Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director for The Arc Minnesota, recently retired after 15 years in that position. During his last two months on the job, he received several awards. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. He received an award for his commitment to expand access to and improve consumer-directed services at the National Applied Self-Direction Conference. Additionally, he received a certificate of appreciation from Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Department of Human Services for “for his dedication to improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities and their families throughout a lifetime of service and advocacy.”
The Arc Minnesota, as part of the “This is Medicaid” Coalition, hosted three town halls across the state on the proposed Medicaid cuts in the American Health Care Act. The town halls were held in Bloomington, Northfield, and St. Cloud. Attendance ranged from 20 in St. Cloud to 200 in Bloomington. At each town hall, coalition members discussed the basics of Medicaid and the many supports and services it provides to Minnesotans. Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director of The Arc Minnesota, and Cindy Owen, Executive Director of The Arc Midstate, were panelists at the St. Cloud town hall. Cindy shared her family’s story, and Steve discussed how Minnesotans with a variety of disabilities have benefitted from Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, noting that Medicaid is a “lifeline for Minnesotans with disabilities and their families.” Attendees filled out cards sharing their families’ stories for the Congressional delegation.
Thanks to the advocacy of The Arc Minnesota, the Minnesota Legislature passed and Governor Mark Dayton signed a Department of Health and Human Services funding bill that makes modest progress on several key priorities including:
- A 13% reduction in parental fees for participation in the TEFRA program.
- A 1% increase in the Medicaid spend-down, or about $10 per month
- $496,000 for statewide self-advocacy efforts;
- New services for those seeking competitive employment, pending approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and
- A 1.5% increase for personal care attendants under the SEIU contract, however there was no across the board increase for DSPs.
The Arc Minnesota, as part of the This Is Medicaid coalition, met with Congressman Tom Emmer to discuss the impact of the American Health Care Act on Medicaid beneficiaries. Specifically, they discussed the potential of the law to limit access to community-based services, increase waiting lists, and limit the ability of schools to bill Medicaid. Mike Gude, the chapter’s Communications Director, shared stories with Congressman Emmer of individuals with I/DD and their families who benefit from Medicaid.
As a result of The Arc Minnesota’s advocacy, the Minnesota House recently approved HF919/ SF562 to expand benefits to individuals with autism and related conditions. This bill is meant to modify the 2013 law surrounding intensive treatment for children with autism. Sponsored by Representative Roz Peterson and Senator Jim Abeler, this bill will extend Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention (EIDBI) to 21-year-olds as well as children with other qualifying conditions. Other benefits of the bill include: coverage of individualized treatment plans, training for parents and caregivers, monitoring of treatment plans, and evaluations of treatment goals. The bill passed the Senate in March by a 66-0 vote and passed the House this week by a 131-0 vote. The bill was recently signed by Governor Mark Dayton.
The Arc Minnesota has had many successes this year at the State Capitol and in Congress due to the personal stories the chapter received from individuals with disabilities and their families. Many of these were delivered through the chapter’s “Telling Your Story” app, developed by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, which can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet. The app can be used to create a story and send it to elected officials.
The Arc Minnesota as part of the Best Life Alliance participated in a rally at the state capitol in support of higher wages for DSPs. Attendees included more than 1,000 DSPs, family members, self-advocates, and other advocates. They held more than 160 meetings with legislators. That afternoon, the Minnesota House Health and Human Services Finance Committee held a hearing on HF 873, the bill to increase DSP wages, and approved it for consideration in the Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill.
At a press conference at the Minnesota state capitol, Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director at The Arc Minnesota, delivered a powerful speech about the harmful impact that the proposed American Health Care Act will have on people with I/DD. In his speech, he noted that “a health plan should not be developed on the backs of people with disabilities” and highlighted the harm Medicaid cuts could have on the chapter’s efforts at the state level to reduce parental fees for medical assistance programs for children with disabilities and increase DSP wages.
The Arc Minnesota testified in favor of SF 807 and HF 1182. These bills reduce the income-based parental fees for participation in TEFRA (a medical assistance program for children with disabilities) by 50%. Parents testifying at the hearing discussed how the fees were depleting their savings, driving them into debt, and in some cases forcing them out of the program. Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director at The Arc Minnesota, stated in his testimony: “It’s unconscionable that children in our state are not receiving the health care and therapies that they need because of these parental fees.” The Star Tribune covered the hearing.
The Arc Minnesota and other disability advocacy groups recently hosted “Disability Matters Day” at the State Capitol. Approximately 350 advocates attended, including representatives from seven local chapters of The Arc. Advocates attended a rally and met with legislators. While a number of issues were discussed, the focus was on the dramatic increase in parental fees on services provided to children with I/DD through Medical Assistance programs which create a great strain on family budgets. Advocates noted that as a matter of policy, parental fees should not be so high that parents are forced to drop out of programs that provide needed services for their child due to the financial strain of the fees on the family budget. Kelly Kausel, an advocate with The Arc Greater Twin Cities, gave a powerful speech at the rally about the impact of parental fees on her family.