Conversation on the State Budget

The following remarks were given at a  February 8th event sponsored by Invest in Minnesota and the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition in Moorhead. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue Myron Frans was in attendance.

I’m Donna Atherton, Program Coordinator for The Arc West Central.  We at The Arc promote and protect the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We also provide support so they can be full participants and fully included in the community throughout their lifetimes.

The Governor has talked often about the need for investing in our people and our state.  I agree that investment in our citizens is crucial, and I ask that it apply to all Minnesotans, including our citizens with disabilities and their families.

I see the good our state does when it invests in Minnesotans with disabilities.  Because of state funding, Moorhead residents with disabilities in can work in jobs in the community and get a paycheck like everyone else.  The Housing Access Services program, a partnership with MN chapters and the Department of Human Services, has moved 650 Minnesotans with disabilities who are ready to live more independently into homes of their own.  Medical Assistance programs have enabled families in our area to access special health care services for their child with disabilities so they can keep that son or daughter at home.

Our state policies and funding should help create lives like that of my daughter Nicole, who has Down syndrome.  Nicole has shown me, and others in Moorhead, how much she can do.   She is a strong advocate for herself and others; she has met regularly with our elected officials, and they know her by name and take her concerns seriously.  She has spoken at public meetings and introduced legislators at a forum we held for our state representatives and senators.  Nicole has 2 jobs, volunteers, and is making plans to live independently in the community.

I’m not an expert on tax policy, but I do know more revenues are necessary to pay for disability services.  We have seen what happens when we don’t raise enough revenue.  Relying on budget cuts alone has meant service reductions and fee hikes for those programs that help keep people with disabilities in the community and support families raising children with disabilities.  Wages for direct care staff who support their family member with disabilities were temporarily cut by 20%.  These cuts harmed not only families in Moorhead and the seven counties in West Central Minnesota that our chapter serves, but those across the state as well.

All Minnesotans with disabilities should have the same opportunities as Nicole to develop their talents, contribute to our society, and be fully involved in their community.  They can take advantage of those opportunities when they have the proper services and supports.  We at The Arc support ways to transform our services so we get the best value for our public dollars, but reforms aren’t enough to meet the needs of all Minnesotans with disabilities.  We need to provide additional revenues to ensure the necessary supports are in place.