Disability service providers react to emergency funding package

From her office at Floodwood Services and Training, Dawn Lamping watched Wednesday’s special session on her laptop.

Even before taking up items that Gov. Tim Walz sent the legislature to deal with, both chambers voted overwhelmingly to approve a $30 million relief package for disability service providers.

"It was really an exciting day," Lamping, the executive director of FST said in an interview Thursday morning.

Disability service providers are now in line to get desperately needed emergency funding from the state.

RELATED: Legislature approves emergency funding for disability service providers after months

Early in the pandemic, the state had shut down programs that serve people with disabilities to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But during that time, providers got no financial relief from the state. It took three months of begging state leaders and lawmakers for a lifeboat to come.

"It’s just nice to feel like you’re being heard," said Julie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Organization of Habilitation and Rehabilitation. "Wish it would have happened sooner so that we wouldn’t have had to lose any of those valuable service providers."

Programs across the state, under tremendous financial stress, have started to close their doors, according to Johnson.

"People will continue to struggle, but it is a great lifeline," she said of the emergency funding.

A spokesperson from Walz’s office said he is expected to sign the bill as early as Friday. The Minnesota Department of Human Services would then be in charge of administering the grant program and dispersing funds.

"We went two months with zero revenue," Lamping said. "This is probably not going to make up for those two months."

Lamping said that while the funding is a "step in the right direction," what she and other providers would like to see is more flexibility to serve people with disabilities. DHS has loosened restrictions to allow for more people to attend day programs. Lamping would like to see those numbers increase even more.

"Our main goal is to provide support for that individual on an individualized basis as to what they need, what they want and do it in a safe and efficient manner," she said.