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Most Federal Dollars Go To Sheltered Workshops

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Even though many federal policies favor community-based employment for people with disabilities, a new report finds that most government funds go to sheltered workshops instead.

The report released Tuesday from the National Disability Rights Network looks at how money for disability employment flowing from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Rehabilitation Services Administration is utilized in the states.

Though both agencies have stated policies supporting community-based employment, the advocacy group analysis found that the system is “complex and confusing” with most money going to sheltered workshops.

In Ohio alone, the report indicates that an estimated $5 million in local and federal funds were spent in 2011 for community-based employment. During the same period, some $175 million was spent on segregated work environments.

“There is a total disconnect between what governments say they want to accomplish in terms of employment for people with disabilities and how they are actually spending taxpayer dollars,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, an umbrella group for the protection and advocacy organizations in each state.

Currently, more than 400,000 Americans with disabilities are employed in sheltered workshops, according to the advocacy group. Such segregated work environments typically pay workers less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

The report is the second in little more than a year from the National Disability Rights Network calling for an end to sheltered workshops. The group favors community-based employment for people with disabilities with supports, as needed.

Proponents of sheltered workshops, however, argue that they provide a much-needed system for people with severe disabilities to earn a wage and socialize with their peers.

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. John Hetterick says:

    I am a board member of a nonprofit in the Twin Cities called Opportunity Partners. While I can’t speak for other nonprofits nor testify as to how the State of Minnesota allocates its funds, I can assure readers that OP is tightly focused on community-based employment. In fact, nearly 100% of OP’s employment programs beyond the long-time sheltered workshop that OP operates address community-based employment. OP has drunk the community-based Kool Aide and is performing accordingly. All of this said, the idea of eliminating sheltered workshops is simply another way of saying leave those employees unemployed. While the objective of community-based employment is noble, it simply does not work for a segment of the population with disabilities. The federal money coming into OP in no way reflects the division of spending or effort discussed above for Ohio.

  2. Jacob Chilcott says:

    I feel that the idea and practice of sheltered workshops are wrong and should not be supported with federal or state tax funds. Furthermore, in my opinion, sheltered workshops that pay sub-minimum wages are immoral. The U.S. Dept of Labor advocates for customized employment services to people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability. For any service to say that customized employment will not work for “a segment of the population with disabilities” is simply being lazzy – as it is easier to continue doing what has always been done, instead of being creative and committed to providing individulized services. As the Director of a program that provides customized employment services to people with a disability I can speak at length about the advantages of the individualized/customized approach over the cookie cutter approach that sheltered workshops provide; but it doesn’t matter because there are some people out there that it just won’t get through to and that is why I feel that the federal government needs to stop funding programs that continue to provide a sheltered workshop service.

  3. Angela Gantt says:

    Although advancements in vocational rehabilitation, technology, and training have provided disabled workers with greater opportunities than in the past to obtain competitive employment sheltered workshops continue to meet a great need and demand for individuals. I am personally familiar with individuals who have tried competitive employment and it proved to be to demanding on them. Others have such severe intellectual and/or physical disabilities that they lack the capacity for competitive employment, while others simply choose the workshop because they feel accepted. Individuals disabled or non-disabled should have a choice to work in an enviroment that they are happy in, doing a job that they have choosen and feel productive in. There is a social aspect of working with peers and friends in a workshop that can not be matched in a competitive work force.

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