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Congress Passes Bill Limiting Sheltered Workshop Eligibility


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Cindy Iames, right, and Damien Ross make less than minimum wage working at Chimes Cafe in Baltimore. (Christopher T. Assaf/Baltimore Sun/MCT)

Cindy Iames, right, and Damien Ross make less than minimum wage working at Chimes Cafe in Baltimore. (Christopher T. Assaf/Baltimore Sun/MCT)

A bill that would significantly limit young people with disabilities from entering sheltered workshop programs is headed to President Barack Obama’s desk.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 415 to 6 Wednesday to approve the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Included in the bill are major changes to the path from school to work for those with disabilities.

Specifically, the measure would prohibit individuals age 24 and younger from working jobs that pay less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour unless they first try vocational rehabilitation services, among other requirements.

What’s more, the legislation would require state vocational rehabilitation agencies to work with schools to provide “pre-employment transition services” to all students with disabilities. And, such agencies must allocate a minimum of 15 percent of their federal funding to help individuals with disabilities in transition under the measure.

While the bill mandates that most young people try competitive employment before they could work for less than minimum wage, there are exceptions for those deemed ineligible for vocational rehabilitation and to allow individuals already earning so-called subminimum wage to continue to do so.

The measure, which was approved by the U.S. Senate last month, is now on its way to the White House and Obama said he will sign it.

“This bipartisan compromise will help workers, including workers with disabilities, access employment, education, job-driven training and support services that give them the chance to advance their careers and secure the good jobs of the future,” Obama said in a statement.

The workforce bill is the product of years of negotiation on Capitol Hill and was approved with broad bipartisan support.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who spearheaded the components of the legislation specific to people with disabilities, called the changes “groundbreaking” and said they will “raise prospects and expectations for Americans with disabilities so that they receive the skills and training necessary to succeed in competitive, integrated employment.”

Nonetheless, the issue of submininum wage remains highly contentious within the disability community, with some advocates arguing the legislation does not go far enough while others say moving away from sheltered workshops may simply leave people with disabilities fewer options for meaningful daytime activity.

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Comments (23 Responses)

  1. Whitney says:

    I do believe it is step right direction if they measures are delivered to the targeted group. No more the shelter work programs are the catch all for all disabilities. No more businesses are given the right to discriminate against the high functioning disabilities. I known the shelter work advocates believe that it only applies to ID but it is not applied to that group. One group does not have the right to take advantage of another group which is often the case with Shelter Work Programs. Just because a person ID does not give the average person the right to discriminate against them in wages. Not only that Job coaches are the worst they do not wish to acknowledge the High Functioning criticism. Shelter Work Programs are good concept that went wrong and this shows that Government is considering the same thing.

  2. Dadvocate says:

    It sounds like they made some important positive changes to prevent the disruption in employment for existing program participants who choose to stay put (for whatever reason) and not go the path of competitive employment. It also appears that they will not (as planned) coerce younger folks with severe disabilities who are unwilling or unable. to fail at competitive employment before they can work in the setting of their choice. If that’s accurate, that is a positive development.

    Again, the current system has plenty wrong with it and needs significant change, but with this initiative and many other policy prescriptions from the inside the DC beltway, it is important to put the right of people to exercise choice ahead of a rigid “one size fits all disabilities” ideology, even if the choices people exercise aren’t to the policy maker’s liking.

  3. Sue M says:

    This looks like a win for the Sheltered Workshops and those who choose to attend.

  4. Mack says:

    I don’t see this being any different than what is already being done where I’m at. We try in school and early on to get them a community job, but when all else fails at least they still have the oppurtunity for work in a sheltered work shop.

  5. Concerned Citizen says:

    This is a good sign, but what about the incentives for companies to hire people with disabilities? People from the age of 18-24 that cannot find a job- what about them? They cannot get into a workshop and they can’t find a job so do they sit home idle? There just aren’t enough jobs out there for anyone.

  6. Barbara says:

    This is probably best for most young people with disabilities, however, one size unfortunately does not fit all. My severley, profoundly intellectually disabled son will now be shuttled aside to an inappropriate day placement. I have already been notified by the sheltered workshop he is currently in that they will be closing and probably the only day program he will be eligible for is a daycare situation for severely physically and cognitively impaired elderly. They can’t remain open for so few participants. Instead of mixing with his peers, learning new self help skills and going on regular excusions into the community, parks, movies and even once a visit to the White House, he will be sitting in front of a TV with a bunch of old folks without any meaningful stimulation or challenge. At least he will enjoy the bus ride to and from the program. My heart is broken but I also realize it is probably better for the majority – but not the total population. In this day and age WHY can’t we take care of ALL?

  7. John says:

    Here we go again. Same old same old. Just like the ADA. This Bill is designed to titilate, not change anything. Where are the teeth of enforcement? A Bill with no enforcement is a Joke……But of course politically correct….

  8. Ed says:

    So new hires into SW may have to be paid minimum wage, even though they may be unable to work at the pace of a “fully functioning” person. And who, may I ask, is going to “eat” the cost? Commensurate Wage is designed to allow a person with disabilities the chance to work and earn to the best of their abilities. Just like any other business, if the labor costs become prohibitive, you can’t sell the product/service because other companies will undercut you.

    To be blunt, if you are producing widgets and you have the choice between hiring five people at MW who can produce at 100% or five people at MW who can only produce at 33%, which do you hire? So people with disabilities will find opportunities lacking because workshops cannot be competitive. That places the person into group homes or nursing homes if the family can’t find someone to watch them.

    There are good SW just like there are bad ones. The Good Ones do what they can to employ everyone at every skill level as long as they can be competitive with what the needs of the community are. IF they can’t provide a good service at a reasonable price, they can’t employ people with disabilities.

  9. Lynda Domina says:

    It severely frustrates me to see this bill even considered let alone passed!

    My son Wesley is almost 23 years old and lives with Mental Retardation, Cerebral palsy, sensory disorder, behavioral disorder, chronic constipation and a cecostomy tube. When we moved back to Utah so that Wesley could be near his father we had high hopes for a bright future. However, what we have found is that there are waiting lists for every service proved here unless you have the money to pay out of pocket.
    Few Doctors that work with adults who have the complicated medical background and issues that is common among people who have severe disabilities. The one place i did find is not even taking anyone on there too full waiting list.

    According to the United Cerebral Palsy Organization Utah is at number 43 out of 51 for the services they provide for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.

    All Medicaid Waiver programs are managed through The Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD). This includes all money available for sheltered work programs and money for services, such as behavioral therapy, that are not covered by Disabled Medicaid.The expected time you should expect your loved one to be on the waiting list? Over five years. So many people need the services that are availible. Because of this many people with intellectually and developmental disabilities end up in state care in order to receive benefits that would cost far less than if they could receive them while living in their own communities and homes!

    This however is also a common problem in most States and some thing needs to be done other than to make cuts for services for a groups of people who have repeatedly received cuts to their serves over that past decade!
    Something needs to be done!

  10. Kathryn Lincoln says:

    I’m so pleased w this decision- I’ve waited a long time for this!!

  11. Cheryl Felak says:

    When Senator Harken states that people with disabilities will “receive the skills and training necessary to succeed in competitive, integrated employment.he and many, many other advocates are missing the important issue of continued supports. Skills and training can only go so far and many people need continued supports to maintain skills taught and learned. Senator Harken and others think that once taught these folks can go be independent in their work place and life – this is not reality. Many of these folks need intense supports throughout the day and this is very different than skills and training.

  12. Debbie Fabio says:

    This is great for those with disabilities who can emotionally/behaviorally handle a normal work setting. However, there are those who cannot. Those individuals deserve a place to work so they can earn not only a few dollars but self-esteem as well.

  13. Bridget Herod says:

    Caution is advised. Sheltered workshops if designed and implemented correctly are great places of employment, friendships and harbors of security for some people with disabilities. Do not throw out the baby and bath water. Which would be better… Working solo with fellow employees who I have nothing in common with or working with people I have something in common with which is the bases to form friendships? Just as group homes now are being funded privately……caution please…..employment is difficult for people without disabilities ….oh below minimum would create a ” social stigma” at the job. Please caution….look at the long run. Yes people with disabilities are a large part of our financial budget…but that’s what a society is all about….taking care of it’s own.
    Dear Lynn NYS has wonderful options……move here.

  14. Savymom says:

    What this bill fails to acknowledge is that some (if not most, who are not particularly “high functioning”) people with disabilities will never be able to perform “competitively” in integrated jobs as if they were not disabled. For example, a person with Autism, who doesn’t talk. No matter how intelligent, he or she is not going to be able to handle the speech bombardment of most workplaces. That does not mean he or she cannot have meaningful work, it just means they should not be required to “compete” with the non-disabled. While not a fan of sheltered workshops, that allow ridiculously low wages for piece work based on productivity, Dept. of Rehab. is not the answer. When my son applied for services a short while ago, we were told that he has to be “employment ready” before they would have anything to offer him. I propose the support Micro-industries promoting creative outlets, for those who have splinter skills, such as painting, drawing writing (there are non-verbal people who can communicate by typing, but often not quickly enough to carry on a conversation), where they can find some thing they are good at and passionate about, and produce something people may want to buy. And maybe part time work in a more public setting, to help the transition to the adult world, even if it is volunteer work. It is unrealistic to expect a few months of vocational training to prepare someone with a cognitive disability to perform as well as someone without a disability.

  15. H. Wilson says:

    I am saddened that there will not be set into place a way for persons with disabilities to make the CHOICE FOR THEMSELVES if they would like to work in the community or if they would prefer, keeping the option for employment in an agency, community center, or sheltered workshop that supports that subminimum wage if that is what they choose coming out of high school. My school does not legally meet transition requirements and most of the schools in rural areas also don’t. There is little support and help for us and the subminimum wage offers for our loved ones an opportunity to be integrated in our community because when you live in a town with three bars, one gas station and a post office where else can he find employment!!!!!!

  16. Mere says:

    I disagree with the terms of this bill. Not all individuals who have developmental disabilities will be able to preform work in the community especially with able bodied young and old there to scoop up the jobs. Some of these individuals have behaviors that will not be tolerated. It is not that this group does not want to work because they want nothing more. It just might not be feasible for all of them to be on this path. Yes have those who are able to work but not push out those who have severe limitations from earning anything.

  17. Linda Martin says:

    Why the 24 year and younger clause. The only reason I can think of…they are going to need the extra income because they won’t be receiving IO Waivers? I don’t know….but a good idea should be true regardless of age!

  18. Jack A. Gruber says:

    Please consider that not all people with intellectual disabilities are capable of vocational training or working in the community. Have you considered that the medically fragile individuals may not be able to work in the community? Oftentimes the only way a sheltered workshop can be competitive is to use a piece rate calculation since the production rate may not be comptetitive witht he standard work force. If the sheltered workshops are required to pay only minimum wage, the work available to them will be reduced and now you have now taken away any paycheck, regardless of the amount that is written on it. How do you thinhk that will affect their self worth? Let us keep in mind that not all DD persons function at the highest levels.

  19. Lora says:

    Lora: I am pleased to see the comments of many recognizing that just as those of us who do not have a developmental disability, those that do also have different levels of abilities. And yes, many workshops need to depend on piece work rates (which are based on minimum or prevailing wage) to remain operational and to be able to provide work for individuals with developmental disabilities. A good workshop will also consistently look at the functioning level of those served and when possible assist them in obtaining employment outside of the workshop setting when possible. Bridget is right, they deserve the right to choose where and with whom they would like to work. Working with peers gives a source of support and friendship as well as the self esteem. They feel good about earning a pay check, the amount is less important to them than the pride in having earned it. I work with some of these amazing individuals and they deserve to have a voice in where they work, we owe it to them to provide such a place and if that means a sheltered workshop, so be it. Not all of these individuals can function happily in the competitive job market.

  20. Lizzy says:

    I think this bill is important because people with disabilities need to be treated as people &full citizens, yes there is a spectrum of differently abled people, some benefit more from this legislation than others, but the main point is to protect every american’s right not to be taken advantage of and paid sweat shop wages for their labor that don’t enable them to live. An example is the recent justice department case against the state of Rhode Island, that state sent every special needs person to a “sheltered workshop” where they earned on average $2.21 an hour. This should not be, and I congratulate the justice dept for their work.
    Rhode Island was not giving the disabled a choice, they had rubber stamped sheltered workshops for all, and I think this bill is a step forward in preventing this kind of abuse. I would like to see the disabled given the choice of what they want to do, and assisted employment available for some who want it, with decent wages. For the more capable an end to discrimination, one size does not fit all. But I everyone needs protection from being taken advantage of and discrimination.

  21. Penni Gould says:

    What no one seems to mention or want to acknowledge is that all the training, support and preparation in the world will not be enough to coerce employers into hiring the Intellectually challenged. If employers are not willing to hire them and there are no special arrangements being made for these workers to assure that they get jobs after all of this training, then what’s the use of the training and all of the supported employment? Employers have to be tricked into even interviewing these consumers by requesting “informational interviews”…and they rarely even agree to that. They don’t want to donate the time. We need legislation to require employers to hire our people. We also need to provide real incentives (not the weak incentives that are already on the books) that will encourage employers to hire them. Really, is competitive employment an option for the ID? How can they compete with the non-disabled population? Everyone is fighting and competing for work nowadays. People with Masters and Doctorate degrees are having a hard time finding work. People over 40 are having a hard time finding work. How does the ID population fit in? They will lose out every time, unless the employer is committed to hiring the disabled, which is pretty rare. I think we are all living in a delusion, believing that there is a fair chance for our consumers out there. Let’s face it, the majority of employers are in it for the profit. Not for the good of humankind.

  22. Kathleen Moretti says:

    I’m very sorry about this. My son has been working in a sheltered workshop for 15 years and has been so happy, as are his friends and coworkers who also work there. Because he is able to attend it makes it possible for me to work and provide. Many handicapped people cannot work independently and greatly benefit from the workshops. They have friends and meaningful use of their time. All you folks who want these individuals included in the world, do you have friends with special needs?

  23. Connie Altic says:

    I hope that the government looks closely into the purpose of the sheltered workshop. For those who literally are unable to hold a job outside of the workshop, how fair is it to take that opportunity away from them? Granted, some consumers in the workshop could work in the community, however getting the community to hire them is another issue. Some of the contract work they do is outstanding, some of it not so tedious. But given the opportunity to work in the workshop or have no job at all, I am sure they prefer working, giving them some independence, while allowing staff, medical staff, and others to assist them as needed. Do not close the workshops. I do not think it is taking advantage of them to have some type of job. Better than an institution where they watch television all day

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