On March 25, 2021, the Minnesota Council on Disability hosted a public engagement event with the Governor and Lt. Governor to discuss the upcoming biennial budget. The Walz administration released their revised budget last week and sought input from the most affected communities, including the disability community.
Governor Walz opened his remarks with a moment of silence for Rick Cardenes, one of Minnesota’s strongest voices for the disability community, who passed away on March 10. He then thanked the Minnesota Council on Disability and the disability community for working tirelessly to hold the administration accountable and ensure that the most vulnerable voices are heard. Walz referenced how the pandemic has reshaped Minnesota forever and referenced the global attention on Minnesota because of George Floyd’s death, which sparked a national reckoning on racial inequality. Governor Walz stated this budget was the most challenging one he had ever written because of the unprecedented past year. He said, “[W]e have proposed a budget that is not just fiscally responsible, but we believe that a budget is more than just a fiscal document: it is also a moral one.”
Following these opening remarks, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan began by saying, “We know that in Minnesota, that folks were not hit by the COVID-19 pandemic equally” and acknowledged that the burden of the pandemic fell on the disability community disproportionally. She emphasized the importance of representation, which is why the Walz administration was reaching out to marginalized communities for feedback on the state budget. Closing her remarks, Flanagan admitted: “[O]ftentimes, when we talk about being equitable and making sure that all voices are at the table, we don’t include the disability community enough, and I hope that this conversation is one of the ways that we can change that, and we can change these conversations in Minnesota.”
The Governor and Lt. Governor answered questions submitted to the Minnesota Council on Disability by the disability community. Topics included:
- Disability and state employment
- Intersectionality of race and disability
- Children with disabilities in schools
- Mental and sensory disabilities included alongside physical disabilities
- Affordability of durable medical equipment
- Frontline caregivers and PCA reforms
- Non-emergency medical transportation
- Job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Responses from Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan
The following are a few highlights of the answers given by Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan:
- Racial equity and disability are a “yes-and” part of intersectionality, not an either-or.
- “[We have our] Connect 700 [program for hiring state employees with disabilities], but it’s not working well enough right now, and we’re acknowledging this. It’s unacceptable; you should expect to see both recruiting and retention of folks…to make sure we’re a model employer, which I have to tell you now, we’re not where we need to be.”
- We are committed to the spirit and letter of the ADA. And, we are committed to the spirit and letter of our Connect 700 program. You should see tangible changes soon.
- People with disabilities have the highest unemployment rates. That means our job training programs and our connections need to work better. Folks are looking for work and can’t find jobs, and the State has a role in helping facilitate that. So, the commitment is there; but the only thing that matters is results.
- With funding from American Rescue Plan, we have targeted IDEA funding and want to support services that are “vast and deep.”
- If we truly are going to talk about #OneMinnesota, this is where we expect to be called out: where there are gaps(in response to physical accommodations for invisible disabilities).
- The Lt. Governor engaged a disability advocate to help the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board ensure all Minnesotans feel at home in the Capitol complex.
- Everyone must take a hard look at the Blue-Ribbon Commission’s cuts in the Health and Human Services budgets. They may impact access to services and shift costs to people who can least afford it. We’re going to find those savings elsewhere, or we’re going to have to renegotiate the issue.
- PCAs should earn a livable wage, but for small providers, especially in communities of color, the reimbursement rate is an issue; and we commit to working on this. Also, there is work to do on transportation – “the commitment is there.”
- Non-Emergency Medical Transportation budget cuts may impact access to services. There is going to be work around this.
One enlightening moment came from a question about proposed budget cuts to services that many people with disabilities rely on. Governor Walz admitted that “while the Lt. Governor and I were drug kicking and screaming on this issue, legislating is the art of compromising, and we compromised on this. But I think you hit a point on this, where reaching a compromise on fiduciary responsibility, to finding a balanced budget by shifting those costs onto people who can least afford it, is something we are going to have to take a hard look at.”
We are acutely aware that when legislators compromise, the disability community often suffers. This common occurrence highlights the importance of holding our elected leaders accountable and championing the rights of those with disabilities. The Minnesota Council on Disability appreciates Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan for acknowledging this and promising to lift that burden off the disability community.
Disability advocates must stay vigilant and ensure that our elected officials follow through with their promises. The Minnesota Council on Disability will continue to monitor the budget-making process and advise the Governor and legislators on how to best support and empower the disability community. We also encourage Minnesotans with disabilities and their allies to call their legislators and demand they keep people with disabilities at the decision-making table.