One Champlin family is fearful about the future of disability services for their at-risk son.
Phil and Kelly Chase have cared for their son full-time after COVID-19 prompted the closure of MSS in Brooklyn Park, a nonprofit that supports individuals with disabilities MSS is now at risk of closing for good due to a lack of funding.
Steven Chase, 30, has cerebral palsy but finds his home away from home at MSS through its life-enrichment program.
Steven is cared for primarily by his father, Phil Chase, who quit his job in retail several years ago to become his son’s full-time personal care attendant in their Champlin home. His mother, Kelly, works from home. Phil said MSS is like a second family to Steven.
MSS offers employment services, creative arts opportunities, day services with life enrichment skills, community-integrated education and volunteer opportunities, support for personal development increasing self-sufficiency, and self-advocacy skill-building.
According to Steven’s parents, Steven was at MSS in Brooklyn Park five days a week before the COVID-19 shutdown. Phil said, “He would choose to go to MSS even if another opportunity came up for him to do something else.”
Steven has been going to the Brooklyn Park site since he was 21 years old.
Phil said that there were so many activities that Steven participated in at MSS. “His favorite activity is doing art and has had artwork displayed in a gallery in St. Paul,” he said. “Other activities include cooking, reading, games, music therapy, walks, bowling, community events and socializing with friends and staff.”
But that has all come to a complete stop for Steven. His parents have explained to him why he cannot go to MSS right now. “We described to him why MSS had to temporarily close and the extra precautions needed to keep him safe and healthy,” Phil said. “We also explained to him what the medical community is doing to make things better so he can get back to his program that he loves.”
Steven also has an elevated health risk for COVID-19, which has created many restrictions for him. He uses a power wheelchair, controlling it with sensors attached to his head. Steven also cannot cover his mouth when he sneezes, has difficulty wearing a mask, and cannot protect himself from others who may carry the coronavirus, his father said.
On a normal Sunday, Steven would talk about what he was going to do at MSS on Monday. He would pick out his clothes to match colors for an art project. Today, there are Zoom online classes covering everything from dance parties, to Monopoly and nature walks. The idea is to keep learning and interacting with others.
Currently, Steven is receiving some services virtually but may not return to the Brooklyn Park site for some time. But this could all be in jeopardy if the nonprofit doesn’t receive emergency funding from the state soon.
Julie Johnson, MSS President, said the shutdown has resulted in a loss of about $700,000 in funding from the state from March to the end of May. Before COVID-19, MSS was serving 500 people with disabilities but has cut that number to 40. While it provides virtual enrichment services to a group of people, the combined revenue is not enough to sustain all services over the long term.
No significant financial help has come from lawmakers in St. Paul or the governor to sustain the nonprofit under COVID-19 restrictions that have cut its funding dramatically.
The situation is the same for many Minnesota providers like MSS, of which there are about 100. Members of the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation and families who rely on their services have been pleading with lawmakers to approve a retention grants package. The funds would help to sustain them until COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed and normal service levels return.
In the June Special Session of the Legislature, the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed Senate File 133 to provide emergency funds for Minnesota disability service providers. A companion bill was not heard in the Minnesota House.
“There is $30 million in grants that would help the centers stay afloat through the COVID restrictions until the facilities can fully reopen back up,” Phil said. “How is that even possible that it wasn’t voted on in the Minnesota House?”
He said he hopes is that a bill is brought up for a vote in the Minnesota House or that Gov. Tim Walz signs an executive order approving the $30 million in grants to these disability service centers in an upcoming special session this week or next.
“They decided to close the centers for safety precautions but there was never a plan that we know of to have them reopen and provide services to people with disabilities,” Phil said. “Without funding many, if not all centers will close and people with disabilities will be negatively impacted. Steven lives an inclusive life by going to MSS and he misses his second family.”