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Disability service providers starting to close programs across Minnesota

Kirsten Swanson
Updated: July 31, 2020 10:16 PM
Created: July 31, 2020 05:46 PM

Two different disability service providers in rural Minnesota communities have voted to dissolve their nonprofits, signaling the beginning of a series of closures that advocates have warned state officials about for months.

Adult day programs and employment services have largely gone without any emergency funding from the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Harlan Madsen, the chairman of the board of directors of Kandi Works Development and Activities Center in Kandiyohi, said losses during the shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 compounded the financial stress many organizations already felt.

The board voted Tuesday to dissolve the nonprofit.

"We feel, and felt, very strongly after intensive conversations as a board that it is irresponsible of us to continue to use our resources and reserves and just simply burn them up," Madsen said. "It is a very gut-wrenching decision."


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The closure leaves dozens of people without options for skills development and employment in the central Minnesota county. Madsen said it's unclear what program will ultimately be available to people with disabilities in such a removed setting.

"For them to find employment is going to be very difficult," he said. "Unfortunately, during the shutdown we lost several of our contracts as far as the work the clients were doing and the consumers were doing for various private enterprises."

Other programs find themselves in similar situations.

Le Sueur County Developmental Services in Waterville decided to close earlier in July. The program has since been selling off its inventory, everything from cleaning supplies to beds.

"It just became more clear that there's not going to be business as usual, anytime in the near future," said director Doug Scharfe.

The organization supported 52 individuals. It's unclear what will happen to those people.

"It's difficult for me to even recommend or refer because I think all the day programs in the state of Minnesota are struggling to keep providing services," Scharfe said.

Providers pleaded with the state for months for some sort of emergency funding. This summer, lawmakers have tried - and failed - twice to pass a relief package that would make grants available for programs' fixed costs.

"In our case, if that would have been attended to two months ago or even a month and a half, it might be a different story," Scharfe said. "I think it would have at least kept us going for a little longer."


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