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Nonprofits Serving People With Disabilities Struggle To Rebound Amid Tight Job Market

COON RAPIDS, MINN. (WCCO) -- It's an unusual dilemma. A Coon Rapids nonprofit has a large new space and a large desire to serve people with disabilities. But they can't bring people back, even though they have a long waiting list.

As WCCO found out, it's a story of frustration, and hope.

It's been a tough few years for everybody, and 43-year-old Lois George, who lives with autism, is no exception. WCCO spoke with her mother, Marie George.

"We just sort of stagnated here for a couple of years with the virus, it's been very hard. We've had to find things to do," Marie said. "When she was working, she was happy, she had friends, she was a person."

Lois used to work at Rise five days a week. She says she greatly enjoys the place.

"Yeah, I like all my friends, I had way more friends than ever," Lois said.

They are friends that enjoy this organization's day services and job program. They serve adults with different abilities, but these days they're serving fewer people.

"The past couple of years have been so difficult for, not only the people we serve but their families, and really all of us in the community," said Lynn Noren, president and CEO of Rise.

Rise Coon Rapids
(credit: CBS)

When the pandemic hit, they took a major staffing hit, going from 500 employees to 300. And with such a tight job market, they can't seem to rebound.

"There are over 200 individuals that are still waiting to come back to day services," Noren said. "So we need to hire 70 individuals to make that happen for everybody who's waiting to get back to their program."

There is a shortage of workers, and an abundance of newly-remodeled space. Noren says she wants it full again, with people like Lois.

"It's just, you need to be out with people. It's what keeps these people learning and functioning and be part of society," Marie said.

So Rise is holding job fairs, advertising and hoping to fill this space, so Lois can fill that void.

"I'm ready to go back, and ready to work hard," Lois said.

Rise relies heavily on Medicaid, and right now wages are about $17 an hour.

The group is pushing hard at the State Capitol this month to get funding to up those wages. Noren is working hard to ask Minnesota legislators to change the rules so she can pay people more and provide retention bonuses to team members.

Rise and other state providers are advocating for higher wages and retention bonuses in two legislative proposals.

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