Minneapolis Road to Freedom,” TransGuyJay

June 25, 2020; Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

In a recent legislative hearing, leaders of Minnesota’s day programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) had a dire message: They are running out of cash and may not survive through the summer without emergency assistance. The programs are seeking a $30 million relief package to stay afloat until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The government-supported centers provide job training, mental health therapy, and socialization to 30,000 Minnesotans with disabilities from all regions of the state, but many have been closed since March as a result of restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The centers are normally used by adults with disabilities who live in group homes as well as those that live with their families. The shutdown has been particularly hard on those in group homes, who have been virtually imprisoned. Yet coronavirus has taken a toll, infecting 300 group-home residents and killing 19.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services modified its licensing rules earlier in June, allowing providers to reopen at half capacity, and limiting time with consumers to three hours. But group home residents are still not allowed to attend. According to Chris Serres, writing in the Star Tribune, that limitation has resulted in many centers operating at only 20 percent capacity.

At the Senate hearing, leaders of the day programs reported that revenues have dropped 80 to 95 percent. Options, Inc., a nonprofit in Big Lake, MN, is losing $100,000 a month.

“We are in a constant state of distress,” executive director Brenda Geldert testified. “It’s going to be impossible to survive unless we get some relief.”

At Floodwood Services and Training Inc, 40 miles west of Duluth, revenue has dropped 95 percent. Executive Director Dawn Lamping reported that the program, which normally serves 60 adults, will be forced to close in six weeks, if relief funding is not forthcoming.

Since the pandemic began, these organizations have furloughed or laid off 3,600 employees. But the nonprofits are still paying for buildings, vans, insurance, and so on. Providers and families fear that the agencies will not survive the pandemic, leaving people with IDD isolated and devoid of the supportive therapy, stimulation, and activities that are essential to their health and well-being.

The $30 million measure passed the state’s Senate during the legislature’s special session 67–0, but the House failed to vote on the bill before the session ended.

Senator Jim Abeler, who chairs the committee that held the hearing, pleaded with Governor Tim Waltz to use an executive order to provide the needed funding: “Would you please rescue the disability service sector in Minnesota? This is urgent. Clients literally will not thrive…people will die.”

The IDD programs are not alone in facing unparalleled economic stress. In April, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits estimated that state nonprofits collectively lost $1 billion. That is a hole that has only grown deeper since and will be extraordinarily difficult to fill without support from philanthropy, the state, and the federal government.

The situation is most dire for nonprofits that provide services from congregate sites. (Among them, childcare providers, which we have discussed before.) Here, state and federal resources will be critical.

In cases like these, social distancing requirements and prolonged periods of closure without sufficient reimbursement can destroy business models and raise hurdles that are unsurmountable without government infusions of capital. That capital may be hard to come by at the state level, as Steve Dubb details here, both this year and next. That leaves the federal government, where the Senate continues to sit on its hands.—Karen Kahn