As special session nears, calls to fund Minnesota disability service providers intensify

Thousands of people who rely on disability service providers in Minnesota will be watching closely when lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday for a second special legislative session.

Adult day and employment programs were forced to shut down earlier this year as COVID-19 cases spread through the state.

People like Steven Chase, 30, have resorted to isolating at home. Chase has cerebral palsy, is non-verbal and uses a power wheelchair to get around.

Minnesota Legislature to convene for another special session starting Monday

"He really misses the interaction," Steven’s father, Phil, said. "He needs that social connection."

Providers need participants like Steven. They draw the majority of their income from state and federal reimbursement dollars based on how many clients they serve.

As the Minnesota Department of Human Services continues to restrict full access to those services, the state’s largest agency also failed to secure emergency funding for programs in the form of a special waiver from the federal government, according to Medicaid data reviewed by 5 INVESTIGATES.

Little to no financial support, according to providers, could result in dozens of programs being forced to close for good.

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

"We just want the capability of being able to go back," Phil Chase said. "It’s heartbreaking to know that we’re just kind of pushed down the road a little bit."

Calls for funding have hit a fever pitch, as letters continue to pour into the governor’s office from both lawmakers and constituents.

On Tuesday, a letter authored by DFL Rep. Jeff Brand and 20 co-signers urged Gov. Tim Walz to "support and seek the passage" of a previously-passed relief package, authored by the Senate during last month’s special session.

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

Fernando Saavedra, who participates in employment development through Options Inc. in Big Lake, posted a letter he wrote to Gov. Walz on Facebook.

"Look at us for crying out loud," Saavedra said during an interview Friday. "This has been the most devastating months for us."

Families, advocates and service providers are now looking to the upcoming special session for a Hail Mary.

"The help will get there," Phil Chase said with optimism. "Just hang on. There’s better days coming."