Polk County DAC in Crookston and East Grand Forks and other day programs serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Minnesota are under extreme financial stress due to closures brought on by COVID-19. So much so, that some are questioning if they will be able to reopen when the stay at home order is lifted. Polk County DAC closed as of March 18 with no opening date in mind until the crisis is over.
Polk County DAC Executive Director Jo Bittner said the DAC serves 80 clients, but because many are vulnerable, they have been closed with the hopes of reopening in May. “We serve 80 individuals between Crookston and East Grand Forks,” said Bittner. “All of those individuals have some time of a developmental disability. Many of them are in wheelchairs, walkers, or non-verbal, so very vulnerable, and they also have some health issues. That’s the reason we ended up closing our facility because, with COVID-19, it was just too much of a risk for all of those individuals. They are being served at home, and some of the staff are working with REM Incorporated in Crookston and East Grand Forks, providing services in the home to help them because they are running short-staffed as well. We have furloughed our staff, so they are working reduced hours. Those that can work in the group home are doing that, and those that aren’t able to work at the group home setting are here at the DAC doing some deep cleaning, sanitizing, and getting ready for their return. With the new order going until May 4, right now, fingers-crossed, we’re anticipating a return to work on May 11.”
Polk County DAC, like all day service providers in Minnesota, is nonprofits and only gets paid when clients attend their programs. Bittner said that as a result of closing their doors, they have almost no revenue coming in, putting their services at risk and prompting the DAC to apply for the payroll protection plan from the Small Business Administration. “How our funding structure work is that if our clients attend, we collect a daily rate on each of them,” said Bittner. “It’s different for every single person, but now that they are not coming, we have absolutely no revenues coming in. There are a couple of exceptions. We have one person who lives at home, and they are coming into our multi-sensory environment because we can sanitize it after every use. And if we have any remote meetings, we’re talking like one-hour meetings, we can bill for that, but essentially, we have no revenues coming in. That’s why we applied for the small business loan under the CARES Act. It’s the payroll protection plan, and that would assist paying benefits and wages, and some of our fixed costs such as utilities, mortgages, and rent. We don’t have a mortgage, and we don’t have rent, so that’s helpful. Most of that loan would be forgiven, but not all of it. It has been submitted at our local Bremer Bank, and we passed all the checkpoints, and now it’s gone on to the Small Business Administration for their approval. I’m hoping we hear soon, but I’m sure they have hundreds of thousands of these applications coming, so I’m hoping they are working over the Easter weekend. That would be helpful to us.”
Polk County DAC has also joined with the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) to ask state legislators to pass a “Disability Day and Employment Services Fixed Cost Relief” bill as soon as possible to support the decimated disability services infrastructure from COVID-19. Julie Johnson, MOHR President, said many of the people day service providers serve need staff to get out in the community, attend events, see movies, and do other things many people take for granted.
MOHR is circulating a draft of a legislative proposal to support day programs that not only provide training and job support but are the bedrock to people with disabilities social lives and interaction with broader society.
Even without revenue and without being able to see clients at their facilities, staff from the Polk County DAC are still trying to provide unique moments for their clients. Bittner said the team donned their masks to deliver Easter baskets this week. “Yesterday, we delivered some Easter baskets,” said Bittner. “We put on our masks and went to the different group homes and took some selfies with us standing outside and them in the windows. They were very, very happy to see us. We’re like family to them. This closure is so difficult for them, and they’ve lost their jobs as well. We have people that work at UMC, McDonald’s, RBJ’s, and we clean a bunch of churches. All of those things have stopped as well. It’s hard for our clients and our staff.”
The Polk County DAC Prom has also become a popular event among the agency’s clients. Initially scheduled for April 30, Bittner said they’ve had to postpone the event, but they will still hold prom once things settle down. “Polk County DAC does a prom every year,” said Bittner. “We’ve done it for three years, and it’s a tremendous hit for all of our clients. They love it. I have found dresses that we’ve had donated and shirts and ties. We decorate just like prom at the high school. We have to postpone that, but we’re not going to cancel it. We’re going to probably have that in June when things settle down. As we call our clients and check in on them, the two questions are when we are going to open and when is prom. So, I’m happy to say it’s going to happen at some point.”