Updated: July 29, 2020 07:58 PM
Created: July 29, 2020 05:25 PM
Disability service providers across Minnesota continue to be financially strained after lawmakers failed to reach a deal that would make nearly $30 million in emergency funding available for the essential services.
For the second time in as many months, a relief package that would have provided retention grants to programs failed to make it to a vote in the House. The measure was twice before passed unanimously by the Senate.
During a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, pointed the finger at the Walz administration, claiming the funding was pushed to the side during negotiations on other items.
"Come to find out that it was in discussion with leadership that the budget commissioner was using it as a bargaining chip to get three items that the governor wanted," Abeler said.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to Minnesota's Office of Management and Budget for comment but has not received a response.
Dozens of programs across the state are in dire straits. Program administrators testified at the hearing that their financial situations have not improved, even after the state's Department of Human Services relaxed restrictions on in-person services.
DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead responded to questions about the funding stall during the hearing.
"The governor already has a significant number of requests for worthy causes from the COVID relief fund, also known as the CARES act funding, which exceed the funding available and those requests are only growing," Harpstead told the committee. "Lots of options were considered and in the end, the session ended and nothing happened on this issue."
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In response, Abeler requested that DHS write a formal request to use some of the COVID Relief Fund money for disability service providers.
"If it wasn't clear before, I think it should be eminently clear now that those revenues are insufficient for all kinds of reasons," he said.
Providers continue to paint a grim picture of their current circumstances and futures in the community.
"At this point, I do not have any more expenses to cut," said Julie Zbaracki of Partnership Resources, Inc, who testified at Wednesday's hearing.
Dawn Lamping, executive director at Floodwood Services and Training, said her program has been able to remain open thanks to grants and donations.
"I'd really rather be focusing on people than begging for money and that's what I feel like I'm doing each and every day," Lamping said during an interview this week.
Floodwood Services and Training normally serves nearly 60 adults in adult-day services and employment opportunities. Lamping said 19 people are still unable to return to their programs.
"We need that funding to move forward to keep us here when we come out on the other side of this," she said. "This is going to be a significant crisis on the other side of this if we don't have these programs for people with disabilities to return to."
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