Minnesota's "lackluster performance" is contrasted with Wisconsin's "notable improvement" in a report released Wednesday about policies affecting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Case for Inclusion 2019 report from the ANCOR Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy cited "stagnant or declining investment in state programs" as the reason Minnesota dropped to 21st place among the 50 states after being ranked 7th in the Case for Inclusion 2016 report.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, rose from 31st place to 14th place in the rankings.

The report lauded Wisconsin for reducing the number of people on the waiting list for home and community-based services from 675 in the 2016 report to 509 in the new report.

The waiting list in the same category also shrunk in Minnesota, but the numbers are much larger - from 3,575 to 3,564.

The report noted that most of its available data was from 2016.

That makes a difference, said Gena Bossert, adult services division director for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. St. Louis County hasn't had a waiting list for such services for years, she said, and the state as a whole has made significant progress in that area in the past few years.

Minnesota ranked 45th in the country in a category the report labels "reaching those in need," and 31st in "promoting independence." Only 9 percent of Minnesotans with intellectual and developmental disabilities have "competitive employment jobs," meaning they work alongside individuals without disabilities at market-driven wages, the report said. Wisconsin matches the national average of 19 percent, although that's down from 21 percent three years earlier.

Again, the time lag is unfortunate, said Kristie Buchman, executive director of CHOICE, unlimited, a Duluth nonprofit that supports adults with disabilities.

"What's concerning is that those are old statistics," she said. "I would say there's a great movement across the board ... to find inclusive employment."

Her agency serves nearly 200 people a year, and the majority are competitively employed alongside people who are not disabled, Buchman said.

Brent Harju, supervisor of St. Louis County's intellectual disabilities unit, said the Workforce Initiative and Opportunity Act, implemented in 2016, is helping to address the issue.

One result is that now individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are worked with while they are still in high school with employment as a goal, Harju said.

Nationally, the report finds a slowdown in support for individuals with disabilities. It blames the stagnation, in part, on states that chose not to opt for Medicaid expansion. But that doesn't hold true in Minnesota and Wisconsin - Minnesota chose Medicaid expansion, and Wisconsin did not.

It also cites a shortage in the direct support professionals who help those with disabilities integrate into the community.

Buchman confirmed that, saying all of the agencies serving the disabled population are understaffed.

"It's difficult to meet the goals if we don't have the workforce to do it," she said.

But Harju said the county is working with employers to find ways to reduce how many support professionals are needed to make hiring happen.

"I think we're not necessarily content with (the shortage) being an excuse of why that should be a barrier with folks for finding employment," Harju said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, in announcing an executive order on Wednesday to create a "One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity," didn't mention people with disabilities. But a spokeswoman noted that Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, in her remarks about the action, said it would "extend to differently abled Minnesotans."

The ANCOR report pointed out that states' performances in serving their populations with intellectual and developmental disabilities don't fall along political lines. Its 10 highest-ranked states included "deep-blue" Oregon and California and "deep-red" Kentucky and South Dakota.

ANCOR Foundation is a nonprofit designed to improve the quality of life of individuals with disabilities. It joined United Cerebral Palsy in producing the report for the first time. The first Case for Inclusion report was in 2006.


See the report

The Case for Inclusion 2019 report can be downloaded at caseforinclusion.org.