Pine Habilitation and Supported Employment (PHASE) has offered its recycling program to Pine County residents and businesses for the past 12 years. Unfortunately, this will be the last year of that program. 

 Since 2009, this program has supported over 300 people with disabilities in vocational training placement, employment supports and has created dozens of jobs for support staff. According to Tim Schmutzer, Executive Director, it is a highly regarded and in demand program.

However, due to regulatory changes made by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS), PHASE’s funder and licenser, they have made the difficult decision to end the recycling program. MDHS began initiatives several years ago to move funding away from facility-based employment services towards supports that result in competitive integrated employment. What this means is PHASE cannot be both the employer of record and the support provider on a long-term basis for new service recipients. PHASE Recycling fits this model that is no longer going to be funded by MDHS.  Schmutzer said they tried to find a work-around, but the initiatives are narrowly written. It was after this PHASE decided not to seek a contract renewal with Pine County.

As far as the building, Cheryl Gullickson, Director of Operations, said the goal is to repurpose the building and program in order to offer more opportunities to PHASE service recipients and staff. While the recycling side of services is going away, PHASE will continue to offer support to service recipients in Sandstone and throughout East-Central Minnesota. A person-centered, individualized approach to each service recipient remains the priority of the organization, and new programs and opportunities will reflect this. They have put a task force together to gather input from employees and service recipients focused on developing more community-integrated supports and transferrable skill development services.  

Both Schmutzer and Gullickson commented on how incredible it has been to work with the residents of Pine County as well as the Pine County Board of Commissioners. “I can’t say enough about this community and the whole county and their support. A huge thank you to the residents that do support us...and the programs that we have. It has just been incredible to see that support. The County has a vendor and plan in place to ensure the continuation of residential recycling,” said Gullickson.

They noted that over the past 12 years, Pine County residents have tripled their recycling efforts. Since January of 2009, PHASE Recycling has processed over 14,000 tons of recyclables. PHASE Recycling will continue to take recyclables at their Sandstone location until December 31, 2020, and service business customers shortly into 2021. PHASE will continue serving the community to promote the inclusion and success of community members experiencing a disability.

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