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Disability service providers desperate for financial help

Updated: August 06, 2020 07:15 PM

Willie Lusti loves painting pinecones. Those pinecones then go into wreaths that are sold at East Range DAC.

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"I have lots of fun here," he told us. Willie is 40-years-old and has Down Syndrome. He's been working since he was 15, according to his mother. And this latest job at ERDAC provides him a fulfilling way to make a wage.

"He's very happy. He comes home so happy, and tells me what he's been doing. He loves it," shared his mom, Kathy Giorgi. "This is much better than just sitting at home, which he did during the shutdown. He can't just do nothing. That's not a life for anybody."

She's worried that ERDAC may have to close because they've suffered so many financial losses during the pandemic. 

ERDAC's executive director, Robin Harkonen, said she applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped her keep her 24 staff. But they are down $300,000 already, and keep losing money.

"We can't keep waiting for another special session. Five programs have already closed. We need help now," Harkonen said. "People with disabilities should not be treated any differently than other people in the state."

The providers said they have asked Governor Walz to allocate $30 million dollars in CARES funding for them. But for now, no luck. There was some action at the second special session, but nothing passed there either.

Other programs are in the same financial boat. FST in Floodwood, the Lake County DAC, and CHOICE Unlimited in Duluth. Parents shared more. Adele Hartwick has a daughter named Meghan. "She's had multiple jobs. They have an art class, and one of her Meghan's favorite things is art. They are a well-rounded organization."

Kim Priem's son, Ben, enjoys his work out in the community. "Where he's currently employed, we hear from the team who works with him. They love him. He always has a smile on his face. He has a real sense of pride. His first paycheck was celebrated, and he really enjoys being able to save," she said.

They would be devastated to lose the support of the CHOICE folks. "They've given Meghan a real life," Hartwick added.

Jackie Willis is another client. She told us she's been with CHOICE for 18 years. And she misses her job. "I used to clean, and mop and sweep. It was fun. Now I have to wait until the virus is over." 

Governor Walz's office has not responded to our request for comment on this issue.

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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