The DAC enclave crew

The DAC enclave crew shown here with DAC executive director Tammy Jo Johnson, who is presenting the MOHR award to Mille Lacs Wild Rice Corp. CEO Joe Ratuski (third from right).

Aitkin County DAC and other day programs serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Minnesota are under extreme financial stress due to closures brought on by COVID-19.

So much so, that 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.”

The DAC programs in McGregor and Aitkin have been closed for weeks now, with those involved being forced to stay at their residences versus working.

All of the day service providers in Minnesota are 501(c) non-profit organizations and only get paid when clients attend their programs. 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.

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.

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.

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, the MOHR president explained.

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