We Showed Up and Stood Up at the State Capitol
Approximately 90 people from Hammer & NER attended Disability Services Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 28. The group included many people we support along with their staff and family members. We began the day by boarding chartered buses from our West and East Central offices and heading to the Capitol. We then joined hundreds of others from the disabilities services community in packing the Capitol rotunda for a huge rally that included an array of speakers including Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, and Brion Curran, a former member of our NER staff who now serves as a representative of District 36B and continues to be an advocate for the disabilities communities. We then broke into several smaller groups to meet with the senators and representatives who represent the districts where our Hammer & NER homes and apartment programs are located.
Pam Janczewski is Director of Residential Services for our east metro homes and was one of the group leaders.
We had about 20-25 people in a conference room with Senator Steve Cwodzinski (District 24) and Representative Carlie Kotya-Witthuhn (District 49B). Don Haberman (one of our Board members and a Hammer & NER parent) started the conversation. Our meeting was emotional and moving. There was supervisor from another organization who talked about the staffing shortages and how difficult it is to ask her employees to work 80 hours a week. She knows that by even asking she is risking losing them and how every time another staff person leaves that is difficult for everyone (individuals and other staff). There was a self-advocate from another provider who also spoke up and said that every time he gets a new staff it takes three or four months to adjust to him and what he needs which impacts the hard work he has done to build and maintain his independence. It was heartbreaking to hear.
Some of the Hammer & NER staff and individuals also spoke up, One of our staff talked about living wages for DSPs. She is a single mom and has to work more hours just to pay the bills and support her daughter, but every hour she works is extra time away from her daughter. Another person on our team talked about being single staffed in an apartment program and how difficult it can be to make decisions between two individuals’ wants and needs. She mentioned someone needing to go grocery shopping but another person needing medical attention: You choose the person who needs medical attention, but now when will the other person be able to go get food?
Nate Reed is a Fundraising Manager on our Hammer & NER Development team and led another one of our groups.
The thing that stuck out to me the most is that almost every legislator mentioned that we had the largest group so far this year (the entire event) and how important that was. The questions from the legislators were relatively basic and focused more on “what is the need” and a few asked, “what is currently happening” in the legislature that they could learn more about. Their responses to the stories and struggles that were shared were as varied as the people themselves. Some were very engaged while it seemed others couldn’t wait to get to the next thing.
Overall, from those who were engaged, you could feel the compassion and understanding for the struggle to get funding for staff. In our meeting with Senator Kelly Morrison (District 45), Barb Lebowitz, Julie Wesley-Wong (Board member), and Don Haberman (Board member) each shared about their experiences as they have loved ones who are supported by Hammer & NER. They talked about their struggles and fears related to the workforce issues. That struck a chord with the Senator.
We are thankful to all of the people we support, their staff, and their families who joined us at the Capitol. Thank you for speaking up and sharing your stories and helping us urge our legislators to stand up for you!