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DDS commissioner paints overly rosy picture of employment for developmentally disabled

January 19, 2017 2 comments

In opening remarks at a conference on employment opportunities for the developmentally disabled late last year, Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe gave what appears to be an overly rosy assessment of the likelihood of mainstream jobs for those people.

In her written remarks delivered to the November 30 conference, which was hosted by DDS and the UMass Institute for Community Inclusion, Howe appeared to imply that former participants in sheltered workshops, which the administration has worked to close, have been placed in mainstream jobs at a record rate.

“There are now more people working in individual jobs in the community than ever before,” Howe stated.

But while the numbers Howe cited show an increase in the number of people placed in mainstream jobs since 2013, it appears that most of that increase occurred between 2013 and 2014, before the workshop closures took place. Since 2014, DDS data indicates that the number of people finding mainstream jobs declined rapidly.

Howe noted that all remaining sheltered workshops in the state were closed as of last July 1, and that Massachusetts was only the fourth state in the nation to do that. But the loss of those workshops should not be a cause for concern, Howe contended, because, there were now more than 3,300 individuals working in “group supported employment” in the state – an increase of over 1,300 people since June 2013.

An increase of 1,300 disabled people in group supported employment would work out to a 65 percent increase in the number of people in that category since 2013, which sounds like a major success story.

But of that total increase cited by Howe of 1,300 individuals, 998 — or nearly 77 percent of them — appear to have entered group supported employment between 2013 and 2014, according to data provided by DDS.

The DDS numbers show there was an increase of only 146 people in group supported employment between August 2014 and August 2015.  Between August 2015 and November 2016, when all remaining sheltered workshops were closed, there was an increase of only 156 people in group supported employment.

So, while the number of people in group supported employment appears to have increased by almost 50 percent between 2013 and 2014, the increase in the two-year period from 2014 to 2016 dropped to about 10 percent.

Group supported employment is defined by DDS as “a small group of individuals, (typically 2 to 8), working in the community under the supervision of a provider agency.” In contrast to sheltered workshops, supported employment places an “emphasis…on work in an integrated environment,” which means that developmentally disabled persons work in the same location as non-disabled individuals.

The closures of the sheltered workshops in Massachusetts has resulted in the removal from those programs of close to 2,000 participants since 2013; but those closures did not appear to have translated into a steady flow of people into supported employment. Even Howe appears to acknowledge that a significant percentage of those former workshop participants have not found mainstream workforce jobs.

In her remarks, Howe stated that “many people transitioned (from sheltered workshops) to Community Based Day Support programs,” but didn’t say how many. Day programs are often really just daycare programs that do not offer work-based or skill-building activities to the people in them.

The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, which is part of the Baker administration, appears to acknowledge the problem of employment in its State Plan for 2016, noting that:

there are fewer people being placed in successful employment due to staff layoffs and the current fiscal environment. In order for more services to be made available, it is important to create partnerships and work with various state agencies in order to address this significant issue that is and will continue to be of concern. (my emphasis)

Last year, however, the Legislature failed to provide funding sought by Governor Baker for the transition from workshops to supported employment.

Rather than touting the supposed good news about the closures of the workshops, Howe should have acknowledged ongoing concerns about the apparent difficulty of finding mainstream work for people with developmental disabilities.

House and Senate not following their own funding plan for employment of the developmentally disabled

For the past three years, the state has been carrying out a policy of closing sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities and subsequently placing those people in mainstream workforce jobs.

Yet the Legislature, which bought into this policy, is failing to provide the necessary funding for it.

As the Department of Developmental Services and its corporate service providers jointly proclaimed in 2013, the policy has been to move developmentally disabled people out of sheltered workshops and into community-based day programs and ultimately to the mainstream workforce.

Sheltered workshops are settings in which developmentally disabled people work together on simple assembly-line tasks and are usually paid a small wage.  The workshops have gone out of favor because they are viewed as “segregating” their participants from their non-disabled peers in the community.

Since 2013, the majority of the remaining sheltered workshops in Massachusetts have reportedly been closed.  All are scheduled to be closed as of June 30 of this year.

But the problem is that the Legislature, and to some extent the administration itself, aren’t following through on the policy, which calls for beefing up funding for DDS day programs and job development staffing.  Last week, the Senate joined the House in rejecting higher funding levels considered by the policy planners to be needed by both day programs and employment programs for Fiscal Year 2017.

The irony is that the Democratic-run House and Senate have proposed even less funding for these line items for Fiscal ’17 than Republican Governor Baker has.

A likely result of this apparent under-funding is that relatively few people will be placed in mainstream jobs, but rather will be sent to potentially overcrowded day programs with inadequate staffing.

Day and employment accounts were initially increased, but will now be under-funded or cut

In order to accomplish the policy for “integrated employment” of the developmentally disabled, the Legislature initially increased funding of the community-based day program line item in the state budget, and created a new line item to fund the transfers from the sheltered workshops.  The idea was to increase both day program and job development staffing and training.

The new sheltered workshop transfer budget line item (5920-2026) was initially funded in Fiscal ’15 with $1 million.  That amount was raised to $3 million in the current fiscal year, and the governor proposed to boost it to $7.6 million in Fiscal ’17.  But the House and now the Senate are not going with the governor’s plan.

As the House did last month, the Senate last week approved a budget plan for Fiscal ’17 that will eliminate Governor Baker’s proposed $4.6 funding increase for the sheltered workshop transfer line item.  Amendments proposed in both the House and Senate to restore the governor’s increase for the line item were rejected by the House and Senate leadership.  As a result, the account will be level-funded next year, which amounts to a cut when adjusted for inflation.

Yet, even the governor’s proposed $4.6 million increase in this line item was $1 million too low, according to the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP).  The ADDP lobbies on behalf of corporate DDS providers, which operate day and work programs throughout the state.

In addition, the Senate budget approved last week would provide $700,000 less in spending for the community day and work line item (5920-2025) than the amount the House and the governor proposed.  The governor and the House proposed a 4.9 percent increase in that account for Fiscal ’17.

In an email sent to members in early May, the ADDP contended that even the 4.9 percent increase in the day and work line item was $9.8 million less than the what was needed to maintain existing services.  As a result, according to the ADDP,  DDS was already planning to cut 5 percent in funding for contracts with all day and employment providers.

Should the Senate’s budget plan prevail regarding the day and work line item, it would seem the cut in contract funding for day and employment providers would have to be even deeper than 5 percent.

ADDP urged higher funding and staffing for day care and employment programs 

Both the ADDP and the Arc of Massachusetts have become virtual partners with DDS in the operation of the department. The Arc and the ADDP co-authored a report with DDS in 2013 that called for the closures of the sheltered workshops as of June 2015.  While that goal wasn’t met, DDS is continuing to work for those closures as of this June of this year.

In comments submitted to EOHHS Secretary Marylou Sudders late last year, the ADDP maintained that funding for both the community day and work line item and sheltered workshops transfer line items needed to be boosted significantly in order to fulfill the plans to close the workshops and transfer clients to mainstream jobs.  A failure to boost that funding could put the state in violation of requirements issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), according to the ADDP.

The ADDP comments also noted that as of October 2015, the number of individuals receiving community based day services more than doubled from 2,656 individuals as of June 2013, to 5,422. While noting that this increase was directly related to the closures of the sheltered workshops, the ADDP stated that the majority of those persons were not receiving any other DDS-funded employment services.

The ADDP comments also pointed out that DDS day programs require significantly higher levels of staffing than the sheltered workshops did.

As we pointed out in a blog post in January, DDS records show that the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 61 percent between August 2014 and August 2015, and the number of persons in corporate-run community-based day programs increased by 27 percent. Yet, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings rose during that same period by only about 6 percent.

It appears that the only policy the Legislature and the administration have pursued with a real level of commitment has been closing the sheltered workshops. But that’s only half the plan.  The problem with the Legislature, in particular, is that while it bought into the first half of the plan, it now has seemingly abandoned the critically important second half.

Thousands of people have or will be removed from their sheltered workshops, and the Legislature appears to be leaving an unknown number of them in the lurch.

Few people moving from sheltered workshops to “integrated” jobs

January 20, 2016 10 comments

While the Baker administration appears to be moving ahead with a policy of closing all remaining sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, records show that relatively few people so far have been transferred from the workshops to the “integrated employment settings” that are supposed to replace them.

Confirming our concerns, the data from the Department of Developmental Services show that most of those people have been transferred to community-based day programs funded by DDS or MassHealth.

This has financially benefited corporate DDS providers that run the day programs and that have been among the most vocal proponents of shutting down the sheltered workshops. In what we consider to be an example of the inappropriate influence of private interests in DDS policy, two of those provider organizations actually helped draft a key DDS document that called for the workshop closures.

According to DDS records, the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 1,166 between August 2014 and August 2015 — a 61 percent reduction from the 1,913 people who had been in those programs.  The number of sheltered workshop providers dropped from 39 to 14.

In that same period, the number of developmentally disabled persons in corporate-run, community-based day programs increased by 1,116, or 27 percent.

In contrast to the increase in day program use, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings increased from August 2014 to 2015 by only 337, or about 6 percent.  DDS said it had no records on the number of integrated workplaces that exist in Massachusetts.

Community-based day programs actually cost considerably more to run than do sheltered workshops, according to an expert in the field.

A DDS document in November 2013, titled “Blueprint for Success,” stated that it was the department’s goal to close sheltered workshops to new participants as of January 2014 and to close all remaining workshops as of June 30, 2015.  The closure of all of the workshops has not yet occurred, but it appears to be likely to happen despite protective language placed in the state budget for the workshops.

The title page of the Blueprint states that the document was prepared by DDS and by the Massachusetts Association for Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) and the Arc of Massachusetts.  Both the ADDP and the Arc are largely supported by DDS-funded providers, which have benefited from higher DDS funding for the day programs to which most of the former sheltered workshop participants have been transferred.

The Blueprint called for a total of $26.7 million in state funding over a four-year period for the transition from sheltered workshops to mainstream work settings.  But the document did not offer specifics as to how those mainstream jobs would be found.

2014 Blueprint Progress Report, drafted by DDS and the ADDP, stated that $3 million allotted in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the transition from the sheltered workshops fell short of $5.5 million that DDS and the corporate providers had requested.  Nevertheless, the report stated that 31 of 39 provider agencies would receive funding to transfer participants out of the workshops.

It now appears most of the funding has gone toward community-based day programs. The expert we talked to suggested that it would have been more effective had the funding been earmarked for subsidies for employers for hiring developmentally disabled workers.

Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage.  But the programs have become targets of a political ideology  that holds that any type of congregate care setting is institutional in nature and therefore bad for those involved.  Sheltered workshops allegedly “segregate” developmentally disabled people from their peers in the wider community or in the mainstream workforce.

“Integrated individual employment” is defined by DDS in a 2010 policy directive as “taking place in a workplace in the community where the majority of individuals do not have disabilities.”  In addition, the policy directive states that the “optimal employment status is earning the prevailing wage.”

Many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that those programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills.  Those families have also raised concerns that there are relatively few integrated or mainstream workforce jobs available for people with developmental disabilities; and that absent a sufficient number of such jobs, former sheltered workshop participants  are likely to be transferred permanently to community-based day programs that do not offer the same activities or skills as the workshops did.

The contrast between the percentages of people who have been transferred to day programs and those placed in integrated employment is not alluded to in a September 2015 progress report submitted by DDS to the Legislature’s House and Senate Ways and Means Committees and to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.  The data noted above on the numbers of people in sheltered workshops and other programs in 2014 and 2015 can be found in tables in the report; but there was no analysis in the report of the data and no conclusions drawn based on that data.

In that five-page report, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated that DDS was offering training and consultation services to day program providers on the “delivery of quality, inclusive community based services…”  Howe also said DDS was working “to assure that all individuals have access to and integration in the community…”

But Howe did not explain in the report how or when that access to integration in the community would be achieved by DDS.  Howe’s report also provided no data or information on the types of services offered in community by day program providers or how successful those programs might have been.

The DDS’s 2010 policy directive similarly did not contain a plan for placing former sheltered workshop participants in mainstream jobs; but the policy directive did take a strong ideological stance against the workshops, going as far as to state that mainstream employment had been shown to be “a viable option… even for those individuals with the most significant level of disability…”  No evidence or source was cited for that statement.

The disappearance of sheltered workshops appears to be yet another example of the erosion of cost-effective care for the developmentally disabled due to the influence of corporate interests that stand to benefit financially from it. At the very least, this case shows that a public agency should not develop policies jointly with the corporate contractors that it funds.

Sheltered workshops being closed in MA despite protective budget language

November 16, 2015 3 comments

Despite the passage of protective language in the state budget last year and this year, the Department of Developmental Services appears to be moving rapidly to shut down all remaining sheltered workshops in the state for people with developmental disabilities.

“Can’t believe after all the hard work so many people put in, it (the workshop closures) is still happening,” one workshop supporter wrote in an email, referring to grassroots lobbying efforts mounted in the past two years to keep the workshops open.

The protective language that was inserted by State Representative Brian Dempsey in the past two years into the DDS community day line item in the budget seemed to be definitive.  The language states that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”

At the same time, however, Dempsey’s House Ways and Means Committee supported the appropriation of $1 million last year and $3 million this year in a separate DDS line item to fund the transfer of people from sheltered workshops to community-based day or employment programs. So, even while the language in one line item has appeared to protect the workshops for those who want to remain in them, the other line item has funded the removal from the workshops of everyone whose guardians haven’t formally objected to moving them to the day programs.

Sheltered workshops around the country have become an ideological target of the federal government and of many states, which contend that the workshops “segregate” people with developmental disabilities from their peers in the mainstream workforce. But many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that the programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills.

Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage.

In 2013, the Massachusetts DDS and the state’s major lobbying organizations for corporate DDS providers issued a plan to close all sheltered workshops as of last June, and to transfer all of the participants to either DDS day programs or to “integrated individual or group employment at minimum wage or higher.”

Sheltered workshops are defined by the Social Security Administration as “a private non-profit, state, or local government institution that provides employment opportunities for individuals who are developmentally, physically, or mentally impaired, to prepare for gainful work in the general economy. These services may include physical rehabilitation, training in basic work and life skills…”

Integrated employment is defined by the federal Labor Department as “jobs held by people with disabilities in typical workplace settings where the majority of persons employed are not persons with disabilities, where they earn at least minimum wage, and where they are paid directly by the employer.”

Our concern regarding the DDS/corporate provider plan to close sheltered workshops is that there appears to be a limited number of opportunities in Massachusetts for persons with developmental disabilities to find jobs in “typical workplace settings” where the majority of the people employed are not disabled.  Unless and until these integrated workforce opportunities exist in sufficient quantities, we don’t think sheltered workshops should be eliminated as options.

Unfortunately, the state’s attitude concerning care for the developmentally disabled has long been to close facilities that are considered expensive or that otherwise don’t fit an ideological mold, without having a plan or sufficient resources to adequately replace those facilities.

The director of one sheltered workshop program I talked to said that while there hasn’t actually been a directive from DDS to transfer everyone out of his workshop by a particular date, DDS recently indicated that transfer funding had become available and that his workshop should “determine who would move at this time.”

The workshop director said he planned to transfer more than half of the program’s current participants out between next month and March of next year.  While the protective language in the budget would appear to allow the guardians of the workshop participants to object to the transfer plans, the workshop director said no one had yet voiced an objection.  It’s possible, he said, that people will begin to object once the transfers start.  But he said he sensed less resistance among families and guardians to the prospect of leaving his workshop program than was the case two years ago.

One of the existing integrated work settings in Massachusetts is MicroTek in Chicopee, an electronic cable manufacturer. The company employs 130 people, 15 of whom have disabilities, according to Cynthia Piechota, the company’s program director.  Piechota said she knew of only a handful of other integrated work programs in the state.

A workplace program that is smaller than MicroTek, but similar to it, is Interface Precision Benchmarks (IPB) in Orange, where six people are employed in manufacturing electronic cables. The IPB workforce is currently divided evenly between disabled and nondisabled employees (3 disabled and 3 nondisabled); thus it’s not clear that IPB actually fits the Labor Department’s definition of an integrated workplace.

Ed Orzechowski, whose sister-in-law, Carol Chunglo recently retired as an IPB employee, said he and his wife, Gail, “can’t say enough about what a positive experience it was for Carol to work at IPB. There should be more places like it.”  Ed Orzechowski is a COFAR Board member and president of The Advocacy Network, an affiliated advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.

A University of Massachusetts report noted that in 2010, there were 3,700 people with intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops in Massachusetts and about 3,500 people in “integrated employment.” However, there were about 9,500 people in “non-work” settings, which appear to include DDS day programs.

COFAR has filed a Public Records Law request with DDS to try to determine how many people the Department anticipates will be transferred over the next five years to integrated workplaces, and how many will be transferred over that time to DDS day programs.

It’s unfortunate that sheltered workshops appear to be going the way of so many other previous high-quality programs and services for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. The potential elimination of these services is usually vigorously opposed by families and guardians who understand how critically important they are.  But DDS has long perfected a wait-them-out strategy.

The Department understands that grassroots resistance to new, untried policies, can be worn down over time.

The HW&M budget has great news for sheltered workshops, not so good news for state care in general

April 20, 2015 2 comments

The great news is the House Ways and Means Committee re-inserted protective language last week in the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 state budget that would protect vital sheltered workshops from closure.

Representative Brian Dempsey, chair of the committee, who was instrumental last year in keeping the workshops open, has renewed his commitment to those facilities in this year’s budget go-round with the administration.

The bad news is that the House Ways and Means budget continues to squeeze state-run programs for the developmentally disabled and maintains the administration’s disproportionate increase in proposed funding for the corporate, provider-run group home system.  But let’s look at the good news first.

Last spring, after a lobbying campaign by advocates of the workshops, Dempsey placed language in the House Ways and Means version of the current-year budget, stating that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”  The protective language survived a House-Senate conference committee in June, largely due to Dempsey’s support.

While that protective language in the budget appeared to offer the workshops an indefinite reprieve, the proposed fiscal 2016 budget submitted by Governor Charlie Baker in March removed the language.  As a result, the workshop supporters went to work once again in the past month, calling Dempsey’s office and urging their local legislators to reinstate his language.

Dempsey did reinstate the language; and in a conference call last week concerning the House Ways and Means budget plan, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe indicated that the administration did not intend to file any amendments to remove the language from the budget legislation.  It also appears that organizations representing corporate DDS providers, such as the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, have not filed amendments to close the workshops.

It is now up to the Senate and specifically to Senator Karen Spilka, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, to follow Rep. Dempsey’s lead and insert the same protective language in the Senate budget.

The workshops first came under attack from the administration of then Governor Deval Patrick, which targeted them for closure as of this coming June, arguing that they were “segregating” disabled persons from their peers in the mainstream workforce.  But families of the workshop participants fought back.  They maintain that the facilities are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills.

Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage.

Meanwhile, the bad news we were talking about largely concerns funding for DDS group homes, remaining developmental centers, and service coordinators.  The House Ways and Means budget proposal would cut the developmental center line item even deeper than Governor Baker has proposed and would reduce the service coordinator line item below the amount proposed by the governor.  It would also fund the state-operated group homes at a level below what DDS considers a “maintenance level.”

While the state has closed three of six existing developmental centers since 2008 and is in the process of closing a fourth, funding appropriated to run the remaining three centers may have dropped too fast to maintain existing services in those facilities.  As we recently noted,  years of cuts in the developmental-center line item have lately resulted in the closing of several cottages at the Wrentham Developmental Center, requiring residents to be moved from long-time residential locations.

The Wrentham Center has become a major destination for persons transferred from the developmental centers that have been closed in recent years.

While Governor Baker’s fiscal 2016 budget would cut the developmental center line item by about $375,000 from projected spending, the House Ways and Means budget would cut it by $1 million beyond that.

DDS-operated group homes would get the same amount in fiscal 2016 under the House Ways and Means budget as under the governor’s version of the budget, which amounts to a $2 million reduction from what DDS considers a “maintenance budget.”

Also, the House Ways and Means budget would fund the DDS line item that pays service coordinators at a level $538,000 less than what Baker has proposed.   In March, DDS Commissioner Howe had said Baker’s budget would fund the service coordinator line item at $1.8 million below what DDS had requested.  So the House Ways and Means budget further reduces that proposed funding for the service coordinators next year by more than half a million dollars.

The service coordinators, whom Howe has referred to as “the heart and soul” of DDS, are responsible for ensuring that clients throughout the system are receiving services to which they are entitled.  The service coordinators have seen their caseloads rise dramatically in recent years.

In last week’s conference call, Howe noted the shortfalls in funding under the House Ways and Means budget for the developmental centers, DDS-operated group homes, and service coordinators.  But in what may be a sign of the priority that this administration places on these services, Howe said the Department did not plan to seek amendments to the House budget to increase that funding.

At the same time, the House Ways and Means budget preserves a major funding increase to the corporate providers in the coming fiscal year.  The Ways and Means plan provides for the same $35 million increase from the current year for the DDS corporate residential line item that Baker has proposed.  As of July, this line item will have been increased by more than 28 percent since the filing of a lawsuit by the corporate providers in June 2014 against the then Patrick administration.

While we understand that direct-care workers in corporate, provider-operated group homes are woefully underpaid, it’s not clear how much of the additional funding being sent to the providers is, or will be, going to those workers.  As we have noted, the hundreds of executives working for those provider agencies in Massachusetts have been making out quite well.

The Baker administration is apparently fine with that state of affairs. Terming the House Ways and Means plan “a very reasonable budget,” Howe pointed out that it would add $17 million to the DDS bottom line compared to the governor’s budget.  Under the House Ways and Means budget, the Community Day and Work line item would be almost $10 million higher than what the governor proposed.

The House Ways and Means budget also would provide $12.4 million under a new DDS line item to implement the expansion of DDS eligibility to people with autism, Prader-Willi, and Smith-Magenis Syndrome.

While that expansion of eligibility funding is certainly needed, the Senate has a lot of other work in store for it as well.  We hope that in addition to protecting the sheltered workshops, the Senate begins to address the imbalance in the budget between corporate and state-run DDS care.

Sheltered workshops for the disabled win big reprieve in Massachusetts

July 14, 2014 5 comments

A major effort by advocates of sheltered workshops in Massachusetts to persuade state legislators and the Patrick administration that the workshops provide invaluable skills and activities for their loved ones with intellectual disabilities has paid off.

Last week, Governor Patrick signed the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget, which contains language protecting the workshops from closure.  The language states that the state must not “reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”

The passage of this language appears likely to cause at least a slowdown in the administration’s plans to close all remaining sheltered workshops in the state as early as next June.   The administration has contended that sheltered workshops “segregate” people with developmental disabilities from their non-disabled peers in the mainstream workforce. Supporters of the workshops, and we are among them, argue that the workshops provide needed skills and fulfilling work for people with intellectual disabilities, and do not prevent them from contact with peers in the community.

The protective workshop language survived a House-Senate conference committee late last month, and Gov. Patrick had until last Friday to line-item veto it, and chose not to do so.  So, it’s now the law.

The legislative victory is largely due to an intensive effort by workshop supporters to get the word out to key legislators — particularly to Rep. Brian Dempsey, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee — of the value of the workshops, and of the contention that the administration and corporate provider-based organizations such as the Arc of Massachusetts were spreading misinformation about them. Dempsey, in particular, has turned out to be a strong supporter of the workshops, particularly in the budget conference committee.

It remains to be seen whether the protective language will help people like Tom Urban, a 55-year-old man with Down Syndrome, who had been employed in a sheltered workshop for the bulk of his adult life, according to his brother and guardian, Richard.   Richard said that last December, he was informed that all sheltered workshops were being closed and that Tom would no longer be employed, as of the very next day, in his workshop, operated by Work, Inc., a Department of Developmental Services provider.

“To put it mildly, this was a rather disruptive change in Tom’s life with no opportunity to prepare him for this shocking development,” Richard Urban wrote in an email to Rep. Dempsey in late May.  “Moreover,” he said, “no chance was provided for me, as his brother, guardian and caretaker, to voice any opposition, or input, to this policy change imposed by (DDS).”

Richard said that although Tom “has limitations in a variety of areas, his work ethic and paycheck (from his sheltered workshop program) were two constants that allowed him a place on a playing field of equality with his peers, family and friends.”   Since his “forced exit from his workshop,” Richard added, Tom “has grown distant, is very confused, and expresses continued sadness over his job loss.  His identity, and work community, have been lost, through no fault of his own but by virtue of a policy shift for which I am at a complete loss to understand.”

The effort to close the workshops has been driven by an extreme anti-congregate care ideology that the Patrick administration subscribes to.  Simply because a group of disabled people work together in sheltered workshops, the administration considers it to be a “segregated setting.”  As a result, we are concerned that despite the budget language allowing those who are currently  in workshop programs to remain in them, people like Tom Urban, who have lost their workshop programs or are seeking for the first time to get into one will find not be able to do so.  Last year, the administration announced it would no longer allow new referrals to sheltered workshops in the state as of this past January.

In addition, the FY 2015 budget contains at least two reserve funds totaling $3 million to support the transfers of persons from sheltered workshops to provider-run day programs and unspecified job training programs.  While the administration contends that intellectually disabled people will all be able to reach their potential in mainstream or “integrated” work environments, there is  uncertainty over how many mainstream jobs really exist for most people with developmental disabilities, and many questions about what integrated employment really means.

Sheltered workshops have won a welcome reprieve in Massachusetts, but their future still remains uncertain; and also uncertain are the long-term prospects of fulfilling work activities for thousands of people with developmental disabilities in the state.

 

 

 

Let’s honor Ally, Kim, Allison, and Gail’s choice to stay in their sheltered workshop

May 28, 2014 6 comments

It’s now up to a legislative conference committee to decide whether Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail and many others will continue their longtime participation in sheltered workshops for the intellectually disabled in Massachusetts.

Ally is 24 years old and has Down Syndrome.  She is non-verbal and suffers from anxiety, but excels at routine.   Her tasks and assignments at a workshop in Newburyport provide her with a feeling of satisfaction and importance, and with a paycheck, which she endorses and cashes at a local bank.  She then walks with her mother to a convenience store where she purchases items with her earnings.

Kim, 43, has worked in the same sheltered workshop for 23 years.  She has tried a number of times to work at jobs in the community, but those attempts have all failed for a variety of emotional, social and physical reasons.  However, by choice, she puts in a 30-hour workweek in the sheltered workshop. She lives in her own apartment with support from her parents and other family members, and from people in the community.

Allison is 44 and has been a  client of the workshop for 22 years.  During that time, she has grown in independence, but enjoys being with her peers in an organized, safe environment.   She works a few hours a week at a McDonald’s, but returns to the workshop every day. She is very proud of earning two paychecks.

Gail is 44 and has Down Syndrome.  “I like to get paid to do the work I like to do. I like to work with my friends,” she says of her participation in the workshop.   She lives in an apartment managed by the YWCA in Newburyport, makes her own breakfast and lunch, and takes a bus to the workshop every day.  Doing all of that requires 100 percent of her capability.   Gail has had several part-time jobs in the community, all of which, for a variety of reasons, have ended.  Her workshop job is the primary basis of her self-esteem.

However, the Patrick administration and state-funded, corporate providers believe they know better than these four women and their families what’s best for all of them, and are moving to close the Newburyport workshop and the rest of the sheltered workshops throughout the state.

As we have reported in several blog posts, the administration believes it would be better for Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail, and hundreds of other intellectually disabled persons throughout the state to work in mainstream jobs where they will not be “segregated” from non-disabled peers and will supposedly be able to earn higher wages.  DDS announced that it was no longer allowing new referrals to sheltered workshops in the state as of this past January, and plans to close all remaining workshops as of June 2015.

But the families of workshop participants are fighting back, arguing that appropriate mainstream work opportunities do not exist for their loved ones, and that the sheltered workshops provide what they want and need.  They maintain that when the workshops are gone, the former participants will end up stuck in DDS day programs with little to do and with no wages at all.

In late April, at the urging of families, workshop staff, and advocates, the House of Representatives inserted language in the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget to protect the workshops.  The line-item language is intended to prevent the planned closures of sheltered workshops if existing participants choose to remain in them.  The Senate, however, did not adopt the protective language.  As a result, the issue is now set to be decided by a legislative, House-Senate conference committee on the budget.

The Department of Developmental Services and DDS’s corporate providers are apparently already moving to head off the possibility that the conference committee will adopt the protective language in the House version of the budget.   We understand that late last week, Gary Blumenthal, president of the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), held a meeting with administrators and staff and some parents in one sheltered workshop, and offered a vague promise to schedule another meeting with DDS to discuss keeping some of the workshops open on a limited basis.

Vague promises do not and should not take the place of clear and needed statutory language.  We hope that the message gets communicated to the conference committee, which is set to begin deliberations on the budget on June 4, that such promises will not suffice.  The protective language in the House budget should be adopted by the conference committee.

In coming weeks, we hope all six members of the conference committee will come to understand what participating in their sheltered workshops has meant for Ally, Kim, Allison, Gail and for so many others.

 

 

 

 

Arc, ADDP, DDS putting out misleading information about sheltered workshops

May 19, 2014 1 comment

It seems the Department of Developmental Services and their corporate provider allies are spreading misleading and at times false information about sheltered workshops in their joint effort to close them throughout the state.

The battle over the workshops is now in the state Senate, which is considering budget amendments to prevent the administration from carrying out its plans to close all remaining workshops in the state by June 2015.  As we have reported, the administration considers these popular programs politically incorrect because they allegedly group intellectually disabled people together to do assembly and other types of work, and thereby “segregate” them from their non-disabled peers.

In an email sent to members and advocates on Friday, Leo Sarkissian, executive director of the  Arc of Massachusetts, maintained that sheltered workshops “do not allow for community inclusion.”

That’s just not true.  As an administrator of one sheltered workshop explained, non-disabled persons work alongside disabled individuals in that DDS-funded facility, and several disabled clients are taken into the community regularly to make deliveries and for other purposes.  “Our building …looks and feels like any other business in our community,” the administrator said.

Meanwhile, DDS and the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) are misrepresenting the position of the federal government, particularly the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, regarding sheltered workshops.  Contrary to what DDS and the ADDP are saying, the DOJ is not requiring states to close the workshops.  That is what the ADDP contends, however, on its website and emails it is sending out.

In addition, a DDS PowerPoint used in “family forums” earlier this year stated that DOJ legal actions in Oregon and Rhode Island found that sheltered workshops “violate the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) Act and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision.”  But that’s not true either.  A DOJ letter sent in January to Rhode Island state officials makes it clear that while the Obama administration doesn’t like sheltered workshops, the Department does not consider that the workshops violate the law.  The letter notes, for instance, that:

While sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs may be permissible placements for some individuals with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) who make an informed choice to rely on them, the State of Rhode Island has unnecessarily and unjustifiably over-relied on such programs to the exclusion of integrated alternatives like supported employment and integrated day services (our emphasis).

The DOJ letter goes on to state that sheltered workshops in Rhode Island do not have to close if people choose to remain in them.  Yet, the Patrick administration is mischaracterizing the DOJ position as requiring it to close all remaining workshops in Massachusetts.  The administration must be worried that there is a chance of passage of language in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget that would ensure that sheltered workshops remain open for those who choose to stay in them.

The effort to close the workshops is being driven by an extreme anti-congregate care ideology that the Patrick administration subscribes to.  Simply because a group of disabled people work together in sheltered workshops, the administration considers it to be a “segregated setting.”

If that’s the case, though, what does the administration think about the Gateway Arts program in Brookline, which provides art studio space and “professional development for more than 100 adults with disabilities who have talent in fine hand crafts and fine art?”

Even if it’s not technically a sheltered workshop, the Gateway Arts facility (as shown in the website photo below) would appear to be in violation of federal regulations, as far as the Patrick administration is concerned, because there are more than 100 disabled artists there. That would seem to make it even more of a congregate facility than a sheltered workshop with 20 or so disabled people and non-disabled people in it.

Please call your senator and ask him or her to support budget amendments 875 and 946, which state that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”  Also, please ask them to support amendment 176, which would strike the words “closure of sheltered workshops” from a budget line item that funds the transition of people from sheltered workshops into provider-run day programs.

 

Sheltered workshop families win the first round in the House

May 5, 2014 1 comment

Families fighting for the preservation of sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities have won the first battle in the House, which upheld language last week protecting sheltered workshops from closure in the state.

The House leadership rejected an amendment to the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which would have eliminated the protective language.

The battle now shifts to the Senate where we are urging the Senate Ways and Means Committee to insert the same protective language in DDS line item 5920-2025.  The language states:

…the department (of Developmental Services, DDS) shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.

As we’ve noted, the Patrick administration has adopted the party line of the corporate providers and the Obama administration that these popular and vital skill-building programs somehow discriminate against their participants by keeping them out of the mainstream workforce.   But in moving to close all sheltered workshops in Massachusetts as of June 2015, the Patrick administration is going even farther than the Obama administration, which is not requiring the closure of sheltered workshops whose participants wish to remain in them.

In a letter dated January 6, 2014, to the attorney general of Rhode Island, Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, wrote:

No one who is qualified for integrated supported employment and/or day services should remain in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, unless, after being fully informed, he or she declines the opportunity to receive services in an integrated work or day setting with access to appropriate services and supports, including supported employment and integrated day services. (Our emphasis)

In other words, the protective language in the Massachusetts House budget is perfectly in line with the federal position on sheltered workshops.  Even the federal government recognizes a family’s right to choose the appropriate type and level of care for their loved ones with developmental disabilities.

So why then are the Patrick administration and the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) continuing to work to remove the House language and to shut down all remaining workshops in the state?

Please contact Senator Brewer, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and urge him to support the House language protecting the sheltered workshops.  He can be contacted at: Phone: 617-722-1540; Fax: 617-722-1078; Email:Stephen.Brewer@ masenate.gov.

House leadership rejects politically correct view on sheltered workshops

April 18, 2014 4 comments

In a welcome counter to some political-correctness-run-amuck in the Patrick administration, the leadership of the state House of Representatives is reportedly solidly behind efforts to preserve vital sheltered workshops in Massachusetts for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

As we reported last week, Rep. Brian Dempsey, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, placed language in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget that would block the Patrick administration’s plans to close all remaining workshops in the state by June 2015.

As a result, the Department of Developmental Services prevailed on a House member to file a budget amendment (No. 282), which would remove Dempsey’s protective language from the bill.  Corporate providers to DDS, meanwhile, began blaming COFAR for having thrown a monkey wrench into their plan to transfer participants from the workshops to their own provider-run daycare programs.

But we understand that the plans in the House are to quietly quash Amendment 282 during the budget debate, which starts on April 28. The scene will next shift to the Senate, where we hope the Senate Ways and Means Committee will place similar protective language for the workshops in its version of the budget.

Workshop proponents have spent the past week calling members of the House to urge their support for Dempsey’s line item language, which states that  DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”

As we’ve noted, DDS and the providers maintain that the sheltered workshops “segregate” developmentally disabled people by placing them together in group settings.  This allegedly prevents them from reaching their full potential because they are not being placed alongside non-disabled peers in mainstream work sites.   Citing that reasoning, the administration blocked all new referrals to the workshops as of this past January, and announced plans to close all remaining workshops in the state as of June of 2015.

While the administration’s reach-their-potential argument may sound reasonable in theory, it has no relationship to the experience of real people such as Kim Ryan and Gail Wayne, both of whom have been participants in a sheltered workshop in Newburyport for the past 20 years.  Kim’s parents, William and Janet, said that Kim has tried seven different times to work in mainstream, community-based  jobs, but has experienced either “social or emotional failures with each of these attempts.”

Martha Smith, Gail Wayne’s mother, said Gail has also worked in many community-based jobs, such as sorting mail in the Newburyport City Hall and working in the municipal library; but each of those jobs disappeared over the years for different reasons.  Gail currently does volunteer work in a gift shop in Topsfield, but it is in the sheltered workshop that she has been able to work on a permanent basis and to earn a paycheck.  “Her first love is the workshop,” Martha Smith said.  “She feels completely secure there and wants to be there. She wants it to continue.”

Martha’s husband, Reid Smith, maintains that there are few full-time jobs available in the mainstream workforce for developmentally disabled persons such as Gail and Kim.  Reid Smith adds that the term “sheltered” may be a misnomer.  “It’s a workplace with a little more supervision,” he says.  “I always urge people who happen to oppose them t go and see them.”

As part of its argument for closing the workshops, the administration has cited federal lawsuits in Oregon and Rhode Island, which are based on the segregated workplace argument.  However, as we’ve noted, those settlements did not require the closures of all sheltered workshops as the Patrick administration is planning in Massachusetts.

It’s still worth contacting your state representative and Rep. Dempsey’s office to voice your support for these workshops, and to thank Rep. Dempsey for his support.  The House Ways and Means Committee number is (617) 722-2990, and Rep. Dempsey can be contacted at Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov.  You can find your own legislators at: http://www.wheredoivotema.com.

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