Advocacy group seeks funding increases for programs
WILLMAR - Brian Tersteeg is a miracle man.
At 40 years of age he's doubled the 20-year life-expectancy he was given at birth, lives independently with a roommate, has a job at West Central Industries and volunteers at community organizations like Meals on Wheels and United Way.
This winter he was selected to throw out the first stone at the National Curling Competition in Willmar.
Tersteeg has been able to accomplish these goals by receiving four hours a week of assistance provided through state-funded programs.
In halting speech, and with the assistance of his long-term care attendant, Tersteeg told those gathered for a press conference Wednesday in Willmar that he was "worried" he could lose his job and some of his independence if state funds aren't increased.
It's a message that The ARC Minnesota, an advocacy group for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has been delivering across the state.
Steve Larson, Senior Public Policy Director at The Arc Minnesota, said he was "shocked" with House and Senate committee proposals to reduce the spending targets in the Health and Human Services budget by $150 million less than projected to be spent on programs over next two years.
Larson said legislators need to get the message that, after a decade of cuts, funding for these programs need to be increased, not decreased.
He said by telling the success stories of people, like Tersteeg, in Willmar and the more than 700 individuals signed up to attend today's "Disability Day at the Capitol," that legislators will be convinced to approve increased funding "so that we can get these services and programs for persons with disabilities funded as they need to be."
Mary Rhude said her 30-year old son and his two roommates, who live and work independently in Willmar, would be harmed if their services aren't maintained.
"No cuts are small cuts," said Rhude, who is director of The Arc Kandiyohi County.
She said if her son was living in adult foster care the cost to taxpayers would be "thousands of dollars more each month for their care" and they would lose their independence, jobs and home.
Charlie Oakes, executive director of West Central Industries, said that since the closure of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center it's easy for people to forget that Willmar is still a regional center that's home to about 250 group homes and numerous agencies that provide personal care services to individuals with disabilities that generates an estimated $25 million in tax dollars that's put back into the community.
He said the last 10 years of budget cuts, wage freezes and inadequate rate increases has been difficult to bear for service agencies, like his, that strives to provide employment and programs for individuals with disabilities.
"We've done everything we can think of to save a nickel," said Oakes.
He said people who are hired to care for vulnerable adults oftentimes have to work two jobs to earn enough to make a living. That's in sharp contrast to the salary and benefits that workers had received at the regional treatment centers.
Oakes said it was a good decision to move people out of institutions, but he said that "cultural leap" wasn't done so that programs would be cut and employees not earn enough to make a decent living.
Larson said he hopes the funding rates will be increased this legislative session so programs can be increased and to get some of the 3,600 people off the developmentally disabled waivered waiting list. He encouraged local members of ARC Kandiyohi County to contact legislators and deliver that message.
"There's still time to have an influence on this legislative session," he said. "We want to get that $150 million back."