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RSA-227 for FY-2021: Submission #1199

Minnesota
09/30/2021
General Information
Designated Agency Identification
Minnesota Disability Law Center/ Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
111 N. Fifth Street
Suite 100
Minneapolis
Minnesota
55403
612-332-1441
800-292-4150
Not Applicable
Operating Agency (if different from Designated Agency)
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Additional Information
Dan Stewart
Jonah A. Giese
612-746-3830
jgiese@mylegalaid.org
Part I. Non-case Services
A. Information and Referral Services (I&R)
2
0
0
0
2
3
7
B. Training Activities
20
1285
The Minnesota Disability Law Center’s (MDLC) Client Assistance Project (CAP) staff delivered trainings throughout the state providing hundreds of attendees with information about CAP and vocational rehabilitation (VR) issues. CAP staff conducted 20 trainings and presentations during Fiscal Year 2021, engaging approximately 1250 individuals. CAP staff presented to attendees across Minnesota, and participated in national, state, and local virtual events. These events provided participants information and training on CAP services, Vocational Rehabilitation rights and services, and other disability topics. Presentation attendees included individuals with disabilities, transition-age youth, parents of individuals with disabilities, disability advocacy organizations, service providers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, business representatives, attorneys, potential volunteers, law school students, and community organizations.



As in previous years, many of those presentations were to populations that have been unserved or underserved by Minnesota vocational rehabilitation agencies; such outreach activities are summarized below in Part I, C.

C. Agency Outreach
CAP staff reached un-served and underserved individuals, including minority communities, through a combination of outreach; publication of online materials, videos, podcasts; and monitoring employment service providers.

CAP staff conducted outreach that was specifically targeted towards reaching historically un-served and underserved populations and minority communities. CAP staff worked with local community nonprofits, such as Centro de Trabajadores Unido en la Lucha (CTUL), to forge connections with diverse communities, and engage the historically underserved population of Latinx people with disabilities. CAP staff also conducted targeted outreach to homeless populations, providing training on disability rights in partnership with the local YMCA. CAP staff presented to families and guardians of diverse students with disabilities, and to law students, including law students of color.

In an effort to reach transition-age youth, CAP staff began the second phase of our “Into Adulthood” project. Into Adulthood is a multi-media project that includes information for youth about their rights with vocational rehabilitation, high school, post-secondary education, work, transportation, health insurance, and other benefits needed to work. After talking with youth and their families during outreach across Minnesota, CAP staff discovered that many youth and families do not know about their rights and the services that are available to them. The goal of the Into Adulthood project is to provide information about rights and services that youth need to transition to competitive, integrated employment and more independence.

CAP staff hope the Into Adulthood project will reach youth in a medium where they seek information, specifically on social media. During this fiscal year, CAP staff released four videos and a podcast. The Into Adulthood videos were well received. They reached around 5,700 people on Facebook and the videos were viewed around 240 times on YouTube. We also conducted outreach to share our extensive Into Adulthood Guide more widely, and highlighted the project during presentations.

One video featured a VR consumer, who is a transition-age college student, and a CAP staff member. The video focused on VR services to help with post-secondary funding and supports, and how CAP can help VR consumers. The second video featured a transition-age college student who discussed tips for post-secondary students to be successful in school and as they prepare for employment. The third video is a recording of a live stream that CAP did with SAWV Rise, a Hmong disability rights Facebook group based in Minnesota. CAP staff presented to SAWV members about our Into Adulthood Guide and project, and the video of the presentation is posted on our website. Finally, we created a video of our podcast, “Racial Disparities in School Discipline of Students with Disabilities,” to share the podcast more broadly with youth who access information through YouTube.

CAP staff also partnered with Jeff Thompson, the creator of the Blind Abilities podcast and former State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind chair, to record a podcast for transition youth. The podcast, “Racial Disparities in School Discipline of Students with Disabilities,” featured an interview with a Native American transition-age youth discussing her school experience with a CAP staff member, specifically how discipline at school interfered with her education. The podcast had 1,366 downloads and additional views on other platforms, such as 60 views on YouTube.

Additionally, CAP’s Into Adulthood website helped us share our guide, videos, podcasts and other resources. The Into Adulthood website had about 1000 page views this fiscal year. We have five versions of the Into Adulthood Guide on our website including a version with a fun, engaging design in English and accessible PDFs in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali.

CAP staff continued its monitoring of facilities that provide employment services in Minnesota to assess how persons with the most severe disabilities were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and how employment services were being delivered during this phase of the pandemic. Some monitoring was done virtually and some was done in-person. The monitoring included a tour (or remote video tour) of each facility and interviews of facility supervisors, staff, and program participants. CAP staff found that many employment service providers had resumed in-person services, though the services were sometimes limited. Some providers continued to provide remote services to program participants who preferred remote employment services.

CAP staff also reviewed and updated all of our factsheets, available to the general public at LawHelpMN.org. These factsheets cover CAP services, eligibility for VRS and SSB services, scope of VR services, developing an Individualized Employment Plan, VR services for self-employment/small businesses, and appealing a VRS or SSB decision.

Persons of Color

CAP staff provided trainings, outreach, and expertise to diverse communities across the state of Minnesota. In fiscal year 2021, CAP staff conducted 5 targeted outreach activities for people of color. These engagements reached 153 individuals. CAP staff conducted outreach at Mitchell-Hamline School of Law, providing information on our Access to Justice program to a diverse student body. Other CAP staff partnered with a local Latinx nonprofit to provide training on employment rights and advocacy to Latinx people with disabilities.

Transition-Aged Students:

In addition to our Into Adulthood project mentioned above, CAP staff partnered with a number of organizations that provide services to transition-aged students to provide presentations to youth and their families. CAP staff also presented on Transition-Aged Students outreach strategies to 105 participants at the NDRN National Conference.
D. Information Disseminated To The Public By Your Agency
0
1
4
213
1
1
Other: Podcast produced and disseminated by CAP staff.
E. Information Disseminated About Your Agency By External Media Coverage
Not Applicable
Part II. Individual Case Services
A. Individuals served
13
22
35
1
11
B. Problem areas
0
5
23
1
0
0
0
2
C. Intervention Strategies for closed cases
7
1
6
1
2
0
17
D. Reasons for closing individuals' case files
3
8
1
3
0
0
0
1
1
0
0
0
{Empty}
E. Results achieved for individuals
6
1
0
0
1
2
3
4
0
0
{Empty}
Part III. Program Data
A. Age
5
5
9
14
2
35
B. Gender
13
22
35
C. Race/ethnicity of Individuals Served
1
0
0
10
0
16
1
7
D. Primary disabling condition of individuals served
0
2
0
0
0
0
6
1
3
1
0
0
3
0
0
1
0
1
0
2
11
1
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
35
E. Types of Individuals Served
6
1
18
1
9
0
Part IV. Systemic Activities and Litigation
A. Non-Litigation Systemic Activities
1
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued in FY2021, CAP staff continued to monitor how vocational rehabilitation services were delivered in Minnesota, as VR counselors were still working from home, community rehabilitation program operations were greatly restricted or shut down entirely, and meetings could no longer be held in person. CAP staff met with VR leadership to discuss the status of VR services.

CAP also continued its advocacy and monitoring efforts around implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VRS, SSB and Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS), concerning eligibility, service delivery and financial responsibilities between the agencies on habilitation and rehabilitation of the most severely disabled individuals receiving waivered disability services, including transition-age youth. CAP successfully applied for a seat on the E1 MN Employment First Advisory Committee helping to oversee the process. CAP staff then provided input as the state agencies developed policies implementing the MOU. CAP staff, along with others on the committee, provided a client’s perspective on how the systemic changes put in place would impact clients and client communities. CAP staff focused on advising the state agencies on how to best communicate about the roll-out of the systemic changes to VR consumers, emphasizing the need for plain language, translations into different languages, and making sure any written communications were put in multiple, accessible formats. This resulted in the state agencies putting together a presentation on how all of the systemic changes would impact consumers, families, advocates and waivered service providers.

During the fiscal year, CAP and MDLC investigated the state of subminimum wages and sheltered workshop employment, developing a written report to be published in the 2022 fiscal year and releasing an Executive Summary in September 2021. The report examines the practice of paying people with disabilities a subminimum wage authorized under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. CAP/MDLC’s analysis found that around 5,800 Minnesotans with disabilities are being paid subminimum wages, often in segregated settings. Utilizing a dataset obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor through a Freedom of Information Act Request, CAP/MDLC learned that people with disabilities working for subminimum wages are earning on average less than half of Minnesota’s minimum wage and working a small number of hours. Additionally, they have few choices in the type of work that they do. CAP/MDLC is concerned that Minnesotans with disabilities are working in segregated workplaces for subminimum wages and may not know about VR services to help find competitive, integrated employment or may not be receiving effective VR services. The report will highlight these concerns and include policy recommendations, including recommendations to the VR agencies.

CAP staff also researched the experiences of five other states who have phased out or abolished subminimum wages practices. They examined the effects on client communities and on the Community Rehabilitation Providers, analyzing data from those states when it was available and talking to experts in those states. In the Executive Summary and in the forthcoming report, MDLC recommends the gradual phase-out of the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities in Minnesota. The Minnesota legislature created a task force to plan for the phase out of subminimum wage. MDLC’s report will help educate policymakers at the same time that CAP staff will join the task force to plan for the phase out of subminimum wage in Minnesota.

Additionally, with respect to transition age youth, MDLC advocated with the state’s department of education to 1. extend eligibility of students between ages 18-21 to have an additional year of eligibility for transition services from schools; 2. Promote special education “recovery” services for transition services lost or missed due to Covid-19 impacts (the state legislature ultimately passed a bill to require “recovery” services; and 3. Discourage or prohibit school districts from using legal right waiver agreements as a pre-condition for receiving special education “recovery” services.
B. Litigation
0
0
0
During the fiscal year CAP staff undertook no systemic litigation activities involving individual representation, relying instead on more informal review and mediation procedures which successfully resolved cases before having to resort to formal administrative or legal remedies. 
Part V. Agency Information
A. Designated Agency
External-Protection and Advocacy agency
Minnesota Disability Law Center / Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
No
Not Applicable
B. Staff Employed
Attorney full-time 0.8

Attorney part-time 0.5

Paralegal full-time 0.69

Paralegal part-time 0.39

Clerical 0.01
Part VI. Case Examples
Case Examples
A college student with autism was in the process of finishing his undergraduate degree in education and starting his student teaching requirement. Due to COVID-19, his college had closed its dorms and he had moved off campus to live with his mother. This caused VRS to reassess his consumer financial participation status and assign him responsibility of 67% for the upcoming semester tuition and fee costs, which came to several thousand dollars. Neither the student nor his mother could afford to pay that amount – the student had amassed student loans of almost $40,000 and had earned only about $5,000 in the past year, and the mother was in the process of recovering from a recent bankruptcy, caused in part by her son’s disability-related expenses. They called CAP, which investigated the case and submitted an exception request on their behalf, citing federal regulations that require state VR agencies, when imposing consumer financial participation amounts, to be reasonable, based on consumers’ actual financial needs and not used to effectively deny consumers needed VR services. VRS granted the request, enabling the student to move forward with his last semester of college and prepare himself for a career teaching physical education to elementary and middle school students.

A deaf Somali man living in Minneapolis with his family had an Employment Plan to attend commercial truck driving training in Winona, about 2 hours away from Minneapolis. He needed to stay in Winona during his training, but VRS had a $500 per month limitation on maintenance for his VR-related living expenses during his training program. On top of that, VRS was prorating the $500 amount to the number of days of the month he was actually attending training. He contacted CAP for help, and CAP staff submitted a request on his behalf to, at the very least, allow him the full $500 in maintenance per month for him to afford some motel stays. This request was granted and the consumer was able to continue with his truck driving training.

A 55 year old woman living in Mankato called CAP after trying to access SSB vocational rehabilitation services for several months without success. She had received SSB VR services previously but had been employed for some time and hadn't needed those services. Her disabilities had worsened, but the SSB counselor in Mankato assigned to her case refused to take an application for services or provide any services. The woman also experienced communication with the SSB counselor where it sounded like the counselor was preparing meals at home and not providing VR services. Once contacted, CAP staff quickly intervened, contacting an SSB manager in the VR program and advocating on behalf of the client for services. The manager agreed, and SSB staff received an application for services from the client, found her eligible, and started working with her to develop an IPE so that she could finally get the services she needed to be employed again.


A woman living in out-state Southern Minnesota had mental illness. She experienced difficulties on the job as a caregiver and was concerned that her VR case was closed prematurely, as she needed more job supports and her employment services provider, Goodwill, refused to work with her further. CAP staff advised the consumer and investigated, learning that her VR case had been closed after 90 days and a successful placement. CAP staff then called the VR office Regional Area Manager to advocate on her behalf to re-open her case for post-employment services. The manager agreed, and the consumer’s case was re-opened with VR contacting her to develop a written employment plan for further services.



A man with physical and mental disabilities was living in Duluth and wanting to return to work. He applied for VR services but was put on a waiting list. When he came off the waiting list he had conflict with the VR counselor assigned to work with him and felt disrespected by that person. He then called MDLC for help. CAP staff investigated his case and immediately called the VRS office supervisor/regional area manager, explained the situation and asked if the consumer could be assigned to work with a different VR counselor. This request was quickly granted and the consumer proceeded to develop an Employment Plan for VR services. Meanwhile, his job search efforts were rewarded with a job offer from Walgreens in Duluth, for a full-time position with benefits and training to become a pharmacy technician. He updated CAP staff and asked for resources for making a living will and doing estate planning. CAP staff directed him to fact sheets from mnlawhelp.org and also referred him to a private attorney practicing in that law area.



An African-American man with mental illness was living in outstate Minnesota. His mental illness symptoms greatly exacerbated and as a consequence he missed several appointments with his VR counselor. The counselor was not understanding about this and the consumer felt disrespected by the counselor. He called CAP for help, and a CAP staff member investigated his case and called the regional area manager to request a new VR counselor on the consumer’s behalf. The VRS manager agreed to this request and reassigned the consumer to work with a different counselor, who was female and had more understanding of mental illness and its impact on individuals trying to access VR services. CAP staff communicated the counselor change to the consumer, who was very happy with the result and was able then to progress with his vocational rehabilitation program.



A woman with mental illness and sensory/auditory sensitivities was working as a state employee in the Twin Cities and also receiving VR services. Unhappy with her VR counselor, she had requested and been granted reassignment to a different VR counselor. She was still concerned, however, that her former counselor had bad-mouthed her in the case notes made available to her new counselor. She called CAP for help, and CAP staff assisted her in getting a copy of her VRS casefile, reviewing it and advising her on its contents. Thankfully, her former counselor had put very little about her in the case notes, which provided her with reassurance as she moved forward with the VR process and her new VR counselor.



A man living in the Twin Cities with mental illness and learning disabilities was working as a delivery truck driver but went on medical leave due to exacerbation of depression symptoms. He needed more help than he was getting from his VR counselor and Center for Independent Living (CIL) staff about understanding his rights and options going forward. Due to his learning disabilities, he found it especially difficult to understand and complete the short term disability paperwork the insurance company and he had difficulty communicating effectively withthem. He also needed to understand how the reasonable accommodation process worked and how to request a reasonable accommodation, in the event he was ready to return to work. CAP staff advised the consumer about reasonable accommodations and worked to help him navigate the disability benefits system, including getting VRS and the CIL to provide more assistance to help him maintain his short-term disability benefits, which enabled him to maintain his mental health treatment. CAP staff also advised the consumer about his rights in the VR process, including his right to the administrative appeals process if he was denied necessary VR services. With this advice and assistance, the consumer was able to continue forward with the VR process and gained the information he needed to make informed decisions about short term and long term disability benefits and returning to work.
Certification
Approved
Dan Stewart
Deputy Director / Legal Director
2021-12-10
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