Tom Weaver: Changes in Funding Threaten to Impact Services to Consumers

Olmstead Plan Response from Achieve Services, Inc.
Tom Weaver, CEO of Achieve Services

As a day training and habilitation (DTH) program Achieve has been providing services to people with disabilities for over 50 years. Recent trends in federal and state policy and rule changes have the potential to greatly decrease our funding streams while increasing rules and regulations impacting programs and services for the people we serve, and we are concerned.

Achieve is a member of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR), an organization comprised of more than 110 programs that provide services to more than 26,000 Minnesotans with disabilities. According to MOHR, 77 percent of people with disabilities served by MOHR member organizations are working, most in the community. The majority of these community employment sites were found and are maintained with assistance from MOHR providers.

“MOHR providers play a crucial role in the employment of Minnesotans with disabilities,” said MOHR President Mike Burke. “We have produced more employment opportunities than any other means.”

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of people without disabilities. Without assistance and support from DTH programs, it’s likely the unemployment rate would be much higher. “It is hard to imagine how dire a situation we would have if the services member organizations provide were not available,” said Burke.

If trends in funding continue, Achieve and other programs in the state will struggle to do more with less. Some of the factors confronting DTH programs include:

Stagnant Rates
Rates have been lagging behind inflation for more than a decade. Since 2006, inflation has gone up 21 percent, while our rates have increased by half that amount. This means that our programs struggle to pay our direct-care employees a living wage, which has resulted in a workforce crisis across our industry. The Best Life Alliance has campaigned hard for an increase of 5 percent to DTH programs. The bill received approval from a majority of legislators across the state on both sides of the aisle, but the governor has provided zero funding in his 2016 budget to cover it, and the legislative session adjourned with zero additional funding.

Rate Decreases
In January 2014, DHS implemented a new rate system called the Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS). When this system is fully implemented in January 2019, many DTH providers will face significant rate cuts, with Achieve Service facing a rate reduction in excess of 30 percent. There are inherent flaws in the DWRS rate formulas, but so far efforts to fix them have been unsuccessful.

Increased Costs
Since 2006, the Department of Human Services has placed new mandatory rules and changes that have increased DTH cost of operation without any funding to cover these costs.

The U.S. Department of Labor is instituting a new regulation changing definitions of overtime and exempt salaried staff rules which will result in increased expenses on average of $153,000 per DTH program. DHS is also proposing increased license fees. In the governor’s proposed budget, DHS sought to increase our annual license fee by nearly 1,000 percent! Fortunately, the legislature rejected that proposal, but it is extremely troubling that DHS is so out of touch with the needs of the people they presumably represent.

As the saying goes, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, but from every direction DTH programs are being squeezed, and if Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislator don’t act to remedy the situation during the 2017 legislative session, many programs could be literally squeezed out of business. Achieve is fighting to do everything it can to make sure that doesn’t happen – including educating and organizing the parents and families of the people we serve, and ensuring their voices are heard as these important issues play out.

“Our nonprofit members strongly believe that people with disabilities should have the opportunity to pursue their living, life enrichment and work goals, and that they should have the ability to make their own choices,” said Burke. “Some wish to be hired directly by the employer, others want to be part of a work crew, while some prefer center based programs. These are choices that should be available, and honored.” At Achieve, we couldn’t agree more, and we are fighting to ensure those opportunities continue to exist.

Tom Weaver, CEO of Achieve Services, Inc.