Gov. Walz responds to disability service provider requests for emergency funding

Gov. Tim Walz is responding to calls for action from Minnesota’s disability service providers, who have asked him to put together an emergency funding package.

Walz responded to questions from 5 INVESTIGATES Tuesday during a press conference, where he announced the state would open up a $56.6 million dollar grant program for child care centers, many who have remained partially opened through the COVID-19 closures.

In a striking contrast, the majority of people with disabilities are still barred from attending their day programs and center-based activities. Those services are now on life support, having received little to no revenues for more than three months.

Last in line: Minnesota disability services on life support with no safety net from the state

"We will work with the providers," Walz said. "I’ve asked them and I’ve asking the legislature to come up with something we can work together on."

For months, providers have been asking the state for relief, including in the form of a special waiver from the federal government that would keep funding coming in during emergency situations, like a pandemic.

5 INVESTIGATES found 35 other states – including Wisconsin – have already obtained the waiver and have been receiving payments to distribute to providers. Medcaid data shows Minnesota did not request it.

Walz did not respond to questions about why the Minnesota Department of Human Services has not taken that step. Instead, he focused his comments on what it would take to reopen facilities.

"One of the things we’ve asked them is for, how are you going to bring people back in safely?" Walz said. "What is that going to look like? How are you going to maintain it?"

Walz said unlike child care centers, disability service providers and the law makers rallying behind them have yet to present a clear plan for what grant money would go toward.

Minnesota lawmakers push for aid package to save disability service providers

"I have to tell you, on this issue around these providers, there’s a bit of disconnect that is not necessarily there with some of these other businesses where they are more aligned," Walz said.

Providers, like Julie Johnson, say they are grateful the governor is joining the conversation but are looking for action.

"It feels like there’s a big circle of finger pointing and people with disabilities are standing right in the middle of it," said Johnson, who is president of the Minnesota Organization of Habilitation and Rehabilitation.

Johnson, speaking on behalf of more than 100 providers that MOHR represents, said the majority of programs have made multiple revisions to its COVID preparedness documents and are ready to fully reopen to clients.

"We have plans about ventilation, we have plans about taking temperatures, screening," she said. "We have a number of plans in place already and we’re ready to do this."