Agency staffing shortages put 3,500 disabled Minnesotans on waiting lists for jobs


Christin Hanson considers work an integral part of her life. The 37-year old Eden Prairie resident has been working part-time as an assembly worker for a variety of Twin Cities businesses for years. Hanson was able to get these jobs because she has ADHD and intellectual challenges.

Hanson stated that getting out into the world and doing meaningful work was important for her mental well-being. It makes me happy.

Hanson’s employment program was shut down by the pandemic. She said that she didn’t have the routine of working at a job, so she spent her entire time at her group home. She recalled that it was the same every day. “I spent my time at home doing nothing, just watching TV or talking to the phone. It was difficult. I felt down.”

Hanson felt the pandemic was less severe and her life began to get back to normal. Lynn Hanson and her mother contacted RISE, an organization that assists people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to find meaningful work.

Lynn Hanson stated that Christin “wants to work for RISE because they offer consistent work for clients.” However, the Hansons quickly learned that Christin would be placed on a waiting list due to severe staff shortages. The days grew to be weeks, then months. Her mother stated that she had been waiting for her daughter for over a year.

Christin Hanson

Hanson is currently working in temporary assembly through another non-profit, but Hanson is getting tired of waiting for her RISE job.

Lynn Noren, RISE president, CEO, stated that Christin Hanson is not the only one struggling. As with many other nonprofits in the state, the organizations that assist people like Christin Hanson find work are severely understaffed and struggling to fill the positions required to keep their clients engaged. RISE provides employment services to approximately 1,200 people per day, Noren said, adding that at the moment they have more than 300 clients who are looking to return to RISE’s services.

Noren stated that it has been difficult to fill jobs at RISE. However, the Great Resignation, which was fueled by the pandemic, has made things even more difficult. Although no one ever imagined they would become rich working at a social service agency or in the field of human services, it was a disaster when fast food wages began to surpass those of RISE’s job coaches.

Noren said that all of these programs are funded by the state’s Medicaid waiver. Noren is the government affairs chair for Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation and has an in-depth understanding of non-profit funding streams. This means that RISE employees and other agencies providing work opportunities and daytime activities to people with intellectual and physical disabilities have wages that are outdated. Pay rates cannot rise without legislative approval.

Lynn Noren

Noren said that Minnesota uses a very precise rate methodology for all its services. “Unless the state legislature acts, we don’t have any means to regulate it.” Our wages are not competitive because of how they have been designed.

Noren stated that RISE’s entry-level salaries were $15-17 an hour not long ago. Although modest, it was sufficient to attract employees because many found it rewarding.

Noren stated that the current wage is not enough to support a family. It is very difficult to recruit people to this field.

Michelle Dickerson, vice-president of program services at MSS (a non-profit dedicated to people with disabilities), said that other organizations in the sector have worked hard to recruit employees to fill vacant positions.

Dickerson stated that span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We’ve been reaching out at schools.” “We’re trying to educate people about the jobs. “We are trying to reach out at a younger population,” she said. To accomplish that, she and her colleagues in the industry have used billboard advertising, job fairs and hiring bonuses, as well as social media campaigns.

Dickerson stated that industry leaders have teamed up through the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation in hopes of influencing change and attracting more employees. “We feel like all are in this together. When anyone is able to hire someone, we are thrilled.

The Legislature is the focus

Noren and Dickerson already plan for January when the Legislature will be back in session.

span style=”font weight: 400 We are all working on an allocation. Noren stated that the state association has been actively involved in providing information to people to reach out candidates to make sure they understand our service sector. She said that this year’s budget session is encouraging her optimism about the possibility of making progress on this issue.

Surveying service providers, the organization found that 3,500 Minnesotans living with disabilities were waiting on lists to be able to access services. Leaders stressed the impact unemployment has on clients’ mental health.

“As you know from your own lives, having meaning and purpose in your day with the ability to interact and share with people with whom we disagree is essential for quality of life,” the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation was able to write as part of its legislative agenda.

This Best Life Alliancespan design=”font-weight 400 ;”>” legislation proposes changes to Minnesota’s disability waiver system. The aim is to update wages for employees at these agencies to be more comparable with other industries.

RISE and MSS help clients find jobs in various areas of the state. They can be found at major grocery stores, stocking groceries, cleaning and bagging them; at salon chains, keeping towels stocked, folding capses, and washing them; or at senior living facilities, cleaning the common areas and dishrooms.

Noren stated that real-world jobs are better than hiding people with intellectual or physical disabilities from society.

span style=”font weight: 400 It really helps expand our understanding of who and what we are,” she stated about these jobs. Many employers have shared the many benefits of these arrangements over the years. Noren said that they hear often how working with clients can change people’s ideas about work. It’s great to meet people who are excited about their job.

Hanson’s job prospects are likely to worsen if support staff are not paid more.

Noren stated that Minnesota is one of the states where there have been such significant advances in disability services. She said that the current employment crisis is a return to the days when disabled people were not seen. It’s not a good situation. This must be a Minnesota priority.”

‘Really isolating’

Hanson enjoys many other things in her life. However, Hanson finds work to be the most important. Hanson says that she gets bored when the jobs don’t exist and she spends too much time at home. It’s hard for me to find something to do. It’s terrible for me.”

Noren stated that too much downtime can put pressure on clients’ families or group homes. “This situation means many people are at work 24 hours per day,” Hanson explained. Hanson said work provides entertainment, colleagues, and distraction. It can be difficult to spend time at home. “For those who aren’t employed and need support to find employment, being on the waiting list is very isolating.”

This lack of work is affecting the mental health and skills of many RISE clients.

span style=”font weight: 400 If you think of someone with a significant disability, it is when they can participate in work that they learn skills. They then develop COVID and are unable to use these skills. They are losing the skills that they have acquired without work,” Noren stated.

Lynn Hanson, though her daughter may not put it this way, said that Christan’s inability to find a job has caused real hardship. She is hopeful that she will be able to get off the long RISE waiting list.

span style=”font weight: 400 For a lot these kids, all that matters is their job,” she stated. They take pride in what they do. They enjoy going to work every day. They do a great job. It’s so disappointing that they are unable to just go to work .”

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