Local providers advocate for state support of disability services

This year's Disability Services Day at the capitol went virtual due to COVID-19.

Nobles County DAC
Nobles County DAC clients Dustin (left) and Ashley demonstrate their Bioverse job March 15, 2021. (Leah Ward/The Globe)
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WORTHINGTON — March 9 marked Disability Services Day in St. Paul, an annual opportunity for disability service providers around the state to advocate for the needs of their clients and facilities.

Because of COVID-19, the event had to be moved online this year, so local advocates didn't get any face time with legislators.

The pandemic has created significant limitations for Nobles County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC).


"It's been really difficult when you try and operate with half capacity," said Bob Schreiber, DAC director.

The DAC is allowed to have more than half of its normal capacity, but it's not back to 100% yet. Pre-COVID, the center could serve 57 people. Currently, the state is allowing 42 at a time.

On the minds of local providers this year is the call to raise the U.S. minimum wage. One of the services offered at the DAC is matching clients with a job in the community, such as housekeeping at AmericInn, assembling filter bags for Bioverse and shredding documents for Avera and Johnson Builders & Realty. These jobs give clients a sense of purpose and an important role in the community.

"That means so much to them," Schreiber said. "That's the reason they get up and put their pants on."

However, due to clients' disabilities, they are often unable to work at the same level as an average minimum wage employee. The government has created a designation called a special wage, where clients are paid based on their production. Their wages are re-evaluated locally at least every six months.

"It's a fair and equitable wage," Schreiber said.

If the minimum wage is raised, explained program manager Tina Stamer, the special wage would be eliminated.

"These clients would have nowhere to go," she said, adding that DAC clients are among the lowest-functioning in the area, so they don't have the ability to go out and earn a regular minimum wage.


One issue service providers advocate for year after year is improved funding for disability services.

Direct care staff are often underpaid. Their jobs are difficult and require significant physical and emotional stamina. The DAC would like to offer competitive wages, but they can only pay so much, due to funding from the state, Schreiber and Stamer explained.

While the DAC had to be closed during COVID, managers opted to pay staff their full wages and insurance, in an effort to avoid losing the employees.

The most difficult part of the pandemic, though, has been missing the clients.

"We are a huge part of their life," Stamer said. "We're with them a little over six hours a day."

Clients have missed the staff, too. They've loved being allowed back as the governor turns the dial on loosening COVID restrictions.

"It's heartwarming to see their faces after that long sabbatical," Schreiber said. "That's what's kept me in this job for 30 years."

Stamer agreed.


"We're not looking at production; we're looking at people," she said.

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