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COVID-19 causing financial stress to Alexandria programs serving people with disabilities

Douglas County Developmental Achievement Center and Productive Alternatives in Alexandria and other day programs serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Minnesota say they are under extreme financial stress due to closures brought on by COVID-19.

Some are questioning if they will be able to reopen when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

“We simply cannot come back from this crisis with a decimated infrastructure for these crucial community disability services, where people with disabilities will not have access to innovative, individualized supports during the day,” said Julie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR). “We cannot turn back the clock on our progress. We must ensure day programs remain viable when we get through this pandemic.”

Johnson said Minnesota has worked for more than 40 years to move away from the institutional model of disability services into a thriving, community-based and person-centered array of supports and services. Minnesota has been a leader in this arena, when compared to other states, bringing a quality of life to tens of thousands through work opportunities, life enrichment and community integration, she said.

MOHR is prompting people to ask state legislators to pass “Disability Day and Employment Services Fixed Cost Relief” as soon as possible. A legislative proposal has been drafted and is being circulated by MOHR.


One provider in Minneapolis said the stay-at-home order from the state may help many to relate to what life would be like for people with disabilities without day programs. Most people enjoy interacting with others, but this is often more difficult for people with disabilities who have greater limitations than the general population, Johnson said.

All of the day service providers in Minnesota are nonprofits and only get paid when clients attend their programs, according to MOHR. With services suspended, most have no revenue coming in and have little or no cash reserves to cover fixed costs while people with disabilities stay home. MOHR is working with the state Legislature and the Department of Human Services to ensure emergency funds are available during the service suspension period.

“Many of the people we serve need staff to get out in the community, attend events, take in a movie and do other things that many of us take for granted,” Johnson said. Day programs not only provide employment training and job support, but are bedrock to people’s social lives and interaction with wider society, she added.

MOHR’s mission is advocate and support its nonprofit members in providing meaningful services to persons with disabilities and communities served. Members say they are committed to respect for each individual, a person-centered approach and expanding work opportunities.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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