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Disability Days At The Minnesota State Capitol

Today we are sitting down with Erin Huldeen to talk about advocacy efforts and how people can get involved in the many things presently going on at the Minnesota State Capitol. In addition to being the Program Administrator for Orion ISO and Morning Star Financial Services, Erin is also the head of the organization’s Consumer Advocacy group.

Q: What is the benefit to being involved in an advocacy event like this?
A: There are many benefits from participating in advocacy events at the Capitol and in your own community. Advocates raise awareness and show that people with disabilities can be active, important members of their community. Advocates show public support of bills and educate policy makers on what is important to people with disabilities in Minnesota.

Q: Do lawmakers/policymakers really listen to what you have to say?
A: Absolutely!  I have met with my elected officials many times in person to talk about disability rights and disability policy. This may seem intimidating initially, but our legislators are elected by the people of Minnesota and we have the right to be heard. It is as simple as sending an email to schedule a meeting, or stopping by your representative’s office while at the capitol. To find out who your local officials are click here. Our elected officials want to hear our stories and understand why disability rights matter to the people of Minnesota. Whether it be for staff wage increases, MA reform, cost of living adjustments, or any other reason, our elected officials want to hear from you. You CAN make a difference!

Q: There  are a lot of initiatives taking place right now in Minnesota that affect people with disabilities. Can you summarize a few of them for us?
A: The 5% Campaign and The Medical Assistance (MA) Reform Campaign are two of the major ones. The 5% Campaign is seeking to increase direct care staff wages for Home and Community-Based Services in 2015 and 2016. An increase in wages would allow people with disabilities to retain direct care staff, receive high quality services, and remain a priority in Minnesota. The Medical Assistance (MA) Reform Campaign is seeking to raise the MA income and asset standards to reduce spend-downs. The goal is to create fair standards for individuals with disabilities and seniors,  allow these individuals to retain more of their income and reduce dependency on aid. You can read more about the MA Reform Campaign here.

There is also current legislation being proposed to increase Consumer Directed Community Services (CDCS) funding for employment and day services.  There are opportunities for individuals to testify at the Capitol and share their story of how financial cuts to their CDCS services have impacted their lives. I encourage people to e-mail me if they are interested in offering their assistance with this legislation.

Q: There are many opportunities coming up in March where individuals can rally at the State Capitol including ‘Tuesdays at the Capitol’. You have participated in these many times. Would you tell us more about this and what a typical day is like?
A: ‘Tuesdays at the Capitol’ are sponsored by the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD). They organize events every Tuesday at the Minnesota State Capitol from January 13 through May 18, 2015. This is an opportunity for individuals with disabilities, their friends and caregivers to meet with legislators and discuss issues related to the disability community.

Attending ‘Tuesdays at the Capitol’ is a very emotional experience and an opportunity to see advocacy at its best. Individuals with disabilities, their families, caregivers, and friends gather to learn about disability policy and share their story with legislators. Our elected officials often provide updates on disability related bills and are willing to meet with individuals to learn how specific policy changes affect the disability community. During specified weeks, hundreds of people gather to learn about different legislative topics and rally in the Capitol’s Rotunda. The Rotunda is full of advocates, legislators, and people who support disability rights. The capitol is active and buzzing with the energy of advocates. Advocates are making their voices heard and showing that the disability community matters. It is a very impressive day and I would encourage everyone to participate in it.

Q: Where can people sign up to rally at the State Capitol?
A:  If you are interested in attending with a member of Orion ISO, please contact me at ehuldeen@orionassoc.net. If you are interested in learning more about ‘Tuesday’s at the Capitol’ you can also visit the MN-CCD web page at www.mnccd.org.

Q: What other things can we do to make a difference?
A: Any and all advocacy work will make a difference. The Consumer Advocacy group regularly writes letters to their legislators and makes their presence known at the Minnesota State Capitol. You can contact your elected official by phone, email, or mail. You can organize a town forum. You can join an advocacy committee, become a part of your local school district group, attend events in the community that support people with disabilities, and educate yourself on the issues occurring in your city, county, and state. Your actions can and will make a difference!

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