions involved an increase larger than 7 percent to keep up with expanding service needs, but it was negotiated down to 7 percent.

    “Taking away that 7 percent results in another loss for our agency,” she said. “We are making less now than we were in 2008.”

    MOHR is a member of The Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of more than 130 organizations, people with disabilities, families and supporters advocating for community based disability services that is advancing legislation to stop the 7 percent cut. The Best Life Alliance 2018 Legislation (SF2889/HF 3191) stops the cut to individual service rates by targeting these investments specifically to workforce competitiveness and increased frequency and predictability of scheduled rate adjustments, all within the community based disability services rate setting system.

    The group of more than 1,000 rallied at the State Capitol in St. Paul in March to draw attention to the situation.  Burke said the rally was an excellent opportunity to help state leaders meet and hear stories from the people who will be affected by these cuts. “It’s important for senators and representatives to hear from individuals with disabilities, their families and the people who work closely with them,” said Burke.