(Alexandria, MN) The message was made very clear Tuesday night, the future of the developmental disabilities workforce is in trouble.  Nine legislators and candidates sat in on a roundtable discussion with local advocates and administrators regarding the topic.  Mike Burke is the president of MOHR (Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation) and the Executive Director of Alexandria Opportunities Center (AOC).  He says the main concern for their industry revolves around two topics, the implementation of the Olmstead Act and its new Disability Waiver Rate System (DWRS).  The rate system challenges workforce operations like AOC to do more with much less.  Burke says the new system is a model that is not sustainable for his, and operations like his, around the state.  He's calculated their new DWRS rates and is alarmed to discover funding cuts for their services ranging from 10 to 30 percent or more. Some providers simply will not survive if DWRS is implemented in its current form.

Karen Schwieso is a parent of one of the employees at AOC and part of a newly formed parent advocacy group.  She says when she learned of the severe cuts in site and the low pay for not only the employees with developmental disabilities, but their caretakers as well, she said it was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Nine legislators and legislative candidates were at the meeting held at AOC; including Senator Torrey Westrom (Dist 12), Representatives Paul Anderson (Dist 12B), Jeff Backer (Dist. 12A), and Mary Franson (Dist. 8B), as well as candidates Russ Hinrich (Dist. 12), Shawn Olson (Dist. 8), CJ Holl (Dist 8A), Jay McNamer (Dist. 12A) and Gail Kulp (Dist. 8B).  The nearly one hundred people assembled included employees, caregivers, staff and several impassioned parents who shared stories of why much more funding needs to be allocated to the disabilities workforce programs.  Schwieso says it is vital for legislators to hear of these struggles first hand.

The panel was in agreement that the advocacy group needs to not only talk to them here in rural Minnesota, but also at the state level to help them convince fellow house and senate members of the funding needs.   

Community-based service provider pay was also a hot topic of discussion.  Starting wage at AOC is at $10.50/hr. and at the Douglas County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) it is $9.50/hr.  Schwieso compared these wages to those of people who flip burgers or fry chicken as being more attractive financially than a career that involves the care of human beings.  Although legislation was authored by dozens of lawmakers to increase pay, the bill was never put up for a vote last session. 

For more comments during the session, click on the attached video.