Congratulations, Thomas!

Thomas was awarded a badge at work today for his 4 years of employment at Lowe’s Home Improvement!  He was so happy.  He loves his job, his co-workers, job coaches and customers.  We often run into his customers when we are out and about in the community doing other things and he gets so excited about seeing them!

 

 

Thomas was able to secure this job through the King County School 2 Work program.  They had a pilot program several years ago in which they worked with students that would have been considered the more “difficult to place” in community jobs.  I’m so glad to say that we were able to appeal to allow Thomas to participate in the program.  Thomas was also the only one in his group to have a job before they “graduated.”  While he still works for the same company, the job has changed as he has gained skills and they have discovered the great abilities he has which he has put to good use there.

Supported employment (or Community Integrated Employment – CIE) is one option that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can choose to utilize if they want to try to work.  Supported employment is very individualized and may take many months to find a job that is the right fit for the person .   Job supports are also individualized – some people need 1:1 support throughout their working experience and others may just need a job coach to check in once a week to once a month.

Supported employment is ideal for Thomas.  He also lives in supported living so he has private transportation to and from work each morning for his hand-to-hand transfer from care-giving staff to job coach.  Given that Thomas also has medical treatments that he needs 3 x week, his care-giving staff then pick him up from work and take him to his doctor appointments.  This makes a full morning for Thomas – he’s ready for lunch by the time he gets back home.

Thomas does earn a bit above minimum wage in his job which is paid by his employer.  The funds for this are funneled from the Federal/State government through the county which pays the vendors for the job supports.  With Thomas typically working 7-9 hours a week, he works more hours than average for someone with his support needs.

While this is a great choice for Thomas, it is not for everyone.  We need to keep alternative choices and opportunities available for those with differing needs and skills.  For instance, there is group supported employment which many people prefer.  Often times the employees in these jobs may make less than minimum wage with a special certificate issues from the state (they are typically called 14 c certificates) Many people prefer these jobs since they are with their friends and enjoy the group experience too.

Our state has already abolished all pre-vocational types of jobs but in other states these may still be a choice.  We need to keep these alternative choices available for those who choose this type of job training.  We can’t talk about person centered planning and then remove choices.

I need to add that is it only due to the “village” that supports Thomas that he is able to be so successful in his achievements:  His village is his family and friends, Provail (employment vendor), Alpha Supported Living (supported living agency) in addition to his co-workers at Lowe’s.

 

 

More subminimum wage – can we just get real

EHB 1706 sits in the Senate Rules Committee.  As long as it’s in Rules committee there is still some hope that reality will set in that this bill not only short-sighted but harmful.

I am writing with some major concerns regarding issues with EHB 1706. While this bill may have started with good-intentions, it is extremely short sighted regarding the complexity and collaboration needed in any supports addressing the needs of our disabled population affected by significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. Contrary to what has been said in hearings, it is not common practice to pay disabled people less than minimum wage. It is not common practice to use special certificates for a commensurate wage.

Special certificates for a commensurate wage are not the same thing as “warehousing people in sheltered workshops”. Special certificates do allow a choice and alternative for those who may not be able to work independently in a competitive market or for those who enjoy the camaraderie of working with peers.

We no longer have sheltered workshops in our state but these certificates are very much desired by those who chose to work in group integrated employment in community settings. Person-centered planning and adherence to the Olmstead decision regarding choice are issues that would be violated if this alternative was removed from a smorgasbord of opportunities that people with significance disabilities may choose from. Again, the issue is choice. No one is forced to use these and they are not common practice – but for those who do choose to use them, this opportunity can be life saving. Why take this away?

Other concerns regarding the issues of supported employment in our state – if the support is considered only short-term until the employee is able to be independent or the employer builds in enough “natural supports” so that the employee does not need a job coach, this will lead to even more unemployment in this population. Unfortunately, I know this too well given issues with my son who works in supported employment with a 1:1 job coach. This is not something that he will “outgrow” but a support that he will need the rest of his life. Is he going to be the victim of this policy when it is decided that job supports are no longer needed because he’s had enough time to learn the job?

It is not common practice to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. These special certificates are for specific employers, specific jobs, specific employees and for a specific, limited time. It is common practice to pay people with disabilities minimum wage or higher but their work hours are greatly reduced. For instance, my son works in supported employment in a competitive integrated job – he earns $16.58 an hour – a great wage for him. He only works 7.5 hours a week. This is also great for him because of his disability – working more hours a day would be disastrous for him.

While this bill seemed to have good intentions – it is extremely short sighted. There was a failure to even address the recent JLARC report which addresses how few hours disabled people work and less than 10% make a “living wage.” DDA intends that its services provide quality of life benefits for clients, such as choice, relationships, integration in the community, and competence., however there are no evaluations that are done to measure if this outcome is met.

We hear from an affiliate of the national Arc Agency that Washington ranks highest percentage of “employment and day services clients” enrolled in employment services. (87%) But – “Not all clients who receive employment services have a job” which is very clear when scouring the data reported by the county contracted providers ( https://www.statedata.info/washington-ddd/) When one of the affiliates testified that working under a certificate was something that was forced on them by “well meaning do-gooders”, it inhibits their growth as employees, chances of advancement and their ability to support themselves and live off of public assistance. This person is speaking from a totally different reality and perspective than that of the people who have chosen to work under a certificate or of a person, like my son, who while able to learn and function with appropriate supports, will never be independent, able to support himself or live off of public assistance. We need to face reality and this bill is not the way to do that.
Below are just a few bullet points from the JLARC report that need to be taken into consideration:

JLARC staff analyzed DDA data for the 6,975 clients enrolled in individual supported employment during fiscal year 2018.

• 675 clients (10%) earned more than the federal poverty level ($12,140 per year for a single person).
• Earnings vary by support needs. 2 Clients with lower support needs tend to earn more wages.
• 44% of clients with high support needs were unemployed. This is double the rate for clients with medium support needs and five times the rate for clients with low support needs.
• Clients with high support needs who were employed worked 21 hours per month on average. This is less than half the average hours for clients with medium support needs, and a quarter of the hours for the clients with low support needs.
• 99% of clients with high support needs earned less than the federal poverty level.

Addressing this issue only from the Department of Labor viewpoint totally misses the collaboration needed to provide appropriate supports for our disabled community members and I find this approach extremely harmful to those people it was supposed to help. The misinformation used and biased opinions heard regarding choices and alternatives for those with significant disabilities has been ridiculed and dismissed as “living in fear”. I and others who live this life challenge you to listen to those who are actually affected by these policies – not necessarily the people you are hearing from. We need an opportunity to be heard too but when we are censored and blocked from the affiliate agency, it appears to legislators that we do not exist.

Our hope is that this will change. We are gathering people who have first hand knowledge of the issues and how these policies are actually hurting, rather than helping those we live with, care for and love.
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HB 1706 – another striker bill

 

Change Improvement Development Adjust Transform Concept

Change Improvement Development Adjust Transform Concept

Very interesting hearing today in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee regarding EHB 1706.  A packed house with people from all over the state to testify against the bill as written – self advocates, healthcare professionals, parents, guardians and other advocates.  There were also the usual people/organizations who were there to testify in support of EHB 1706 but their voices have already been heard.  It was refreshing to hear some new perspective on issues that affect us and those we work with, live with and love.

One hour of testimony with 1 minute each, one after the other as fast as could be done.  All people were then asked to leave the room and there was an executive session – The outcome was passing  EHB 1706 striker April 1 2019  with a vote of 5 -1.

Some notes from the Fiscal note which actually does indicate there will be a fiscal impact to this legislation:

Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA)
It is assumed that only individuals eligible to receive Individualized Technical Assistance services under an existing DSHS Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) program will receive Individualized Technical Assistance services due to an expiring Special Certificate. It is estimated that 421 eligible DDA clients will receive the Individualized Technical Assistance specified in this legislation. It is assumed:
•Each client will receive 20 hours of Individualized Technical Assistance
•Individualized Technical Assistance cost is $130 per hour
•The 421 clients will be provided services between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2021

One FTE (WMS Band 1) will be needed between July 1, 2019 and September 30, 2021 to:
•Coordinate with the Department of Labor and Industries
•Prioritize clients for services
•Determine service options for clients
•Track client progress
•Accumulate and organize the data required to be reported in Section 5 of this legislation
•Prepare the required reports
Total cost for this FTE is estimated at:
Fiscal Year 2020: $126,000 ($72,000 GF-State)
Fiscal Year 2021: $120,000 ($68,000 GF-State)
Fiscal Year 2022: $ 30,000 ($17,000 GF-State)
Total Costs:
Fiscal Year 2020: $674,000 ($401,000 GF-State)
Fiscal Year 2021: $668,000 ($397,000 GF-State)
Fiscal Year 2022: $ 30,000 ($17,000 GF-State)

Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)
The DSHS Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) may see an increase in the number of DDA clients referred for services. However, it is assumed that the increased referrals will not be significant and the related costs can be absorbed within existing resources.

All in all a step in the right direction and some indication that the voices of those actually affected is beginning to be heard – a victory so far in that there have been some crucial corrections made – still some issues to work out.

April 1 testimony opposing HB 1706