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Continued: Their paychecks stopped, but their work went on

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 17, 2011 - 9:33 PM

For some state contractors, the needs of vulnerable clients were too great to ignore during the ugly stalemate between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators. So these contractors and small-business owners welcomed their clients anyway, headed to shuttered offices and to clients' homes and juggled emergency calls using their cellphones.

Their work went on, even if the pay stopped.

Roxanne Williams "didn't turn anyone away" from the subsidized All About Kids day care center she runs in St. Paul. The state ceased all reimbursements July 1.

"I know other centers are turning parents away. But I couldn't, and I didn't charge them anything. I would not do that to my parents. They would have been in a worse position," she said.

That call to duty appeared in pockets across the state throughout the fiscal crisis. An untold number of child and senior day care providers, job counselors, interpreters and other furloughed contractors kept working with Minnesota's sick, poor and jobless -- without pay.

What motivates some people to carry on regardless? Some "consider their work a mission that serves the broader community," said Sandra Davis, psychologist and CEO of MDA Leadership in Minneapolis. Others do it because "it will be one less thing I have to do when I get called back."

Still others worked because they fear permanent layoffs and want to show that they are committed. A few probably worked just as a matter of principle, Davis said, adding, "Just because the politicians are being stupid doesn't mean I have to go along with it."

Williams falls into the "it's-my-mission" category. All of her clients are low-income and struggle just to pay their $2 to $24 sliding fee. Some of the parents were laid off by the shutdown, too. So for 12 weekdays, Williams has paid for food, field trips, gas and bus rentals on her own. She's out more than $2,300.

Williams doesn't know if she'll be repaid, she said last week. So she did what any business owner would do in her position: She cut expenses. She canceled July's lawn service. But she also took nine children on a field trip Friday.

Clients are unable to pay

"There is no way these clients can pay. So I have to go into my reserves. I'll hold on as long as I can," she said.

With the Legislature scheduled to meet in special session as early as Monday to approve a new budget, the shutdown could end this week. But closed state offices won't reopen until bills are passed and signed by the governor.

Ray Knutson, clinical psychologist for the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, said he's not surprised that some contractors have carried on.

"I am sure there are quite a few people who are working despite the shutdown because they are highly dedicated and believe in what they are doing,'' he said.

The shutdown laid off Sherry Glanton and 80 others at the Employment Action Center, a nonprofit agency that finds jobs and trains the working poor and job seekers for the state. Glanton, who oversees the youth program division and 16 case managers, said she was glad to hear that a budget agreement had finally been reached.

"Hopefully, we will all be back to work pretty soon," Glanton said. If the shutdown had lasted much longer, "I would have been devastated. Me and my two kids would have been out on the street."

Despite the worry, Glanton still headed into the office and fielded calls from fretful clients and case managers throughout the shutdown. "Our clients all have our cellphone numbers. And they have not stopped calling us because the state is closed," Glanton said.

Glanton also kept busy securing federal funds so the center's successful Young Dads program stays afloat to help fathers aged 15 to 29.

"This federal grant [application] is due July 28th. If I don't go in and get it done, we will lose out on a lot of funding. So I am working anyway," Glanton said, adding that she can't help it. "It's kind of hard after 17 years to not have somewhere to get up and go to. I have worked my entire life."

In Savage, SarahCare adult day care owner Deborah Delaney is tapping reserves and going without a salary because 38 percent of her funding comes from the state -- and it won't come in time to pay the rent, tuition, and payroll that is due.

Still, "I would not stop going to work. You just do it because you have these families here and you have to keep open for them. These loved ones can't stay home alone," Delaney said.

While the government shutdown appears to be almost over, Delaney still plans to call her landlord, her daughter's school and others with news that she may not be able to fully pay some bills until later in the summer or fall. She doesn't know how long it will take the state to work through its backlog of bills and get payments flowing.

It won't stop her from serving SarahCare's 38 critically ill and elderly clients every day.

As a business owner, "You cut your own pay to be able to support your employees and [clients] as much as possible. It's just what you have to do," she said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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