Legislature approves emergency funding for disability service providers after months

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Minnesota lawmakers have passed a $30 million dollar rescue package for disability service providers.

The bill was among the first items taken up during Wednesday’s third special legislative session. A similar request failed to pass both chambers twice before.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who sponsored the Senate version, told members during a floor speech House leadership had finally agreed on the language in the latest bill.

"Third time’s a charm," Abeler said.

For months, disability service providers have warned of the dire financial straits they are facing due to program restrictions in the wake of the pandemic.

In March, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services barred individuals from attending adult day care and other employment programs, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While DHS has relaxed some restrictions and have allowed people with disabilities to return to their programs in-person, leaders in these organizations said going without substantial funding for more than three months has had devastating impacts.

5 INVESTIGATES highlighted their struggle earlier this summer.

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The funding comes too late for some. Already, providers in rural areas of the state have permanently closed due to the financial strain.

The bill takes $30 million from Minnesota’s CARES Act funding that came from the federal government. The money will be available as retention grants to help disability service providers cover up to a month’s worth of expenses.

In an emotional floor speech, Abeler said he believed the bill finally passed because of intense public opinion and pressure on lawmakers.

During two previous Senate hearings in June and July, lawmakers heard compelling testimony from service providers and people with disabilities, who begged for help.

"These places give individuals like this opportunities to thrive the best they can," Abeler said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "They are not ‘these people.’ They are people."

The bill goes to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature. Walz previously told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he would sign the legislation once it was approved.