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Cuts could have impact on Cedar Valley Services

By Deb Nicklay, Austin Daily Herald

 

A 7 percent cut in federal funding to the state’s disability service system could have a profound impact on Cedar Valley Services in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna, said executive director Rich Pavek.

Pavek and his peers across the state are appealing to the Minnesota Legislature to fix the problem that would also affect an estimated 100 other providers across the state.

The Cedar Valley Services operations budget would be cut by an estimated $300,000, which “would be devastating to our services,” agreed Taggert Medgaarden, management services director for the organization.

The cuts involve complex formulas that determine rates paid to disability service providers. Those rates are tied to an inflationary factor and funding agreements with the federal government.

A House bill led by Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, and a Senate bill authored by Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, would fix the problem, Pavek said.

If the problem is not fixed, cuts in large part would impact the program’s day training and habilitation programs.

Cedar Valley Services serves just under 600 clients in Mower, Freeborn, Waseca, Rice and Steele counties and employs 212 staff members.

Cedar Valley Services clients work on a Hormel pepperoni packaging line at Cedar Valley Services in Austin. – Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

The lion’s share of the program’s operating expense is in employee wages, Pavek said. Cuts to the budget almost certainly means no increases in wages. Cuts could be permanent, if not fixed, said Pavek.

“It would really hamper our ability to do our job,” agreed Medgaarden.

Day training and habilitation includes training for daily living, building of vocational skills, social and behavioral skills, speech therapy, personal care training and other supportive services.

Medgaarden said the funding is needed “to hire the best staff and stay competitive” in the marketplace.

The funding supports transportation, training, basic needs and work attire, as well as job modifications that need to be made due to a particular disability, Pavek said.

Clients perform work both off-site or in-house. Much of the in-house work, Pavek said, involves packaging products for employers such as Hormel Foods.

Clients fill a number of jobs off-site, from work in food service operations and housekeeping, to laundry services and grounds keeping.

“We’ve built a strong relationship in our community” since opening and clients provide valuable services for many employers, Pavek said.

The Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation has worked to rally support for House and Senate bills. The organization is a member of Best Life Alliance, a statewide coalition of people with disabilities, their families and providers of home and community-based services.

“All we are looking for is for some sense of long-term stability,” said Mike Burke, president of the organization. “Stability in a system that will allow us to pay our staff competitive wages, which ultimately helps thousands of people with disabilities across the state who rely on our services for their quality of life.”

Burke is urging people affected by the cuts to contact state leaders with their concerns.

“It’s important for senators and representatives to hear from individuals with disabilities, their families and the people who work closely with them,” he said.