We gathered and rallied, and it was a sight to behold. Over 2000 people showed up at the Capitol on Tuesday to advocate for support and funding for people with disabilities and the people who tirelessly care for them. People living with disabilities, family and friends, caregivers, and people who support inclusion and root for a day when all people can live fully, came out to show representatives and senators that we deserve to be funded appropriately and that funding MUST raise to the level of need, or the system will collapse. Together we met with our state representatives and senators and begged for the funding that will keep disability services providers around for decades to come.
There were hats emblazoned with, INVEST IN US, pins with I VOTE, DISABILITY IS DIVERSITY, and signs that said things like HOSPITALS WILL NOT BE CHEAPER. We even made the News, CEO Tom Gillespie, spoke to Caroline Cummings from WCCO. It was massive outpouring of support. But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The night before the rally the House Omnibus was released, and the amount of funding set aside for disability services was a half measure at best. We are asking for the bills presented to be met with full support because we have not been provided enough for decades and are at a tipping point.
In just about every meeting that day, providers, parents and people served said some version of … ‘without the funding homes will close.’ And once closed there will be hundreds if not thousands of people scrambling for services that are hard to find, if even still in existence. Group homes in Minnesota have already closed with many more closures to follow if these bills are not passed. The impact of the decision to fund partially or not at all will be catastrophic, and even more lives will be disrupted.
Disability advocates have fought for decades for inclusion and are tied to the government for funding as roughly 97% of funding comes from government sources. Living Well alone acquired a deficit last year of close to $2M in wage reimbursements and staffing agency fees.
The system as it stands is unsustainable. The average citizen has no idea the complexity of the situation, and with 4000 bills up for consideration, it is likely many elected officials do not either. As advocates we met as a group to share our stories. The work is not done. Please take a moment and use this link to find and email your reps, then tell them why you support FULL funding of disability services, especially Best Life Alliance DWRS Reform (HF 999/SF 1015) and Rate changes for ICF/DD Services (HF 568/SF 756). And email Chair of the Human Services Finance Committee, Rep. Noor, and ask him to put the bills at the top of the list for full consideration. And while you are at it, contact Governor Walz and tell him you do not want a check for yourself, but services for our most vulnerable. Our staff members who were held up as heroes during covid are now often eligible for SNAP benefits. The bills presented will help pay them more, and we all know they deserve it.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Tuesday was sharing a collective experience with so many people all asking for the same thing—inclusion. Inclusion in community was the dream of advocates for decades. Now we are asking for inclusion in funding. We fought to be seen, now we must be heard.
Here are a few great stories and quotes from the day:
Kathy Anderson, Volunteer Program Manager, attend the rally and met with a few reps. She said, “It was amazing to be part of a large and powerful message and to learn from others how best to share with the community and our representatives that disability services, and the people that receive them, deserve recognition in all the ways.” She was with a group from Mount Olivet Rolling Acres, including Sarah Hennes, who said, “This was my first time at Disability Services Day at the Capitol and I will never forget it. In this field we are not competitors we are a team. Seeing people come together from all over to be one voice is truly inspiring and leaves me with hope. Hope that we are finally heard. Invest in us and you invest in everyone.” Freya Hauer, Living Well Volunteer Program Intern, adds, “It was great to see such strong self-advocacy from people and have the opportunity to show up for disability rights!”
Teri Vellner, sister of Peggy who has lived with Living Well since 2000, says, “Day at the Capitol was such a great day! It was inspiring to be part of the 2000 people rallying at the Capitol demanding their voices to be heard. There was no hiding from it! I was there in support of my sister, Peggy, who is a resident at one of Living Well’s ICFs. Peggy asked me to join her in support of her, her friends, and staff to ask for increased much needed funding for staff wages and waivered services. Peggy’s message was honest and humbling, and frankly disarming to some of the legislators. They had to hear this message directly from the people who need it most. It was inspiring to me and compelled me to want to speak more and do more to share their message.”
A crew from our Orono Woodland home was there, including Regional Director Adrienne DeRuyck and Program Manager April Stevens. Adrienne says, “It was really energizing to be with others who work in our field, and to hear voices from those who count on the important services we provide. It’s disheartening that it feels like we have to beg for something so basic as caring for Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens, but that’s just the reality. I really hope our voices were heard.” And April said, “My voice may be small, but I have one. Not all the people we serve do. I will advocate for them always.” She adds, “Our voices ask to bring humanity back to Minnesota.”
Heather Heier, Communications and Events Manager, says, “It was overwhelming to see so many people come together to support people with disabilities and those who care for them with such love and dedication. By the end of the day, I felt like a lobbyist and told anyone who would listen to me why funding not only matters, but is essential to keep the organizations who provide services open. I met so many incredible people and am grateful to work in an industry where we help each other so we can support the people we care for.” Laura Lee, who is new to the Living Well Gala Committee, and her Husband Jack Lee, who is on the Board at Opportunity Partners, were at the Capitol and have this to share, “We were inspired to be at the Capitol with so many self-advocates and caregivers—the message of ‘invest in us’ was loud and clear! As the parents of a child with down syndrome and autism, we’re counting on them to invest now and keep investing in the future!”
When Program Manager Teewon Dolpei, and Janice from 380, met with Rep. Samantha Vang, she asked Janice if there anything she wanted to say. Janice’s reply was, “I want you to please help pay my staff to continue working with me and help me be able to pay for my medications. Thank you.” Teewon said of the day, “Advocacy is the most effective way to voice our concerns to leaders and policy makers. I am always happy to advocate with others for a worthy cause. Especially a cause that impacts myself and the people I support. The most amazing part of the day at the Capitol was seeing people served in numbers walk through offices of members of congress to advocate for themselves.”
Director of HR, Alison Nelson, shares, “I was there because I believe that the state has a responsibility to care for all of it constituents. As a state we are failing both people with disabilities and the people supporting them by not offering adequate funding for the supports that are needed. Being a Direct Support Professional was one of the most meaningful jobs I have ever had, and it is also the most difficult. Direct Support Professionals are often overlooked and undercelebrated. I am proud of the work that Living Well does and the way that we have invested in our employees repeatedly over the years, but we need the states support to help us continue and to meet our vision; a day when people impacted by disabilities and their staff live well.” Jackson Otto, Payroll and Benefits Manager, adds, “I am very grateful to have experienced the Day at the Capital! It was great to see so many fierce advocates come together to call for change. I really enjoyed hearing our CEO Tom speak so passionately and persuasively about our current funding crisis with Representative Rick Hansen.”
It was a BEAUTIFUL day, but the work is not done. Until the bills are signed, we have to remains steadfast in our advocacy. Please contact your reps and ask your friends and family to do the same. Reach out with any questions. To all who came to the Capitol and those who support and advocate for people with disabilities, THANK YOU—let’s get this done!