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Centers for Independent Living could reach more people with more funding, supporters say

Minnesota has eight Centers for Independent Living that serve nine to 13 counties each, providing services to more than 10,000 people with disabilities every year.

They act as a “one-stop shop” for anyone with a disability, “from mild to severe, from birth to death, in every county of Minnesota,” Cara Ruff said on behalf of the Minnesota Association of Centers for Independent Living.

HF3323, sponsored by Rep. Duane Sauke (DFL-Rochester), would appropriate an additional $750,000 in Fiscal Year 2021 to support the centers.

“People with disabilities can stay in their home … and not go into expensive nursing homes and other facilities,” he said.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division laid the bill over Tuesday.

A companion, SF3264, sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee


The Impact

Centers provide a wide range of community-based services and connect their clients to other programs, combining supports to meet their exact needs.

Some people might need simple, one-time assistance, like getting a wheelchair-friendly ramp so they can access their home. Others might need intensive, overlapping services.

Independent living specialists helped Travis Tinklenberg learn how to cook for himself, compare prices while grocery shopping, create a budget, manage his bank account, plan for emergency situations – like fires or tornados – and helped him gain the confidence needed to venture out into the community by himself.

They also helped Tinklenberg find his own place and connected him with vocational rehabilitation services, which helped him land a job he loves at Sam’s Club.

Jon Schneider served in the Marine Corps for a decade, but struggled to adjust to civilian life and ended up homeless, living in a hunting blind.

Centers for Independent Living staff helped him find housing and access resources while teaching him how to advocate for himself. They broke down Schneider’s “huge mountain of issues” into small, achievable goals, he said.

Now, Schneider is working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering and has a 4.0 GPA. He lives in his own home, with his own vehicle, is active in his community and reconnected with his family.

“The Marine Corps taught me to save my life. Minnesota Centers for Independent Living Skills taught me how to live my life,” he said.


The Funding

The eight Centers for Independent Living currently operate on about $3 million a year, but a study conducted three years ago suggested that they need far more to serve everyone in need, Ruff said.

“We could use $18 million, frankly, but $750,000 would be absolutely amazing. We’re not here asking for a handout, we’re asking for the Legislature to fund what clearly is cost effective and produces real results.”

The money would be used for general operations – specifically, maintaining access in rural communities – and to hire more independent living specialists, which would help to address the centers’ waiting lists.

A $750,000 funding increase was included in the House omnibus jobs and economic development, energy and climate bill last year, but did not make it into the final law.


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