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People with disabilities make case during Willmar, Minn., event for state budget with 'least harm'

Brenda Simning of Willmar speaks Friday about the value her senior companion brings to her life. The rally was organized by The Arc Minnesota to advocate for adequate state funding for services for people with disabilities. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 3
Zeppelin Peterson of Willmar gives a testimonial Friday about the mental health services that benefit him. He is afraid budget cuts could mean he would end up hospitalized if other services were reduced. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 3
Steve Larson, public policy director for The Arc Minnesota3 / 3

WILLMAR -- Brenda Simning, a soft-spoken woman who has disabilities, is afraid the senior companion who has taken her shopping and to doctor appointments for 12 years won't be there to help her any more.

Zeppelin Peterson, a 19-year-old from Willmar, is worried that his mental health services will be cut and he could end up in the crisis hospital.

Mary Rhude is concerned that if her 29-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, is no longer able to receive 10 hours a week of services, he will no longer be able to live independently.

These worries and concerns, which were shared during a rally Friday afternoon at Robbins Island Park in Willmar before a handful of supporters, could become a reality if a balanced budget solution isn't reached.

Services for persons with disabilities are "at great risk," said Steve Larson, public policy director for The Arc Minnesota, which advocates for people with disabilities.

Larson had criticism for the budget cuts passed by the Legislature and later vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, as well as reduced revenues proposed by Dayton.

Larson said the public, legislators and the governor need to be told about the harm that could be caused to people with disabilities by reducing funding for services that help people live independently in their communities.

"Our goal is to alert the public to the peril that services for persons with disabilities are in, and see if we can bring support for a balanced solution," said Larson. "Because we can't have a worse solution than what already exists right now on the table."

Larson said people need to be educated "and they need to be activated."

So far there "hasn't been a lot of noise" in greater Minnesota, said Larson, who is touring the state and meeting with community advocates for people with disabilities, who are telling their own stories.

Rhude, who serves as executive director for Arc Kandiyohi County, said when her son was 18, he wouldn't leave the house after he came home from work and was isolated from peers. But six years ago, he started receiving the services of a personal care attendant for 10 hours a week and has been able to live independently in a home with friends. He's so busy now his parents have to make appointments to see him.

If those services are cut, she worries he may revert back to his old self. She bristled when recalling comments from a local legislator -- whom she did not identify -- who reportedly told her that families and faith communities will have to "pick up the slack" if services for people with disabilities are cut.

Simning said she does not know who she would call if she did not have her senior companion.

"The state shutdown, that really scares me," said Peterson, adding that he doesn't want to end up in a state mental health facility.

Larson said if pressure isn't put on legislators and the governor to protect services for people with disabilities, "we're kind of the default" and health and human services will take a big hit to balance the budget.

Besides cuts to health and human services, he said people with disabilities will also be hurt by $100 million in proposed cuts to special education and reductions in transit budgets, which reduces vital transportation links for people with disabilities.

He said a balanced budget is needed that will cause "the least harm possible."


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750