Archive

Posts Tagged ‘integrated employment’

Senator Warren’s concern about payment of subminimum wages to developmentally disabled people is misplaced

September 28, 2018 2 comments

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has proven to be one of the nation’s most effective advocates for workers and their financial security; but we think she’s wrong in charging that persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities are being exploited by work programs that pay them a subminimum wage.

Warren is leading an effort in Congress to eliminate waivers that have allowed employers to pay a subminimum wage to disabled persons who are hired by employers in mainstream work settings. Warren alleges that payment of subminimum wages under the so-called 14(c) certificates or waivers is exploitative and discriminatory.

We would agree that for disabled people with normal intellectual functioning, payment of subminimum wages is exploitative and unnecessarily discriminatory; but a distinction needs to be made in the case of persons who have intellectual or other developmental disabilities that severely limit cognitive functioning.

In not making this distinction in calling for the elimination of the subminimum wage waivers, Warren is making the same well-intentioned mistake that many people in the advocacy community have made. That mistake is to assume that all developmentally disabled people are exactly the same as non-disabled people in terms of their employment potential and, even more importantly, their employment aspirations.

Those assumptions overlook a number of realities, including the fact that virtually all developmentally disabled persons who are placed in those work programs receive government assistance in some form for residential care, day care, or other services. Unlike non-disabled persons, most, if not all, individuals with significantly impaired cognition are not seeking to support themselves financially through work. They are seeking to occupy their time with activities that are meaningful and satisfying to them.

As the brother of an intellectually disabled person noted to me, his brother has no understanding of the concept of money, and wouldn’t know or be able to appreciate whether he was paid a minimum wage rate or not.

In an April 23 letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Warren and six other senators attempted to link payment of subminimum wages to problems of abuse and poor work conditions in work settings for people with developmental disabilities. The letter cited four instances in which disabled persons were forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions, including a case in Iowa in which intellectually disabled men were working in a turkey processing plant for little or no wages and were subjected to verbal and physical abuse and unsanitary conditions.

But as is the case with abuse or poor conditions in any care-related or work setting, the instances cited in Warren’s letter appear to be the result of poor governmental oversight of those programs. Those problems could have been avoided or could be rectified with proper oversight. The problems were not necessarily the result of payment of subminimum wages.

Moreover, citing isolated instances of abuse in specific work settings doesn’t prove it is a problem in all work settings. In fact, we have not heard of any instances of such exploitation or abuse occurring in sheltered workshops or other work activity programs in Massachusetts.

We have made a number of attempts to contact Warren about this issue. I left separate voicemail messages since Monday of this week with Warren’s Washington and Boston Senate offices. On Monday, I also posted what was essentially this blog post on her website contact page, and asked if she or her staff would respond.  To date, I’ve gotten no response and no call back.

The unfortunate impact of the effort to prohibit employers from paying subminimum wages to developmentally disabled people is that rather than paying them higher wages, most employers choose not to employ them. So the end result is that these disabled individuals miss out on satisfying and meaningful ways to occupy their time.

As we have reported, DDS data show that the number of developmentally disabled persons being placed in integrated or mainstream employment paying at least the minimum wage in Massachusetts has been steadily dropping in the past few years.

During Fiscal Year 2016, a high of 509 clients in the Department of Developmental Services system newly started working in mainstream jobs.  That number dropped to 127 clients entering integrated employment during Fiscal 2017, and to a net increase of only 98 clients during Fiscal 2018.

We are assuming that demand for these mainstream jobs remains high, possibly in the thousands. That there was a net increase of less than 100 developmentally disabled persons in integrated employment in Fiscal 2018 appears to show that the administration has been unable to find jobs for people who want them.

Promises in closing sheltered workshops haven’t been kept

In 2014, the administration of then Governor Deval Patrick began closing sheltered workshops in Massachusetts that provided developmentally disabled persons with piecework activities because those facilities supposedly segregated those persons from their non-disabled peers and paid them less than minimum wage. The Baker administration followed that same policy, ultimately closing all remaining workshops as of the fall of 2016.

The plan of both administrations was to provide training to those former workshop participants and place them in mainstream workforce settings along with supports that would help them to function in those settings.

We expressed concerns at the time, however, that the workshop closure policy was being pursued without knowing, among other things, whether sufficient jobs existed in the private sector for all of those former workshop participants and others who want jobs.

Unfortunately, our concerns have proved to be well founded. Instead of being placed in mainstream or integrated jobs, the vast majority of the former sheltered workshop participants have ended up in DDS-funded Community Based Day Supports (CBDS) programs, which offer little or no work opportunities, and have left many of those people frustrated and bored.

DDS data also show that the DDS day program population increased by 81% from Fiscal 2014 through 2018 in Massachusetts while integrated job placements increased by only 19%. The chart below reflects this trend and illustrates the fact that the total day program population in the DDS system has caught up with and even surpassed the total number of departmental clients in integrated employment since Fiscal 2014.

Chart on DDS integrated employment vs. day program population

Barbara Govoni, the mother of one former sheltered workshop participant, is continuing to advocate for legislation that would allow for the return of piecework activities in her son’s CBDS program.

Direct care workers are the ones who are exploited

Ultimately, Senator Warren’s concern about exploitation is misplaced. It is not the developmentally disabled who are exploited by subminimum wages. Rather, it is the people who are hired by DDS-funded providers to care for them who are usually the victims of systematic exploitation in this field.

As we have noted, direct-care workers in the DDS system, who do have to work in order to feed themselves and their families, are the ones who Senator Warren and other advocates for the disabled should be concerned about.

When direct-care workers are underpaid, it is not only they and their families who suffer, but the very people who depend on their services who suffer as well from substandard care. Paying developmentally disabled people less than minimum wage as part of their work programs doesn’t harm them. Paying their caregivers less than a living wage does.

Advertisements

Confusion reigns over employment of the developmentally disabled in Massachusetts

August 16, 2018 Leave a comment

When it comes to the crucial issue of employment of people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts, the policies of both the federal government and the Baker administration appear to be unclear, confusing, and to contain a number of contradictions.

Yet, neither the Baker administration nor the Massachusetts Legislature, in particular, seem to be showing much interest in clearing things up.

Consider these facts:

  • Although the Patrick and Baker administrations stated that they were closing all sheltered workshops in Massachusetts in order to place developmentally disabled people in so-called “integrated” or mainstream work, those mainstream jobs have proven to be difficult for many, if not most, of those people to find.
  • An unknown number of former sheltered workshop participants, some of whom do not want mainstream work,  have been left without work of any kind in their Department of Developmental Services-funded day programs.
  • It is unclear what work arrangements are considered by both the federal and state governments to be legal. In one case, DDS has resorted to a creative, if jerry-rigged arrangement under which a developmentally disabled man has been placed on the staff of his day program so that he can continue to do piecework there in compliance with federal rules.
sen-lovely-and-barb-govoni-cropped.jpg

Barbara Govoni (right) with state Senator Joan Lovely, Senate chair of the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee, this week. The Committee did not approve a bill Govoni proposed that would ensure work opportunities for  her son and other developmentally disabled persons. But Lovely says she wants to work with Govoni on the issue.

Let’s look at each of these issues a little more closely:

Integrated work is apparently still unavailable for many who want it in the mainstream workforce

In 2014, the administration of then Governor Deval Patrick began closing sheltered workshops that provided developmentally disabled persons with piecework activities because those facilities supposedly segregated those persons from their non-disabled peers and paid them less than minimum wage. The Baker administration followed that same policy, ultimately closing all remaining workshops as of the fall of 2016.

The plan of both administrations was to provide training to those former workshop participants and place them in mainstream workforce settings along with supports that would help them to function in those settings.

We expressed concerns at the time, however, that the workshop closure policy was being pursued without knowing, among other things, whether sufficient jobs existed in the private sector for all of those former workshop participants and others who want jobs.  We also expressed concern that the Legislature wasn’t following through with funding needed for training.

Since 2014, data appear to have borne out our concerns.

DDS data provided to us last month show that despite the workshop closures, smaller and smaller numbers of people have actually entered the integrated or mainstream workforce in Massachusetts since Fiscal 2016.  During that fiscal year, a high of 509 clients in the DDS system newly started working in mainstream jobs.  That number dropped to 127 clients entering integrated employment during Fiscal 2017 and a net increase of 98 clients during Fiscal 2018.

We are assuming that demand for these mainstream jobs remains high, possibly in the thousands. That there was a net increase of less than 100 developmentally disabled persons in integrated employment in Fiscal 2018 appears to show that the administration has been unable to find jobs for people who want them.

Fiscal years 2015 and 2016 were apparently the years in which most of the population of the sheltered workshops left those programs and in which most of the increases in integrated employment programs took place. The problem is that the numbers of clients entering integrated employment in those years were much smaller than the numbers entering DDS-funded day programs.

Overall, the DDS day program population increased by 81% from Fiscal 2014 through 2018 while integrated job placements increased by only 19%. The chart below reflects this trend and illustrates the fact that the total day program population in the DDS system has caught up with and even surpassed the total number of departmental clients in integrated employment since Fiscal 2014.

Chart on DDS integrated employment vs. day program population

Source: DDS

When we asked DDS for any records indicating whether the Department is having a problem providing suitable work opportunities for those who want them, DDS referred us to two policy documents dated 2010 and 2013. But those documents obviously do not provide any information about the situation today.

One of those policy documents is the Department’s 2010 “Employment First” policy statement, which called for “integrated employment as a goal for all” DDS clients. The policy statement also called for a “consistent message” and an “infrastructure including prioritizing and directing of resources, that supports this effort.” (my emphasis)

To date, however, neither a consistent message nor an adequate infrastructure appear to exist to support that goal of universal integrated employment.

The DDS’s 2013 document, titled “Blueprint for Success,” stated that it was the Department’s goal to close all remaining sheltered workshops as of June 30, 2015.  (The last workshops were closed a little more than a year later.)

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.

Some DDS Employment First website links don’t work

In response to our request for documents and information, DDS also referred us last month to its Employment First website.  It isn’t apparent, however, that the website contains any information that indicates whether or not it is difficult for developmentally disabled persons to find mainstream employment.

In one case in which I clicked on the website and then went to the “Career Planning” section under the “Resource Library,” a link to a “Career Planning Guide” took me to an error page. Another link to a “Guide to Person-Centered Planning for Job Seekers” took me to a page with generic advice on seeking employment, but no information on current job prospects for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.

Under a link called “Program Development and Management,” I clicked on another link labeled “Ensuring Excellence in Community Based Day Supports,” and got another error page message.

Barbara Govoni and Patty Garrity, two of the more active family members of former sheltered workshop residents, both said they had never been referred to the website by DDS.

Legislative committee kills work opportunities bill

Last year, state Representative Brian Ashe of Longmeadow filed a work opportunity bill (H. 4541) at the request of Govoni, the mother of Danny Morin, a former sheltered workshop participant. The bill would have required optional work activities in DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day.

Govoni is concerned that Danny has been provided with few activities that are meaningful to him after his workshop closed in 2016, and misses the steady work that the workshop provided. She terms this lack of available work opportunities for Danny and others a human rights issue.

But Govoni’s bill was referred to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, which effectively killed the measure in June by sending it to a study. Earlier this week, Govoni and I met with state Senator Joan Lovely, the committee’s Senate chair, to discuss the bill among other DDS issues.

Lovely said the employment bill was filed late in the two-year legislative session. She noted there was little time to analyze the implications of the bill, so the committee decided to send it to a study. The problem with that is that no one in the Legislature actually does such studies. Sending a bill to a study is a euphemistic expression used for killing a bill.

But Lovely said the committee is concerned about the work opportunity issue, and said the committee has been in touch with DDS about it. One proposal being discussed is to hire an ombudsman in the Department who would help individuals and families locate existing day programs that offer work opportunities.

Another proposal under consideration is to establish new work opportunities programs in existing day programs without making such work opportunities a legislative requirement of DDS.

But it isn’t clear that DDS really is working to establish those programs or whether the Department even considers work activities in day programs to be legal.

A staff member for Representative Ashe said she was told by DDS officials that the Department is essentially hamstrung by federal rules that prevent DDS day programs from offering any work activities because such activities can only be offered in “integrated” settings.

DDS tries creative approach to comply with federal requirements

Despite that, we have heard of recent cases in which arrangements have been made to provide work activities in DDS day programs. Patty Garrity’s bother, Mark, is one of those cases.

As we reported last year, Mark, like Danny Morin, was bored in his day program after it had ceased operating as a sheltered workshop. He wasn’t interested in the classes on painting, cooking, or money management that had replaced the piecework he had enjoyed doing.

In March of 2017, Mark’s day program found paper shredding work for him that DDS determined was in compliance with federal rules.

Ashe’s aide queried DDS about Mark’s case and was told that in order to allow Mark to do the paper shredding work under the new federal rules, the provider agency running his day program has actually placed him on its staff and is paying him minimum wage. As a result, Mark is now considered to be working in an integrated setting.

Ashe’s aide told us that Mark’s work arrangement is considered a “unique circumstance.”

Federal rules regarding integrated employment are unclear

The problem with unique arrangements such as Mark’s, however, is that they don’t necessarily solve problems involving larger groups of people. And it may even be questionable whether Mark’s arrangement was actually necessary.

Despite what DDS told Ashe’s legislative aide, it does not appear clear that the federal rules strictly forbid work activities in day programs such as Mark’s.

In an informational bulletin issued in 2011, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated that federal Medicaid funding will not cover “vocational services delivered in facility based or sheltered work settings, where individuals are supervised for the primary purpose of producing goods or performing services.”

That would appear to preclude at least some work activities in DDS day programs. But it seems possible that what the CMS bulletin refers to as “pre-vocational services” do allow for at least certain work opportunities in those settings, although the guidance, as usual, is vague. It also isn’t clear which types of work activities DDS recognizes as pre-vocational services and which it considers vocational.

The CMS bulletin offers a rather vague and clunky definition of pre-vocational services as:

…services that provide learning and work experiences, including volunteer work, where the individual can develop general, non-job-task-specific strengths and skills that contribute to employability in paid employment in integrated community settings. (My emphasis).

The bulletin does state that persons doing pre-vocational activities can be paid for those activities “in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations.”

The bulletin implies that these pre-vocational work opportunities can be provided in “fixed-site facilities,” which we think would include DDS day programs, although this again is not clear. Also, the bulletin states that these work opportunities must occur “over a defined period of time,” which implies that the individuals are ultimately expected, as the bulletin says, to be placed in permanent integrated employment. Once again, the “defined period of time” isn’t defined!

It’s also unclear to us what the CMS bulletin means in stating (above) that while pre-vocational services can include “work experiences,” they must provide the person with “non-job-task-specific strengths and skills.” Does that mean that the individual can do work but can’t do specific tasks?

It seems that the paper shredding activity that Mark Garrity is doing could be considered a “work experience.”

As a result, it seems possible that when Govoni’s bill is refiled, as we hope it will be in the next legislative session in January, the bill should specify that all DDS day programs be required to offer pre-vocational activities to anyone who requests that.

When Govoni and I met with Senator Lovely, Lovely agreed that the current rules governing work opportunities are confusing and need to be clarified.

The federal and state models are ‘one size fits all’

 The CMS bulletin recognizes that work is vitally important to people with developmental disabilities in the same way it is important to non-disabled persons. As the bulletin notes:

Work is a fundamental part of adult life for people with and without disabilities. It provides a sense of purpose, shaping who we are and how we fit into our community.

Yet, after that acknowledgement, the CMS bulletin appears willing to ensure that fundamental part of life only for those who agree to work in the mainstream workforce. The bulletin states:

…Because (work) is so essential to people’s economic self sufficiency, as well as self esteem and well being, people with disabilities and older adults with chronic conditions who want to work should be provided the opportunity and support to work competitively within the general workforce in their pursuit of health, wealth and happiness.

Neither the federal government nor the Baker administration in Massachusetts appear to recognize that at least some persons with the most profound levels of disability are not able to participate in the mainstream workforce.

The CMS bulletin states the following: 

All individuals, regardless of disability and age, can work – and work optimally with opportunity, training, and support that build on each person’s strengths and interests. Individually tailored and preference based job development, training, and support should recognize each person’s employability and potential contributions to the labor market.`(my emphasis)

The DDS Employment First policy referred to above appears to go even further in that regard, stating that:

It has now been clearly demonstrated that individuals who were previously considered unemployable in integrated community settings can work successfully. Even for those individuals with the most significant level of disability, through careful job matching and support design, employment has been shown to be a viable option. (my emphasis)

These statements are unsupported by the evidence. That is probably why neither statement provides any evidence to support its claims.

Recently, however, the federal government proposed changes at least to rules that prevent developmentally disabled persons from working for less than the minimum wage.

We hope to work with the Baker administration and the Legislature to find ways to penetrate and clear up this dense thicket of confusion and contradictions that has grown up in the past several years over the vital issue of work for the developmentally disabled.

We hope Govoni’s work opportunity bill is enacted in the next legislative session. In the meantime, legislators, advocates, and policymakers need to get together to clarify and agree on what can and should be done.

Questions remain as key disabilities committee kills work opportunities bill

July 13, 2018 4 comments

The Legislature’s family and disabilities rights committee has rejected H. 4541, a bill intended to ensure that developmentally disabled individuals get work opportunities in their state-funded day programs.

A staff member of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee said the committee understands many people cannot find those work opportunities and is therefore discussing other possible ways of providing for them. But details regarding the policies being considered by the Children and Families Committee are sketchy, and the committee hasn’t yet responded to written questions about those ideas.

Barbara Govoni, the mother of a developmentally disabled man, had pushed for months for passage of H. 4541, which would have established optional work activities in DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day.

Many people in community-based day programs funded by the Department of Developmental Services have not been able to find such work since all sheltered workshops were closed in Massachusetts in 2016.

H. 4541 had been referred to the Children and Families Committee in May, and the committee effectively killed the measure last month by sending it to a study. With formal business in the current two-year legislative session ending on July 31, any similar legislation will have to be re-filed next January and go through the legislative process all over again.

It isn’t clear what the committee’s objections were to H. 4541. We’ve noted that some committee members appeared to have some misconceptions about the bill, including the idea that it would bring sheltered workshops back to the state.

In fact, the bill would have simply provided work activities for individuals who continued to desire those activities in their day programs, and who either could not or did not want to work in “integrated” or mainstream work settings. As we have reported, many of these people miss the work they used to do in their sheltered workshops, and are unable to relate to most day program activities that replaced that work.

At the same time, it appears that some DDS-funded day programs are, in fact, continuing to offer work activities to some residents. It’s not clear how many such programs currently exist.

A legislative aide to Representative Kay Khan, House chair of the Children and Families Committee, said earlier this week that the committee had been in touch with the Department of Developmental Services about the work opportunity issue, and that one proposal discussed was to hire an ombudsman in the Department who would help individuals and families locate existing day programs that offer work opportunities.

Funding remains a question

Another proposal under consideration by the Children and Families Committee and DDS is to establish new work opportunities programs at additional day programs without making such work opportunities a legislative requirement of DDS.

No details are yet available, however, on the scope of the Children and Families Committee’s or DDS’s proposals. Also unknown is how funding would be appropriated for an expansion of existing work opportunities programs, and what the amount of that funding might be.

The Legislature, unfortunately, has previously shown a reluctance to fund job training and other programs as part of the effort to replace sheltered workshop programs with “integrated” or mainstream work opportunities for DDS clients.

The administration of then Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature had set up a DDS line item in Fiscal 2015 to fund job training and other programs to help transfer clients from sheltered workshops into mainstream employment. That line item was initially funded with $1 million and was raised to $3 million the following year.

For Fiscal 2017, current Governor Charlie Baker, with the support of the DDS corporate providers, had proposed boosting the job development line item to $7.6 million; but the Legislature wouldn’t agree to the higher funding.

As of Fiscal 2018, the job development line item was eliminated and all funding for those efforts was transferred to the overall DDS Community Based Day and Work line item. It would seem the case needs to be made that additional funding is now needed for the day and work line item to fill the gap in work opportunity programs.

The solution needs to be comprehensive

Robin Frechette, an aide to Representative Brian Ashe, who filed H. 4541 on Govoni’s behalf, said she believes the Children and Families Committee co-chairs and other committee members “understand there is a gap in services to a particular group of individuals who are not able to work out in the community, and it needs to be addressed.”

But Frechette expressed a concern that simply having an ombudsman direct individuals whose day programs don’t offer work opportunities to different day programs that do offer those opportunities could be disruptive to those individuals.  She also said she was concerned that there may be few such programs available in the western part of the state where Barbara Govoni and her son live.

Earlier this week, we sent email queries to both the Children and Families Committee co-chairs and DDS to try to find out more about the proposals under consideration.

We have asked for records from DDS on the number of work opportunity programs that currently exist in DDS-funded, community-based day programs, and the number of work opportunity programs that DDS plans to establish.

We are also asking for the number of DDS clients who have been placed in “integrated employment” or mainstream workforce jobs and the number of DDS clients in community-based day programs since Fiscal 2014.

And we have asked DDS for its assessment as to whether there is a problem in providing suitable work opportunities for people in the DDS system who desire it, and whether some DDS clients are unable to function in mainstream work sites.

In addition, we’ve asked the co-chairs of the Children and Families Committee what the committee’s specific objections to H. 4541 were.

Despite the rejection of H. 4541, the opportunity remains for state legislators and policy makers to address the critical work opportunity problem facing developmentally disabled people across the state in an effective way.  We hope those legislators and policy makers will make a serious commitment to finding a workable solution; but we know from experience that deeds will be more important than words in that regard.

Mother wages uphill battle for work opportunity bill for her developmentally disabled son

June 6, 2018 3 comments

[Update: The Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee has scheduled a public hearing at the Statehouse on Tuesday, June 12, at 1 p.m. on H. 4541]

Barbara Govoni personally lobbied for months before a bill was finally filed in the state Legislature that would ensure that developmentally disabled individuals who are unable to function in mainstream work environments are provided with employment opportunities within their existing community-based day programs.

Govoni would now love to see H. 4541 move forward in the current legislative session. She believes it would ensure that meaningful activities are provided for her son, Danny Morin, and for many others like him.

But even though the bill has close to two dozen co-sponsors, time does not appear to be on Govoni’s side.

With the current two-year legislative session drawing to an end, a staff aide to Representative Brian Ashe, who filed the bill on Govoni’s behalf, acknowledged that the chances for passage of H. 4541 this year are slim. The bill was referred last month to the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.

Last September, we reported on Govoni’s efforts to reintroduce steady piecework activities in day programs for those who desire it. Danny had enjoyed the work he did in his Agawam-based sheltered workshop before that program and all other remaining workshop programs in the state were eliminated in 2016. After that, Danny was offered only day program activities in the same location, most of which he couldn’t relate to.

In recent months, Danny has been working once a week for about two hours at a time at an assembly and packaging company in Holyoke. It is a pale substitute for the steady work he enjoyed when he participated in the sheltered workshop.

barb-govoni-and-dan-morin2.jpg

Barbara Govoni and her son Danny Morin

“People are suffering with not having enough work,” Govoni said. “This bill would have a monumental impact on the lives of these people if it were to pass.”

In addition to people such as Danny, there are many Department of Developmental Services clients who are either unable to function in mainstream work environments or are unable to work at a rate that those mainstream employers require.

H. 4541 specifies that the work program would be optional for day program participants and would allow them “an opportunity to work in a supportive employment environment which enhances productivity, safety and self-esteem.”

The work would be offered through the DDS-funded day programs for up to four hours a day. All participating individuals would receive a sub-minimum wage permissible under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Children and Families Committee had 30 days to act on the bill after it was referred there on May 21. But even if the committee were to act favorably on it within that time frame, the bill would probably still have to go through at least two additional committees including the House Ways and Means Committee before reaching the House and Senate floors.  After July 31, formal business in the current two-year legislative session comes to an end.

A staff aide to Representative Kay Khan, House chair of the Children and Families Committee, said the committee will schedule a public hearing on the bill this month. But the aide said there is only “a very low chance” that bill will reach the floor of the House prior to the July 31 deadline.

We strongly support this legislation and hope it doesn’t lose the momentum it has gained so far if, as seems likely, it has to be reintroduced when the new legislative session begins next January.

We understand the Baker administration and previous Patrick administration objected to sheltered workshops as  “segregated” settings because they offered work activities solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons.

What should make H. 4541 acceptable to people with those objections is that the employment program would be voluntary. In that sense, the bill mirrors  language that was inserted in the state budget in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 that stated that sheltered workshops would remain open for those who wanted to remain in them. That language, however, did not prevent the Baker administration from closing all remaining sheltered workshops in 2016.

The voluntary nature of the employment program under H. 4541 may be why the bill has garnered co-sponsors from across the state. We hope more legislators begin to realize that the closures of the sheltered workshops has caused problems for many DDS clients, and that this bill is a good first step in addressing those problems.

Even though the bill’s chances are slim in the current session, we encourage people to call the Children and Families Committee to urge them to act quickly on the measure. You can reach the office of Rep. Khan, House chair, at (617) 722-2011, and Senator Joan Lovely, Senate chair, at (617) 722-1410.

A look at the struggles of two families to cope with closures of sheltered workshops in Massachusetts

May 1, 2017 5 comments

When Massachusetts closed its remaining sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities last summer, deeming the programs “segregated,” the impact of the closures on workshop participants Mark Garrity and Danny Morin was pretty much the same.

The two men continued to go every day to their respective facilities where their sheltered workshops had formerly been operated by providers funded by the Department of Developmental Services. But while the providers continued to manage the same facilities, each provider now began offering their clients traditional, DDS-funded day program activities instead.

Paid piecework and assembly work that had been given to Garrity and Morin to do in their sheltered workshops were taken away and replaced by day program activities that they couldn’t relate to. In each case, their provider agency managed to come up with a makeshift solution to the problem that allowed the men to continue doing work similar to what they had done before.

Patty and Mark Garrity photo

Patty Garrity and her brother, Mark Garrity

But in each case, the solutions were implemented despite a lack of clear, written standards or guidance from the federal and state governments on the type of work and activities that were now permitted for the men. Their family and guardians were confused as well, often having to rely on information passed along from program staff or family of other clients.

Even some providers acknowledge that the system functioned more smoothly for everyone when the providers were operating their programs as sheltered workshops. At that time, participating companies would ship materials to the providers, and everyone at the workshop sites would have work to do — usually simple assembly jobs or packaging or labeling tasks.

Now, those providers must either send their clients to companies that offer to provide “integrated” work for them, or must try to continue to provide some on-site work under unclear rules that sometimes result in work arrangements that are adopted verbally and on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, most of their clients are now offered only day program activities that do not involve productive work and do not pay anything.

For Barbara Govoni, the mother of Danny Morin, and for Patty Garrity, the sister of Mark Garrity, the sheltered workshops were not only easier for them to deal with, they provided meaningful and satisfying activities for their respective loved ones.

“My argument is whether it was federal or state, they should not have taken away the workshops for those who can’t function in the community and disrupted their lives,” Govoni said. “I’m not opposed to finding jobs in the community or expanding day programs. I get it all has to do with money, but I feel that a group of people are being discriminated against based on the fact they had no voice or vote. They have been taken out of their element where they were comfortable.”

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Barbara Govoni and her son, Danny Morin

Govoni views the policy of providing integrated employment to all developmentally disabled people as a “misguided one-size-fits-all” approach to a complex social need.

State cites federal pressure to close workshops

All sheltered workshop programs were closed in Massachusetts as of last summer as a result of requirements by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that developmentally disabled people work in “integrated employment” settings in which a majority of the workers are not disabled, and that they be paid the minimum wage in those settings. Sheltered workshops were deemed “segregated” settings because they were offered solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons, and the clients were often paid only a nominal amount for the work they did.

In Massachusetts, the Baker administration claimed it had no choice but to follow the CMS rules and close all of the workshops in the state, or else the federal government would bring a lawsuit against them.  But many other states have apparently not acted in the haste that Massachusetts did in shutting the programs down. DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated late last year that Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to close all of its workshops.

DDS and its major policy advisors, the Arc of Massachusetts and the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP), had actually wanted to close all of the sheltered workshops in Massachusetts as early as June of 2015. But in the wake of strong protests by families of workshop participants, the state Legislature temporarily slowed the closure process by inserting budget language in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, stating that DDS must continue to make sheltered workshops available for those clients who continued to want them.

But at the same time, the Legislature approved funding for the transfer of the participants out of the workshops and into day programs or employment programs. That move ultimately allowed the workshops to close while enabling legislators to claim they had acted to save the programs.

The closures of the sheltered workshops in Massachusetts resulted in the removal from those programs of close to 2,000 participants, but those closures do not appear to have translated into a steady flow of people into integrated employment.

Verbal permission given for on-site work

At the Road to Responsibility day program site in Braintree, which Mark Garrity attends, I met in late March with Patty Garrity and with senior staff of the provider and DDS officials to discuss Mark’s experience in making the transition from his sheltered workshop to the new system.

Like Barbara Govoni, Patty Garrity said the transition from the sheltered workshop has been difficult. Before RTR ceased operating as a sheltered workshop, Mark did a range of activities there, including collating, packaging, and other production work.

For months, after the workshop was closed in September of 2016, Mark was frustrated and angry, Patty said. RTR provided day program activities for him, but, as Patty put it, they “went over his head.” He wasn’t interested in nature walks or painting or cooking. In particular, he didn’t understand the class on money management.

In addition to his intellectual disability, Mark Garrity had suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1995 after having been hit by a car.  He underwent years of rehabilitation from that accident, which had nearly killed him.

In a letter written before Mark’s sheltered workshop program was ended, Mark’s neurologist, Dr. Douglas Katz, a member of the Department of Neurology at Boston Medical Center and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, stated that participating in the workshop had been “an important part of his (Mark’s) rehabilitation effort…and…his life before his injury. It is an activity that is highly rewarding for Mark. He looks forward to it on a daily basis.”

Katz added that, “I understand this program is …likely to close because of new rules passed by the CMS. I think this would be a big loss for my patient Mark. I would support efforts to maintain this structured workshop for Mark and others that benefit from this service.”

As of March 2 of this year, when I first talked to Patty, RTR still had no work for Mark to do that was similar to the work he had done prior to RTR’s changeover from a sheltered workshop to a day program site. But as of March 20, RTR officials said they had found paper shredding work for Mark for two out of the four hours a day that he attended the program.

The paper shredding arrangement at RTR was done after DDS southeast regional director Richard O’Meara determined that it would not violate the CMS rules. O’Meara said the permission he gave to RTR to offer paper shredding to Mark was purely verbal. There was nothing placed in writing about it.

Hearsay information on piecework eligibility requirement 

In January 2016, Govoni said, the Agawam-based Work Opportunity Center, her son’s former sheltered workshop provider, temporarily operated day programs in a function room in a local church after having closed its sheltered workshop program. “I walked in there one day (the temporary day program site),” she said, “and it appeared chaotic, with no structured activities.”

All of the Work Opportunity Center’s clients are now back at the agency’s facility. Govoni’s son gets sent out occasionally to integrated work sites and has some piecework to do at the Work Opportunity site as well. But the work is intermittent. She said she has also heard that those who want to do piecework at the Work Opportunity location will have to take a class explaining what piecework involves.

However, once again, Govoni said she has received nothing in writing about the reported class. She heard about it “through the grapevine.”

In the meantime, Govoni’s son receives a schedule of activities every month at the Work Opportunity Center.  “I’m not saying it’s bad,” Govoni said, “but it’s not what he is interested in.” She said many of the activities are educational, such as lectures on geography or cooking demonstrations. Volunteer work is available as well at a local homeless shelter, and residents are taken on walks to the local library and other locations. “Danny doesn’t want to do that,” she said. “He wants to work.”

Both Govoni and Patty Garrity said Danny and Mark respectively didn’t care about making the minimum wage, and would rather work at their day program sites than get sent out to jobs in the community.

Disagreement over client and family satisfaction

If, like Barbara Govoni and Patty Garrity, family members are confused or dissatisfied by the current situation, O’Meara said, they aren’t letting him know about it. O’Meara said that he and DDS Area Director Colleen Mulligan, who was also in attendance at the March 20 meeting at RTR, are generally the first people whom family members and guardians call when there are problems with DDS care.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of complaints (about the closures of the sheltered workshops in his region),” O’Meara said. “Generally, if people are not happy, we know about it.  These issues are addressed through the ISP (Individual Support Plans). I haven’t had many calls.”

Mulligan added that if problems were occurring like the ones Garrity has described, “I’m not hearing about it.”

But Garrity and some other advocates believe there may be few complaints now because the vocal protests that did occur when the workshop closures were first announced largely died down when families and guardians saw that their protests were having little effect.

A debate over integrated employment

At RTR, Chris White, the agency’s chief executive officer, maintained that even if the CMS requirements have been difficult to comply with, the requirements make sense because he believes that “everyone is capable” of working at integrated employment sites.

White’s viewpoint is in line with an August 2010 DDS policy document that states that “it has now been clearly demonstrated that individuals who were previously considered unemployable in integrated community settings can work successfully.”

But Govoni and Garrity maintained that the ideological viewpoint that the workshops segregated their participants and that integrated employment is feasible for everyone does not apply in their cases. “My son couldn’t wait to go to work (at his former sheltered workshop),” Govoni said. “He was not discriminated against. It was not a sweatshop for him, but the opposite. He doesn’t thrive in integrated sites. He would much prefer staying at the workshop where he was more comfortable. He doesn’t care what he gets paid.”

Govoni said that efforts to place her son in integrated work settings often did not work. In one case, she said, Danny was not able to do the work fast enough to satisfy the employer, and was terminated from the job. The speed of his work did not matter in the sheltered workshop.

Moreover, Govoni and Garrity maintained that even if integrated employment arrangements were feasible for everyone, there are not enough such jobs available to fulfill the demand now that the sheltered workshops are no longer available.

White said there were about 109 clients at RTR who were involved in “integrated group employment” at various job sites. That number was expected to rise this spring to about 120, he said.

At the same time, some 200 clients remained in RTR’s day program. White maintained, however, that those clients were happy with the activities they were doing, and that some were “on a retirement track.”

But it may be an open question whether all or most former workshop clients are really happy in day programs, or whether they simply have no choice but to remain in them.

Even DDS Commissioner Elin Howe appears to acknowledge that the state and its providers have been unable to find mainstream workforce jobs for a significant number of former workshop participants. While Howe made public remarks last year that we believe painted an overly rosy picture of the integrated employment situation, she did acknowledge that “many people transitioned (from sheltered workshops) to Community Based Day Support programs,” although she did not say how many.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has slowed funding for the transition to integrated employment. In order to carry out the administration’s integrated employment policy, 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 was initially funded in Fiscal 2015 with $1 million.  That amount was raised to $3 million in Fiscal 2016, and the governor proposed to boost it to $7.6 million in Fiscal 2017.  But the House and the Senate did not go along with the governor’s plan. The Legislature level-funded the line item for Fiscal 2017. The line item was not included in the governor’s budget for Fiscal 2018.

We agree with Garrity and Govoni that the case has not been made that integrated employment is suitable for all people with developmental disabilities, and it is apparent that not enough integrated work opportunities even exist for all of those that could benefit from it.

We think the federal government needs to rethink its flawed ideology regarding sheltered workshops, particularly the questionable claim that they are discriminatory and segregate their participants.  The experience of Mark Garrity and Danny Morin provide further evidence that that claim is untrue.

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.