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Coronavirus In Minnesota: Day Programs For Residents With Disabilities Vanish

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities depend on day programs offering therapies, enrichment and employment help.

But the pandemic has shuttered hundreds of facilities, meaning their clients are without services. The agencies they depend on are struggling to pay their bills, and they're asking the state for a badly-needed lifeline.

On a normal day, Midwest Special Services day facility in Apple Valley, or MSS, would be alive with adults with disabilities doing art and developing skills to be self-sufficient. Julie Johnson is CEO and president.

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"We've been forced to close all of our programs," Johnson said.

MSS serves the needs of 600 clients, giving them employment and enrichment skills. But as fee for service, it only gets state payments if it's open. COVID-19 has it closed.

"Many of the folks we serve don't understand what this is, and they don't understand why those things are not available to them," Johnson said.

Two-thirds of its staff are furloughed. But for it and others serving this need, bills still need to be paid.

"There may be people in sectors in the state that don't have community supports, and the infrastructure will crumble," she said.

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State Sen. Jim Abeler says the push is on to fund facilities in lockdown, or risk far greater damage down the road.

"It's really that important," Abeler said. "I'm very concerned about what's going to happen to the day-training facilities."

Abeler hopes the DHS commissioner's emergency authority provides the funding before services for our most vulnerable take a hit from no fault of their own.

"It's hard to want to pay a provider for not doing something, but if we don't keep them open when this emergency settles down, and it will settle down at some point, there will be nowhere for them to go," he said.

Johnson says she will meet with DHS officials on Monday. She hopes to spell out the dire situation the nonprofits who serve the citizens with disabilities are facing right now.

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