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Obama Signs Law Limiting Sheltered Workshop Eligibility

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The transition from school to work for students with disabilities will undergo sweeping changes under a bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday.

The measure known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act significantly limits placements at sheltered workshops and other work environments where people with disabilities earn less than minimum wage.

Under the new law, individuals with disabilities age 24 and younger will no longer be allowed to work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour unless they first receive pre-employment transition services at school and try vocational rehabilitation services.

The measure also mandates that state vocational rehabilitation agencies work with schools to provide transition services to all students with disabilities and requires that the agencies allocate at least 15 percent of their federal funding toward such transition efforts.

“As we approach the 24th anniversary of the ADA, this bill takes new steps to support Americans with disabilities who want to live and work independently,” Obama said in signing the legislation, which provides a broad update to the nation’s workforce system that took years to come to fruition.

The updated rules specific to what’s known as subminimum wage will take effect two years after the law’s enactment.

Though requiring that most young people try competitive employment before working for less than minimum wage, there are exceptions for those who are deemed ineligible for vocational rehabilitation and to allow individuals already earning less than the federal minimum to continue in their jobs.

In cases where individuals with disabilities do earn less than minimum wage, the measure requires that they periodically be provided career counseling by their state and are informed about other work opportunities.

Aside from changes to employment opportunities for people with disabilities, the new law also shifts responsibility for some disability and independent living program functions from the U.S. Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Comments (41 Responses)

  1. Jon K. Evans says:

    I am a member of Disabled Americans Want Work Now. DAWNN. It is my opinion, and PROBABLY THAT OF DAWNN’s that SUBMINIMUM WAGES BE ELIMINATED ENTIRELY, AND PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES BE PAID THE MINIMUM WAGE-as everyone else.

  2. tanya says:

    When does this law go into effect? What about the individuals that participate in group supported employment programs that are happy being busy and part of a team and realistically are not capable of independent employment.

  3. Jasmina says:

    How about closing the Roosevelt-era tax loophole which allows companies to pay below- minimum wage in the first place??

  4. Vaughn Lauer says:

    It will be interesting to see how many opportunities are left to those with disabilities once the costs are increased. I am not questioning the intent, but this is just one of many plans that have not been thought out. I worry that places where the increase will take from available funds will terminate opportunities for those with disabilities. Some way organizations will have to find the money to pay for the increased wage. It is just one more shoot yourself in the foot decision made by this administration. I am afraid that jobs will disappear, some more quickly than others.

  5. Rita Johnson says:

    We do not need the department of human services to tell us what … if … when …. how are disabled children then supposed to live and have there being. HUH!

  6. loreen says:

    As a parent with a recently aged out 22 year-old with Autism, when does the services start. We needed them yesterday.
    What about those state that allow our students to receive “vocational training” at real jobs with no pay? Then after the training is complete the students are not offered employment. At a pizza chain in Georgia the students are doing work that a paid employee would be doing in their absence. Yet the company does not even give them a complimentary drink or slice of pizza. This practice occurs every school year around the state of Georgia.

  7. Vernon Montoya says:

    It does not matter if President Obama sign in law the new Shelter Workshop process.
    You still have to watch out for the kind of people who run the SH.

    For they are the ones who being down the Shelter Workshops.

    I can’t stop saying how wonderful SW were to me, in my rehab.

    And I would do it again, or even run one if I could, I would show
    you how to make run one right, even with the new SW law.

    Vernon Montoya.

  8. Ron Moe says:

    Wow what a complex problem! Its my job to find jobs for people with disabilities and its not that easy. The Obama administration once again is trying to dictate something they clearly don’t know enough about. I just like most of us would like to see everyone make a living wage but the federal minimum wage is not enough to live on anyway. And what happens to the people who can’t produce enough at work for their labor to be paid at minimum wage do they have to set in a care home look at the wall for the rest of their existence!! Wow what a complex problem

  9. Mike says:

    I doubt Obama knows what he signed.

  10. Judith says:

    I am so happy for that….and more for the desables…congrat . Hope that law be respect for others.

  11. Dulcie says:

    I just hope that this doesn’t affect peoples’ eligibility for benefits that they are now getting.

  12. Allen says:

    Another mandatory law created by well-intended zealots that sounds better than it will ever be. As usual, another President that has no idea what the law really means or what outcome it will produce.

  13. Lynn Shoback says:

    My son, 20, with mild autism, was referred by Voc Rehab to do volunteer work and/or workshop environment to get job training before he gets a job in the real world. So far, both have worked well. Yes, he makes WELL below minimum wage. But…..he’s learning about working with others, meeting goals and deadlines, understanding how to make mistakes in a protected environment. I do believe these should be a first step, not a ‘if you can’t find a job’ end goal. His goal is to be able to get a ‘real job’ by his 21st birthday.

  14. Linda says:

    As the parent of an adult with intellectual disabilities, and someone with a 34 year career in the field of education, I see this issue from a professional as well as a parental view. When I heard about the demands for minimum wage for ALL persons with disabilities I was extremely leery of what would happen. My daughter (IQ 40) will NEVER be able to maintain a job where someone will pay her minimum wage. However, it is extremely important to her that she work and get a paycheck. To her, a check for $5.00 is no different than one for $500.00. It’s the paycheck and the fact that she knows she worked for it. Therefore, I was terrified that since she would not be worthy in employer’s eyes of a minimum wage job that it would mean her simply sitting at home and feeling worthless. I am THRILLED with this current legislation. While it certainly addresses the issue and encourages and mandates close and careful consideration of those earning less than minimum wage, it is also realistic in seeing that not all persons are capable of securing and maintaining a job that pays such. But, that doesn’t mean they are worthless and don’t deserve employment to the best degree they are able to perform. Thanks to all of those who worked on and passed this legislation.

  15. Marianne says:

    A definite step in the right direction – yeah! We also need to eliminate restrictions within VR regarding seasonable employment. Also – more transparency is needed regarding salaries of those who run SWs and the percentage of their salaries that are as a result of contract work done by others making sub-minimum wage. Better yet – a plan to phase out SWs and look for other models that value all individuals equally.

  16. Cristy Newlin says:

    It’s unfortunate that some states or organizations do not implement the certificate as it should be and was intended for. It’s unfortunate that it does not get the regulatory oversight that it should, so issues like the horrendous turkey farm go unchecked.

    Sheltered work activity should certainly not be the only option for people with disabilities, and if that is how your state or local system is set up – that is a SHAME. But there are states and organizations that offer the full array of employment/work supports for people to have choices based on their needs/desires. There are companies that do abide fully with the regulation, and operate solely for the purpose of providing meaningful, productive work for people who would NOT otherwise have the opportunity.

    I think this law is a good balance; push the issue of employment FIRST for EVERYONE, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water for those who will not make it in a competitive setting.

  17. pat m says:

    This will cost many people their job. So many people are employed at workshops, van drivers transporting people from home to workshop, the end of workshops as we know it. Businesses will no longer hire many DD people if they have to pay minimum wage. The socialization that people gained from going to a day program will be lost and they will enter an economy that has not enough jobs, just like the rest of us working fools. It’s just another way to decrease the amount of funding that the DD people will receive, all in the name of “helping” them.

  18. debbie says:

    Albert Einstein had a disability. Whoopi Goldberg had or has a disability. There are many famous geniuses that had a disability. One of my surgeons told me that he knows another surgeon who lost his fingers or part of his hand and still does surgery and has adapted. I know it may be painful or difficult, but sometimes many of us may have a certain gift, something that is economically valuable, an asset to our community or society, something we are good at and can do to bring joy to others and financial security for ourselves. I know that bosses and companies or corporations can sometimes be cruel out there either way, no matter if you are normal or have a disability and I know that there are extremely abusive bosses too. I understand that for girls and women there are sexual assaults and harassment and I’ve been there over and over again. I know there is discrimination and if you are too good, someone in a higher job position may try to harm your credibility or stop you from being promoted into their position. If someone like Beethoven can still write music and play, even though he was deaf, there may be a light of hope for anyone, even though they may believe that they can’t do anything that is of value. Search and know that anyone probably has something extraordinary that will be cherished and valued by others.

  19. AmeriGlide says:

    I have to admit that I was not aware that anyone could legally be paid less than minimum wage for any reason. I would hope that there was some underlying logic behind this system and that those with disabilities have not simply been exploited as cheap labor. Whatever the case, this new law seems like a common sense step in the right direction.

  20. Armymom says:

    Most of the agencies that have sheltered workshops are Non-Profit and are funded by the state they are in. Most of the clients that come to our center are happy and they want to come here, this is where their friends are, this is what they know. Not every intellectually disabled individual can work or work in the community for several reasons. Businesses are not going to be on board. We have a lot of trouble finding companies that will allow our individuals to come into their businesses and work. We do have several that do go out in the community and work but for the other 100 there is no work in the community. Sub minimum wage is the only way non profit agencies that support these individuals will be able to stay open. Then where do all of these individuals go?? Who is going to take care of them? Sometimes, well most of the time the family is not an option for one reason or the other. There are so many issues with this it is going to be a nightmare and unfortunately at the individuals expense. I am not sure at what level disabilities we are talking about but when you have a severely autistic 19 year old where is this individual going to work? So if the option of a sheltered workshop is not available to him to go for facility based services he just sits at home? With who? With no friends, contact or interaction with anyone else but his family:if the family is even an option? In our workshop not everyone that comes here works because they are not ABLE to but they come here to be around their friends and it gives them a chance to get out of their house. This particular program gets cut in services every year in one area or the other. Eventually individuals with disabilities will be where back in institutions? The big picture needs to be looked at here and I don’t know maybe get some input from Agency Directors of workshops and see and hear how workshops are really ran and how much money we lose already but we never want to turn an individual down because we want their lives enriched and accepted on all levels. I am a family based provider as well as a department director at an agency. I see the looks from people and businesses when I take my client out every day. This is going to be a nightmare and someone has to stand up and fight for these individuals and what THEY want as individuals not as a group because every person is different. Every disability is different you can’t group these people together. I thought we learned from that back in 1950′s and 60′s but evidently not. Has anyone asked them? The individuals what they want?? I know my family based individual hasn’t been asked but I guess its okay once again for our wonderful government who evidently doesn’t have a real clue as to what the workshop environment is truly like to make that decision for all individuals with disabilities across America. Title IV ever heard of it? Rights of individuals supported;they have every right like we do to CHOOSE where they want to work whether a workshop or in the community. They should not be forced this will cause behaviors in several and decrease the quality of life of many.

  21. A Misssouri citizen says:

    I don’t understand how states will implement the mandate to provide periodic career counseling to those who make sub-minimum wage. VR agenices do not place persons in sheltered workshops and of the clients that they do place in competitive employment, the clients’ cases are closed after 90 days because VR agencies receive their funds based upon successful closures. So who provides this periodic service?

  22. Patti Saylor says:

    Army mom, I respect your option but respectfully disagree. There are many individuals who build the same network of friends in competitive employment. You state people are happy coming to the SW. Of course they are but this doesn’t rule out the possibility they would be happy in another job. Low expectations can be just as cruel as anything else. I know this as a parent and professional in the field. Please don’t limit the possibilities by perpetuating low expectations.
    Respectfully, Patti

  23. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    This law has many implications and individual issues that depend on local interpretation by conscientious people. If someone is being rigidly literal in administration of this broad policy, I suggest that an analogy might be: “You must first document lack of success in begging on the street before seeking assistance through special services for … (name of handicap). Common sense tells me that having a person with a handicap go directly to a business in order to apply for a job that requires skills beyond that person’s ability will quickly provide evidence for SW eligibility. Keep it simple. Make the system work for you and your clients.

  24. Terri says:

    I agree that this could be a great thing for some individuals. Especially the adults who are in these training programs for rehab for whatever reason or the ones who can hold down jobs. On the flip side, being a parent of a 29 year old who was in a supported employment environment, I cannot totally agree with his new law. Yes, we all want our children to be able to work and become as independent as possible, beautiful dream. But, don’t take away the only support some of these clients have, and that is to go everyday to the “workshop”. To them, that is their job. They are learning life skills, socialization, safety in community, friendships. If they are lucky enough, local companies will send in piece work for them. This not only helps the company ( which should pay workshop a reasonable $$), but, it helps the individuals to work the best way they can without feeling they are being watched or pressured to do the task on hand. My daughter’s very first paycheck was for piece work, it was $1.87, I know, not much on a paycheck, but to her it was the most exciting thing ever. No matter how small, it gave her a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I have an idea, let;s put more focus on the welfare and medicaid fraud system. Can you imagine the $$ we would find in order to better help our disabled and the elderly??

  25. Catvocate says:

    Paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage and segregating them in drab, colorless workshops where the staff sit on nice cushioned office chairs all day while the workers sit on folding metal chairs sucks. The clients at workshops know they are second class citizens. These are not stupid people although some folks seem to think they are. How many times was I approached by clients in the workshop where I did community placement to see if they too could get better work? When I approached the director of workshop services I knew what the answer would be. NO, we need them they are really fast. No you can’t place them in the community. It is time to bury this system of financial abuse and lack of opportunity once and for all. For all the naysayers who don’t think the people with disabilities can work in the community you are plain wrong. Raise your expectations and support their goals. And no, I don’t mean let me stay in a workshop because that is all I have ever known. There is this wonderful thing called informed choice. If you are given no choices and you select the only choice given it is not a choice. The workshop systems have dragged this on too long in an effort to fill the pockets of the very few administrators of facility based employment. They could have made moves to increase community based placements but did not because of all that free labor that was making them wealthy. Didn’t you ever stop to wonder why, if they can package flags for ABC company why don’t they just help them get work at ABC company packaging flags? It is all about the money. This law had to be passed. The workshops would go on forever if this law was not passed. The other thing that always astounded me was placing a person with gross motor or fine motor hand skill deficits in a piece rate job making things. That wasn’t about meeting that person’s individual needs now was it? Thank goodness we can now move past this tawdry period in disability history and if you really care about people with disabilities and employment get out there and advocate for better community and supported employment services. We aren’t going back.

  26. robert offe says:

    This is great news Unfortunately many times it does not get to the people who it would help have better lives. The case managers and social workers decide not to tell people about it. And no one knows or accesses the work supports. What can be done to stop that?

  27. Eilen Owens says:

    Sheltered workshops are a much needed option in the in the continuum of services afforded to individuals with disabilities. It was a crucial to include exceptions in the new law in order to allow many happily employed individuals to keep working. Supported employment programs are necessary for many individuals that cannot succeed in competitive employment,

  28. Whitney says:

    The problem with SW was not ideal but the implementation of it. You have high functioning individual being streamlined into the business when the skill set is above the ID or those with low functioning autism. People in the business world saw SW all disabilities can go there and get hired. Most communities that SW benefitted low functioning over high functioning. The advocates of SW never addressed the problems that high Functioning were being harmed by the current system “Quit being selfish” was the prevalent attitude. The failure of VR to address the needs of all disabled especially those with high functioning are part of the reason why reform was needed. It became that the VR was focusing on the closure than success to fund the operations and essence they did not want to deal with high functioning individuals. The system pitted one group against another.

  29. Nancy Loomis says:

    I have been sort of following this debate about SW’s on Disability Scoop lately. I agree with the comments that ask directly or indirectly: “so if there are no SW’s, then where will my son/daughter go to have a meaningful daily activity and make some money, even though it’s a small amount?” Do the proponents of this legislation think this person will just be able to go get a paying job? Not likely.

    Like another commentor, I work to find adults with ID/DD jobs. We have all levels of functioning. But the moderate to low functioning individuals will not likely ever have paid employment, at least in the work-world that’s out there now. Yes, there are some changing attitudes and more employers are willing to give individuals with ID/DD a chance, but it’s hard and the opportunities are few & far between. I like Obama, but I agree with other comments; on this he doesn’t really have a clue about the far-reaching negative impact of this law. Obama and other proponents need to look at this law more clearly for it will never work to benefit ALL individuals with disabilities.

    Then there is what I think a terrible injustice: hospitals, nursing home/assisted living facilities that use volunteers with ID/DD, maybe for years, to do work that they would otherwise pay for, and often do pay for. So even when there is more need to hire another employee for work that a volunteer already does and who has expressed interest in getting paid, many employers will hire someone and pay them and never even consider the dedicated volunteer that’s worked in the same job for many years. It’s a travesty.

  30. Dan Fitzgerald says:

    Why would anyone blame President Obama for putting people with disabilities out of work and causing the end of sheltered workshops? Did you read the article or just see Obama and think he did something wrong? No one is being forced out of a sheltered work program. The law simply requires that people with disabilities be given the opportunity to be supported in a community job setting BEFORE going into a setting where they will paid sub-minimum wage. It does not require people to leave the program they are in now. It does not preclude them from ever entering a sheltered work program. This will provide new incentives for state agencies and community providers to help people obtain a community job. It is a very well thought out approach to help people with disabilities experience a job and life in the community before accepting less than what every other citizen of this country takes for granted: a fair wage. This is a step toward greater dignity for people with disabilities. Let’s give the authors of this legislation some credit for that. And Obama too.

  31. Vicki Hoskin says:

    In theory, this legislation is a good idea. However, I teach teenagers with very intensive and significant disabilities. They have physical, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral issues. I want to see how they can tap into vocational rehabilitation. What will that look like for them? It seems as if we are making those with disabilities prove they can fail at community employment first. Then we will place you in an appropriate setting due to those disabilities. It feels backwards to me. I wish the legislators could just come and visit my students to see that one size does not fit all.

  32. Cathy says:

    Good news for parents and their children with developmental disabilities! There appears to be more than enough wiggle room to accommodate everyone’s needs but the loop holes will probably be abused. They just shove people with DD in whatever open hole they have. I am a mother who is keeping her adult son with DS home because of the tragedy that services are here in KS. When you keep someone in the “workshop” all day, put them on a bus to a “residence” where they sit and listen to officials brag about them not being in “institutions”, ah, it just makes you sick! This is at least a start but parents will still end up fighting for any opportunity for their children. I learned many years ago that just because they are supposed to, are required to, that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to fight.

  33. joan says:

    All the experts came and testified that my son could never work. He did not care about money. It was frightening to see how the experts did care about money and would testify against a special needs person because they were getting paid.My son has very limited speech and works with a job coach. He makes 12$ an hour

  34. In-The-Mix says:

    All laws written and enacted are subject to interpretation by the Department whose job is to enforce each law, by the judges that decides the enterpretations legality and by each local service provider that is either attempting to meet the letter of the law while still providing services. This law, even though daunting to those is actually put forth to prevent situations such as Georgia. The situation noted in Georgia reminds me of the movie with Robert Redford, Brubaker, a form of legal forced and free labor and be aware that these situations occur in every state. Those of us that work with the 1 to 2% of the most challenged individuals see that this law simply puts forward a check and balance on all of us to constantly remind us to re-evaluate each and every individual to see if there is a way to provide a less restrictive environment in which they can be employed and this law only requires this to happen once a year but this should be the ‘mission statement’ of every workshop; ‘To Be Vigilant in Opportunities to Promote Individual Growth’. In this case, to seek and develop employment that pays no less than minimum wage. I have individuals that will perhaps never be in a job situation where minimum wage is a possibility but that does not mean I should stop looking or stop promoting such an idea and now there is a law that says it is now my responsibility to make sure I don’t forget!

  35. Doreen Greczyn says:

    President Obama has no idea what he is doing by signing this law. There is not many businesses that will hire the developmentally disabled and voc rehab so not successful with placing them either. I wish the president would have taken the time to visit some of the sheltered workshops around the country before he would made a decision like he did. So sad.

  36. Shannon says:

    As a mother and educator for individuals with moderate and severe disabilities, I see the purpose for the wage certificate for certain circumstances. Though I believe it should be optional and a decision that is made mutually between the individual, the employer and support staff, guardians, etc. The wage certificate program ensures those individuals with the most significant impairments, are given an opportunity to work when they otherwise would not. It also allows individuals to maintain their SSI, Medicaid, and any other financial based benefits they need to sustain themselves. With that said, I do not like the sheltered workshop employment model, it’s antiquated and perpetuates a negative stereotype for people with disabilities. Rather, ALL individuals, regardless of severity of disability should be integrated into typical functioning society. Whether the intent is to earn a paycheck, job shadow, explore different vocational opportunities, volunteer, gain social skills, model appropriate behavior, foster new friendships, etc., the outcome benefits everyone. Additionally, funding to implement this type of employment model is already accessible. Though funding is not the issue, rather it’s changing our paradigm to create and implement a more humanitarian approach for those individuals with even the most significant impairments. The focus should be not on what they can’t do, but rather, what can they do.

    Sheltered workshops do not service those individuals who can benefit from vocational rehab. Voc rehab is designed to provide initial support to the person with a disability to successfully transition into them into the job, with that support fading over time. The wage certificate in my opinion should never be considered for individuals who can work independently without a need for ongoing support. It’s that smaller population of people with moderate and severe disabilities who should be allowed the option to use the wage certificate.

  37. Susan says:

    I am shocked that the government would allow anyone, including people who have disabilities, to work for less than minimum wage. As a relatively new (6 years) foster parent of children with disabilities, I am learning so many things about the system and lack of respect, equal treatment and programs for my children and with one aging out in two years, I want all the advantages that others have for him to succeed. The only time I believe that minimum wage should be bypassed, is if the job is paid training of a vocational type that would lead to a job in the workforce, but even that should have time limits as to not be taken advantage of.

  38. Pam Donovan says:

    Instead of the President / Gov. passing laws that they think will benefit “ALL” persons with disabilities they should consider that a “One Size Fits” All plan is not always the best plan for all individuals. I do agree that persons with disabilities should secure min. wages but there are others that need to have meaningful work that are not motivated by wages earned but more about the quality of life.

  39. Hedley Weeks says:

    I hope the Government realizes how difficult it is to place people with disabilities in meaningful employment, and how important this employment is. Let us not destroy these opportunities.

  40. NancyL says:

    Simply put, well-written legislation regarding the operation of sheltered workshops needs to be written. And then strict ongoing oversight with meaningful accountability procedures put in place. And it cannot be a “one-size fits all” law as it looks to be. I work with adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities. But let’s think of all the various types of disabilities besides ID/DD: mental, physical – which could be paralysis requiring a wheelchair or someone who is blind or deaf. And any one of these disabilities may or may not come with an intellectual or developmental disability. And then, tragically, many returning veterans have mental and physical disabilities that they never had before entering the military. With this harsh reality, many government and corporate employment initiatives are pushing for the hiring of veterans, with or without disabilities. While I agree that vets should have first place in hiring initiatives, this will mean that other non-veterans with disabilities, will get pushed down the employment ladder even further.

    So what does all this mean for adults with more severe ID/DD who already have little chance of ever getting paid employment, and who rely on sheltered workshops for even a small paycheck and and an enjoyable daytime activity? It means they’ll be without an incredibly valuable and necessary support system. It means that their families and other direct-care providers will be scrambling to assist them in finding something to do with their day. It means the ID/DD adult will suffer a lot of emotional stress as something they depend on disappears and they are shuffled into some sort of other activity that they may not want or that may not be suitable for them.

    There has to be a better way. Clean-up or get rid of the “bad” workshops and monitor and regulate the good ones. Don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

  41. Cynthia says:

    As a special-education teacher, I am glad that changes are being made in the employment laws that will benefit my students after graduating from high school. They are at a disadvantage by having learning issues, but they are at more of a disadvantage when they cannot make the same amount as their peers. It is important that we continue to change legislation to benefit their future endeavors.

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