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Pilot project considered to increase support for parents with disability

A person’s physical abilities do not impact their capabilities as a parent. But parents with a disability are still more likely to have their parental rights terminated, Darrell Paulsen, a father with a disability and disability rights advocate, told the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.

“Despite the 14th Amendment and the Olmsted Act and the (Americans with Disabilities Act), we still don’t have real protections for parents with disabilities that have a child in their home,” he said.

HF163, sponsored by Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), aims to support parents with a disability and prevent children from being unnecessarily separated from their families by establishing both a Parenting with a Disability Advisory Committee and a pilot project intended to assist parents with childrearing tasks.

The bill was amended and held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

A companion, SF296, is sponsored by Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) and awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

Two-year, state-funded grants to agencies providing personal care assistants would allow PCAs to provide 40 hours of “supportive parenting services” per month.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean you stop parenting,” said Sumer Spika in a video testimony. She is a mother of four and has a disability. Her husband also has disabilities and is dependent on PCA services.

Because of current regulations, while an assistant can do his laundry, they can’t do the children’s. They also can’t accompany her husband to pick up his children from school or drop them off, unnecessarily limiting his ability to participate in their academic lives and activities, she said.

“Having home care encompass us as a whole family would be life-changing for us,” Spika said.

Parents would be eligible to receive adaptive parenting equipment, which includes a wide range of products that can make caring for children easier by working around and with various physical limitations parents might face.

The bill would also lay groundwork to expand the project, based on the findings of a report that would be due within six months of the pilot projects’ conclusion, or by Jan 1, 2022, whichever is earlier.

In addition to an analysis of the project’s efficacy, the report would need to recommend legislative changes allowing for the project’s expansion.

The Parenting with a Disability Advisory Committee would assist with the completion of this report, the grant application process, and advise the Department of Human Services on ways of expanding and improving the efficiency of services for parents with a disability.

Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Maple Grove) pointed out a portion of the bill language that would prevent PCAs currently working with a family from providing parenting support services.

This was a drafting mistake left over from when the legislation was first brought forward several years ago, and is expected to be corrected along with any other technical changes to be suggested by the department, testifiers said.

A one-time appropriation to fund the program in fiscal year 2022 would come from the General Fund, though the amount is unspecified.

“It’s the content of the character … not the physical ability. It goes so much further than that,” said Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River), the son of a paraplegic, in support of the bill.

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