Home > Uncategorized > Ways and Means budget language would protect sheltered workshops

Ways and Means budget language would protect sheltered workshops

The House Ways and Means Committee has been listening to proponents of sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities, and has 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, corporate providers to The Department of Developmental Services are blaming COFAR for having thrown a monkey wrench into their plan to transfer participants from the workshops to their own provider-run daycare programs.

In an email sent to its members on Thursday, the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) maintained that COFAR is “the only organized group that has objected” to the plan to close the workshops, and described COFAR as having “a small membership,” and as having been “formed to protest the closure of state institutions.”   It’s always a sign that the leadership at the ADDP is getting flustered over an issue when they single out COFAR and inaccurately portray our mission.

In fact, COFAR has joined with  a coalition of sheltered workshop proponents and providers in an effort to keep these popular programs operating in the state.  It’s an uphill battle.  Backed by the ADDP and the Arc of Massachusetts, the administration has already prohibited all new referrals to the workshops as of this past January as part of an “Employment First” initiative.

[UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, several House members had signed on as co-sponsors to an amendment (Amendment No. 282) to the budget to remove the protective language for the sheltered workshops.  We fail to understand how anyone could support the removal of these excellent programs with paying jobs for intellectually disabled people.  Please ask your legislator and Rep. Dempsey to reject Amendment 282.]

As we’ve noted, the administration, the federal government, and their friends in the corporate provider industry argue that sheltered workshops are politically incorrect because they allegedly “segregate” disabled people from non-disabled peers by placing them in congregate-care settings instead of in mainstream employment, and they often pay below-minimum wages.  But many families of the participants maintain that the programs provide them with useful skills and meaningful activities, and that there is nothing about them that segregates or isolates people.

Moreover, the workshop proponents argue, the administration’s contention that mainstream employment opportunities exist for all or even a significant number of developmentally disabled persons is largely wishful thinking.  It’s hard for anyone to get a job these days.  If sheltered workshops employing hundreds of developmentally disabled persons throughout the state are closed, most of those participants will end up in DDS daycare programs, many of which offer few skill-based activities, much less any sort of wages for performing them.

Nationally, an online petition to save sheltered workshops around the country garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

In its version of the FY ’15 budget released this week, the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee inserted language into Department of Developmental Services Line item (5920-2025), 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 language, however, appears to be contradicted by Outside Section 102, which the Ways and Means Committee also placed in its budget plan, which requires the DDS to submit a report to legislative committees each year “until the full implementation of the employment first initiative.”  The section also refers to “the transition from sheltered workshops to programs under the employment first initiative.”   Nevertheless, the ADDP email this week voiced concern that the House Ways and Means line item language would “prevent the expected June 2015 closure of sheltered workshops,”and stated that the ADDP, the Arc, and DDS “will seek to have this language withdrawn.”

Among the reasons given by the ADDP for closing the workshops in Massachusetts was the possibility of a federal lawsuit against the state by the “litigious prone” U.S. Department of Justice and the federal Disability Law Center of Massachusetts.   We would note, though, that while the DOJ has taken legal action in Rhode Island and Oregon alleging that sheltered workshops segregate participants in those states, even the DOJ hasn’t called for closing all of those shelters down.  In a January 2014 letter to the Rhode Island attorney general, the DOJ Civil Rights Division left room for maintaining sheltered workshops for those participants who chose to stay in them (see the final paragraph before the conclusion on page 32.)

No such choice will be available for Massachusetts residents if the Patrick administration, the Arc, and the ADDP are allowed to carry out their plan to close down all sheltered workshops in this state.

To contact the House Ways and Means Committee, call (617) 722-2990.  The chair of the Committee is Representative Brian Dempsey, who can be contacted at Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov.  You can find your own legislators at: http://www.wheredoivotema.com.

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  1. Anonymous
    April 14, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Although the war is not over, a huge battle was won to get the protective language in the line item. I think it will be hard for DDS et all to find 81 votes to pass the amendment to strike the language out. Everyone needs to call, email or write their local Representatives to ask them to vote against Amendment 282. Go one step further, invite them to tour a sheltered workshop that your family member attends. It would be a great opportunity for the Representative to see first hand how valuable workshops are to those who attend and they will also get to talk with their constituents. After seeing the importance of these programs – you would be hard pressed to find that any Rep would vote to put people out of work.

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