Minnesota disability services increasingly concerned about fate of organizations after pandemic due to lack of emergency relief from state

Nonprofit organizations supporting families with disabilities in Minnesota are growing increasingly concerned about whether they will be able to survive the pandemic, due to a lack of emergency relief from the state.

"I feel like our industry has been very much, I don’t want to say ignored, but very much not considered as important and I’m not sure why," said Brenda Geldert, executive director of Options, Inc. in Big Lake.

Options, Inc. is a day training and habilitation program that serves 250 adults with disabilities in the greater Sherburne County area. The nonprofit provides employment support, social opportunities and community engagement.

"Our mission of helping people be a part of their greater community I feel is highly important," Geldert said. "But our revenue compared to last year is down 62% and we’re predicting a deficit of $66,000 a month starting in January."

Geldert said disability services providers in Minnesota have faced an uphill battle since the start of the pandemic. Their facilities were shut down from March until June and have been operating at 50% capacity since July.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has closely followed providers’ pleas for emergency funding from the state, with facilities going five months without CARES Act relief. The Minnesota legislature finally passed a $30 million emergency funding package in August to help support disability services providers.

More from KSTP:

Disability service providers starting to close programs across Minnesota

Day services to reopen Monday for people with disabilities

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

"I don’t want the impression that we were taken care of in August," Geldert said. "It was a great financial grant but it will not sustain us."

Geldert said that one-time boost from the state provided them $145,000 in relief. By contrast, they lost $966,000 from March through June and they continue to lose money while operating at half-capacity. Their revenue is generated by billing services through Medicaid waivers and those services are currently limited by state restrictions.

"There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of sleepless nights for everyone," Geldert said. "We’re concerned about what happens in January, when all the other grant money is over and all of that support is gone. How long can we survive? How long can we continue without any state or federal relief?"

Families who rely on these services tell 5 EYEWITNESS News they are also worried about what the future holds.

"It would be just devastating if we lost a program like this," said Elizabeth Roemer, who has been the caregiver for her niece Tina Roemer in Becker. "Tina was born blue at berth, so she has a cognitive disability. Without a program like this, it would really limit her ability to even leave the home. This program gives Tina independence, it gives her the ability to earn wages. I could never duplicate these services for her, not in a million years."

The family of Mattie Miller, a 38-year-old with down syndrome in Big Lake, said programs like Options, Inc. help thousands of vulnerable adults in Minnesota communities.

"As a parent, you always worry about your child and this takes away a lot of the worry, it really does," said Mattie’s father, Ted Miller.

Mattie’s sister Samantha added, "When Mattie is able to work, I see a lot of pride from her."

Options, Inc. hopes state lawmakers will consider extra emergency relief for their industry as soon as possible.

"We just really need some kind of sustainable funding so that we are present at the end of the pandemic," Geldert said.