Shameful Seattle – CENSORED

Seattle Commission for PwD - please be accountableToday, Mayor Durkan, signed into law that Seattle has eliminated special certificates for disabled people to work for less than minimum wage.  Sounds like a great idea to encourage people to hire those with disabilities – that is, until you know the truth behind this legislation and the misinformation that was used to push it forward and make others believe it was the right thing to do.

While I fully support equal wages for equal work – regardless if one is disabled or not – I have great concerns about the lack of understanding of the complex issues involved in this legislation.  For the people affected by this legislation, community integration is as important, if not more important, than the wage they earn.

The Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities has so far been only mendacious in their replies to questions.  Also, as I was in the process of writing this post, I have again been blocked from the public Facebook Page for Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.  Again, they refused to answer the questions and censored discussions.  Seattle PWD Censorship

 

Seattle Commission for PWD needs to be accountable and answer the questions.  Threats and accusations do not show accountability for decisions you have made.

Mayor Durkan was totally unable to answer the questions asked at the end of the press conference – either she knows the answer and is too embarrassed to say or she has no clue and bases her information on the lies she has been told by the commission.

 

 

Fallout: Loss of jobs and hours in Seattle

Social Justice Activists in the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities are showing how little they understand about the lives and choices of people with complex and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.  With no planning in regards to transition for employees, employers, vocational training and job development, this commission has pushed for the rapid elimination of certificates which allow special wages for a certain population.

Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and members of Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Specific employers to pay specific employees a specific wage for a specific job

These certificates are not a “catch-all” loop-hole to allow employers to pay any person with a disability less than the minimum wage.  The commission leads people and legislators to believe that these certificates are easy to get and allow employers to exploit their employees.  ACTIVISTS – PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT

There is no “loop-hole” and there is no exploitation.  There is choice and alternatives that are based on an individual’s person-centered planning. These activists have literally pulled the rug out from under those who were employed with this certificate and those in the future who would have benefitted from this choice.  It is no longer available and there are no substitutes.

The people affected by this new law were working in integrated, community settings.  These jobs were a route to inclusion and community.  This is what people with disabilities and their advocates have been wanting.  Things were working well for the employee with a disability, the employer, the community and the family/caregivers of the employees.

That is until someone (Shaun Bickley – co-chair of Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities) threw a monkey wrench into the lives of people he does not know or understand.  Mr Bickley has greatly misinterpreted research on the issue, misinterprets the law behind the certificates and how they are used and totally disregards the choices of those most affected.  He has led community members and our City Council to believe these employees are exploited and has twisted the truth to outright lied about the situation in order to push his personal agenda.

Contrary to what Mr. Bickley claims,  there were many concerns voiced by people with disabilities and disability advocates against the elimination of the special certificates.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bickley does not think that these people have the right to voice an opinion and so discounts them.

What happened to “nothing about us, without us,”  Mr. Bickley?

 


There is inaccurate information regarding the sub-minimum wage laws and certificates, false information regarding the laws and actions in other states regarding sub-minimum wage and employment trends for people with intellectual disabilities.

SubminimumWageLetter from PWD commission


Social Justice?  Making people with disabilities unemployable in Seattle

Sub-minimum wage – godsend or exploitation?

Seattle has rapid elimination of sub-minimum wage

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda – thank you for the concern you have for our community members with disabilities. While I understand this has just passed into law, I believe there was some very critical information that was left out, not addressed and misrepresented by members of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities .

The first issue is that these certificates are not “general purpose” to allow any employer to pay a person less than the minimum wage just because that person has a disability. They were for specific employers for specific employees for specific jobs. Generally, they are used for people with complex and often intellectual disabilities. It is an fact that those with intellectual disabilities, just be definition of the disability itself, may not be as productive as a person with a different type of disability – such as autism. Autism is NOT an intellectual disability but it is a developmental disability. This issue is one that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities has failed to acknowledge and understand.  (Particularly co-chair Shaun Bickley)

The second thing is that for people working in these job, they tend to work 10 hours or less a week and most often have a job coach to assist them in their job. The job coach may be 1:1 or only check in occasionally – depending on the support needs of the disabled person. The funding for the job coach is typically paid for through the Developmental Disabilities Administration through the counties. Without a job coach, many of these people would not be able to get and maintain employment.

One example of this is the issue of my son. He does work in a supported integrated employment setting within Seattle. He does earn a bit more than the minimum wage and works 9 hours a week with a 1:1 job coach. The vocational vendor agency is paid $2700 per month to provide the job coach for his 9 hours of work a week. If for some reason a job coach is sick or on vacation and they cannot get a sub, my son is not able to go to work that day.

For people like my son, they are not working at these jobs for their sole income and they all tend to live in poverty. They most likely receive SSI which will be reduced from the $750.00 to something less based on their earned income. Due to the earned wages my son makes, his SSI is reduced to $532.00. He then needs to pay rent, utilities, food, household necessities, clothes, healthcare supplies not covered by insurance, and other necessities of daily life out of his SSI and earned wages.

People like my son (who needs to have 1:1 supervision during all waking hours) are generally linked with several agencies, family members, friends (natural supports) a healthcare team, community members and paid support staff to navigate daily life. It is collaborative web that can work very well – until someone tweaks one part without working with the rest of the team and it can then all fall apart.

For instance, my son lives in supported living with 3 other disabled young adults. Luckily, their agency does provide a reliable van for them to use but they need to coordinate transportation based on the residents schedules. They are the ones who transport my son back and forth to work each morning since my son needs 1:1 hand off from his support staff to his job coach – Access bus is not an option – nor is any type of public transportation.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities did little research on this issue and how it impacts the lives of those how work in these jobs. I have asked repeatedly for the research and Mr. Bickley has refused to provide it – but continues to refer to this non-existent research. I did provide the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities with links to a report from the National Council on Disabilities which had clear outlines for a transition from sub-minimum wage to integrated employment and their timeline was from 2-10 years. Not a rapid, sudden elimination of certificates.

I also provided another very useful resource from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation which had very useful discussions and resources on how to encourage and create integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities. Again, this looked at a period of transition and planning for funding to be stable and sustainable for the required job skill building and training of job coaches.

I do not believe that either of these extremely useful and national resources were even discussed at a commission meeting because their decision had been made and any information from a person who did not agree totally with the proposed agenda by Mr. Bickley was not brought to the table.  Mr. Bickley has stated many times that there was unanimous opinions regarding the elimination plan by disabled people and advocates denying the fact that there were many who had a different opinion.
Regarding other states who do not use certificates:

New Hampshire did not have any businesses using the certificates but updated their policies to officially end the practice if they were used. The minimum wage in New Hampshire just $7.25 an hour and disabled people can be paid less if part of an approved work training program.

According to the NH Developmental Services Employment Data Report – the average number of hours worked a week is 11 and the average weekly pay is $92.73. More than 50% of the jobs are 2-9 hours per week.

A case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment of disabled people in Maine done by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management highlighted the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.

Alaska recently banned the subminimum wage. Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the schools’ Disability Rights Law Clinic believes that Alaska will be able to accomplish an integrated work force by giving workers a job coach who goes to work with the person for the first month to help them “learn the ropes.” Evidently this professor does not understand the fact that some people may need the 1:1 support to remain employed – it’s not a “learn the ropes” and then on their merry, independent way.

Maryland has a 4 year phase out of “sheltered workshops” which they hope to have completed by 2020. The plan involves moving people from sheltered workshops to competitive integrated employment. Each individual making less than minimum wage will receive an individual plan for the phase out.

According to the United States Department of Labor “Subminimum wages must be commensurate wage rates – based on the worker’s individual productivity, no matter how limited, in proportion to the wage and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities performing essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work in the geographic area from which the labor force of the community is drawn. ”

The documentary “Bottom Dollars” by Disability Rights Washington and Rooted in Rights states “If people are given the proper services and supports and proper assistive technology, the sky is the limit for many, many individuals.” This I believe to be true but there is a big IF and that included funding needs to provide supports and sustain them. Did the Commission for PwD look at these issues?

Please ask the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  about the research they have done and the transition plan they have developed for our citizens in Seattle.

Seattle Outlaws Subminimum Wage

Council votes to eliminate sub-minimum wage

Seattle bans lower wages

Seattle minimum wage law causes loss of jobs for people with IDD

Last year, the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, decided that Seattle needed to eliminate the special certificates that employers could utilize that would allow them to pay specific employees with specific disabilities a wage less than the minimum wage for specific jobs.  Typically, these jobs are based on productivity.  Many times people with profound intellectual and complex disabilities are not as productive as a non-disabled peer.  This is not an ableist comment but one of fact.  It’s not a matter of just teaching someone a skill but one of providing appropriate supports to enable integration for those who need support.

Then Mayor Ed Murray, stated ““The point of our historic $15 minimum wage law was to build universal equity in Seattle,” said Murray, according to a press release. “A loophole allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers has undermined that goal. We are correcting that error to make good on our promise and our values.” (Seattle Weekly, August 18, 2017.)

It’s unfortunate that this population already is greatly under-employed and also unfortunately, legislating higher pay for less productive work, will only make the unemployment rate for this population higher.  This decision lacked understanding of the support needs and various services utilized by this population, disregarded research done on the national level for well planned and funded transition plans which could provide stable and sustainable employment for people with complex disabilities.

Typically, for jobs under these certificates, the employees work 10 hours or less a week.  Many times there is a job coach involved – anywhere from 1:1 at all times to just checking in “once and awhile”. (The job coach is not paid by the employer but usually through public funds or grants through the Medicaid services or waivers) The wages the employee earns are reported to Social Security Administration and their monthly SSI check is reduced based on a formula and their earned wages.  These people live in poverty.

I contacted the employers and employees in Seattle who were affected by this law.

One employee did have her hours cut from 15 to 12 hours a week.  The employer believed that this employee was only about 75% as productive as her non-disabled peers and it was not fair to the other employees to pay the same rate.  So the employer did raise the wage to minimum wage but reduced her hours.  She is now looking for another job to replace the hours she is missing.  This employee has a job coach who checks in occasionally or when needed but is not on site for her regular hours at work.

Another employer stated that they did raise the wage to the minimum wage but it is a hardship.  This employee works 6 hours a week and has a job coach that is occasionally on site.  The employee’s hours were not cut but the employer did say that they would not be able to hire other employees with complex disabilities due to this new law and therefore it is harmful for the future by limiting options.

I am still in the process of interviewing employers and employees regarding this law and how it has affected them and what they think the future may look like. So far, it appears this law was more harmful than beneficial.

It is often believed that the people who work these jobs are working full time and toiling away for pennies an hour.  This is far from the real situation.  The special certificates allow choice and options for both employees and employers.  They are not intended to be used to hire disabled people in order to pay them less but used to encourage integration and employment of people with complex and intellectual disabilities.

This is social justice gone awry .

 

 

 

 

Sub-minimum wage in Seattle update coming soon

Seattle eliminated the ability of employers to utilize special certificates that could enable some profoundly disabled citizens to be employed.

Some history of this decision can be found in this Seattle Times Article from August, 2017

Shaun Bickley, Seattle Commissioner for People with Disabilities, commented many times that NO ONE would lose their job with the elimination of the sub-minimum wage law.

I have written to the Commission on several occasions asking for their research in addition to providing some well documented national reports with clear guidelines for a transition.  Unfortunately, the Commission was not able to produce any of their research and I never did receive a repose to discuss a transition plan for such a rapid elimination the special certificates.  Below is a comment that I posted to the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities page on October 16, 2017.

 I have written to all Councilpersons regarding my questions about this recommendation and have received a very odd response from Alex Clardy, Legislative Assistant for Councilperson Herbold.

One quote from the letter is ” The PwD Commission received no comment opposing the elimination of the subminimum wage certificates. Some people contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office concerned that people need the subminimum wage to get jobs. Yet, no people with disabilities contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office to say so” This is absolutely not true. There were many letters that were written in opposition to the recommendation.

Also, the letter contained information that had been provided to the council by the commission with statements of “evidence”. There are no references included and I have asked previously to have the sources of the research that was done during the “4 month review of Seattle’s policies and practices.”

I have also provided resources to the commission from the National Council on Disabilities and their quite extensive review of sub-minimum wage certificates and their concerns regarding elimination together with an extended timeline to phase certificates out. This recommendation is extremely different than the approach that the Seattle Commission has recommended.

In addition to the phase out, what planning for funding, transportation, job coaching, job skill building and other services for transition have been planned for this rapid elimination recommended by the Commission?

I provided information regarding integrated work for people with significant intellectual disabilities and provided an excellent resource with specific skill building and individual considerations that need to be addressed in transition plans for young adults. The article from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation entitled” Integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities” is one such article with realistic goals and assessments to take into consideration with regards to supported employment.

Please contact me so that I may review the resources and data that the Commission used in the 4-month study and send an outline of a transition plan covering some of the issues mentioned above”

I am finishing up some interviews with employers, employees, families, caregivers, guardians and will post the information soon.

Commensurate wage information from US Dept. of Labor

 

Magical Thinking

Reading the news today that Alaska has banned sub-minimum wage and the kudos of the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities about this makes me think that these folks have magical or wishful thinking.  The illogicality of these decisions would be amusing if they were not so devastating for people and so consequently, I get very angry rather than laugh.

Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the school’s Disability Rights Law Clinic is quoted as saying “One approach has been to give workers a job coach, who goes to work with them during their first month on the job and helps them learn the ropes.”  I’m curious what will happen to those who need to have 1:1 support in order to be employed – do they just get to work for that one month and then lose their job?

Clearly Dinerstein has no clue about the level of supports that many who do work in sheltered workshop or those who work under a sub-minimum wage certificate need.

I have been at odds with the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities over their recommendation that the sub-minimum wage be banned in Seattle.  I asked several times to see the research that they claimed they did regarding sub-minimum wage and finally I was given their “research” – some reports and a couple of letters – non that were specific to the issues in Seattle.  In fact, the information in the reports was very clear that in undertaking the elimination of sub-minimum wage there needs to be a transition plan in place and the transition needs to take place over several years, maybe 10 or more in some instances.    It is embarrassing as a citizen of this city that such major decisions can be made without evidence based research and opportunities for those affected to provide their input.  What happened to “Person Centered Planning” and “Nothing about us, without us?”  It appears they don’t matter to the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.

There are multiple reports and research with evidence based practices that can help to make a transition from sheltered workshop or sub-minimum wage to supported employment for those who chose this.  This option is not for everyone and can be very expensive and requires collaboration with many involved entities.

New Hampshire seems to be doing quite a bit of research and work to improve supported employment for residents.  There was a comprehensive plan on evidence based supported employment and a new, transparent data collection process.  There are reports issued every 6 months – this is the report for December 2016

NH employment data July 1 2016 through Dec 31 2016

Researchers from George Washington University did a case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment in Maine.  To more fully understand the needed supports and the experiences of those involved, this report is very informative and does highlight the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.

Transitions - Sheltered Workshops

I do not support closure of sheltered workshops nor elimination of sub-minimum wage jobs that are allowed under the 14c certificates.  In addition to providing job support, working in a sheltered workshop can provide much more to the employee to enhance their quality of life and provide meaningful opportunities than many would be able to experience in an integrated supported employment setting.

We need to protect choice and opportunities together with person centered planning.

 

 

 

“Things I Mean to Know” (Sheltered Workshops and Supported Employment)

I was recently listening to the Podcast “This American Life” and was struck by the very question that I keep asking of advocates with regards to intellectual disabilities.   We are told over and over again that “evidence shows” yet have these advocates really looked at the evidence or are they just taking on faith what they have heard and have believed it?

Questions asked are “how do we know it’s true?”, “what is the proof of it?” “how much have you accepted without evidence?”

“Sometimes there’s a thing that you think you know, even though, right in front of you, staring you in the face, is clear evidence to the contrary.”  There are also the issues of denial  and deceit at play when censorship of opinions and experiences are practiced.

The most recent issue with lack of evidence is in the recommendation of the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities (PwD Commission) to immediately eliminate the special certificates for employees with disabilities who would earn a sub-minimum wage.  Supposedly, the commission did 4 months of “intensive research” but they have not been able to provide any documentation of their research other than  opinion pieces, articles that actually oppose rapid elimination of the certificates or outdated research.  (Below this post are links to the documents the PwD Commission provided as their research into the issues of sub-minimum wage).  They have not been able to address the issues I have asked with regards to how this recommendation will affect other aspects of the people’s lives.  Apparently,  from the answer I received, the other aspects are irrelevant in this decision.

I wrote a letter to the Office of Labor Standards with my concerns about the recommendation and then again about the lack of evidence that was provided by the PwD Commission in making this recommendation (  letter to Ms. Bull in Office of Labor Standards regarding sub-minimum wage August 2017, non-evidence letter to K. Bull of OLS – November 2017)

One position paper submitted by APSE was used as evidence.  It is very interesting that in reading this position paper and looking up the citations,  the so-called evidence is not there.   They seem totally unaware of the significant limitations written by the author (Cimera) and only use part of the conclusion as the evidence.   (APSE is the Association of People Supporting Employment First –  Subminimum Wage Research Documents from PwD Commission)

Need to keep the findings in context:

  1. Did employee begin work immediately upon enrollment (tends to occur in sheltered workshops) or was there a long process to being employed (more likely in community employment)?
  2. The number of hours worked in each setting is unknown. Sheltered workshop employees by be “on the job” of physically present for 40 hours a week, there may be hours of down time when the employee is not actually working.  Also, by definition, sheltered workshops are continually staffed (this also helps with supports during “down time”)
  3. Community supported employees may not need (or may need) job coaches on site with them and therefore the costs are not influenced as much by the hours worked. Not knowing how many hours were worked and what percentage of those hours was staffed by a job coach, Given the number of hours worked by the employees and the amount of job support needed is unknown there is no possible way to make a comparison of the cumulative cost to that of a sheltered workshop.
  4. There is the issue of “skimming” – that is that even though the participants in this study were classified as having the same level of disability (“most significant”) there is no assurance that the level of limitations was identical.
  5. Given that it is impossible to quantify every variable that could affect cost-effectiveness, let alone find sets of supported and sheltered employees who have identical abilities, every study that attempts to compared sheltered and supported employees might be comparing apples and oranges” (Cimera, 2007)

My opinion is that both options are needed to best serve our population of people with disabilities and more specifically people with profound disabilities including intellectual disabiltiies.  There are pros and cons to each scenario and it needs to be individualized to the person as to which would be the best option.  This is what PERSON CENTERED PLANNING is about.

This is an issue that is happening all across the nation but there is no actual evidence or reliable research which supports the policies that are making sweeping changes to people’s lives.  When reviewing studies, reports and research, it is extremely important to consider the limitations in that study, the demographics and regional differences and the types of jobs that people are employed in.

Yes, there may be problems with the oversight and management of employement (as can be read about in this article – Segregated and exploited article) under the special certificates but that means we need to correct those problems so the system works as intended.  It does not mean to suddenly change to a different type of program or system that has not been documented to provide any better outcomes for a specific population.  Again, this is where is it critcally important to read through the studies and understand the limitations.  The conclusions mean nothing without understanding the limitations.

My questions to the Seattle Commssion for People with Disabilities regarding the recommendation to make a rapid elimination of the special certificates and the answer I received, indicate to me that this commission does not understand the full impact this recommendation will make in the lives.

My hope is that this commission does invite and pay attention to people with intellectual disabilities and their support circles.  It is critical to involve the people who will be affected by the change.  Remember “Nothing About Us, Without Us” 

 

References:

Akkerman, A., Janssen, C. G., Kef, S., & Meininger, H. P. (2016). Job Satisfaction of People With Intellectual Disabilities in Integrated and Sheltered Employment: An Exploration of the Literature. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 13(3), 205-216. doi:10.1111/jppi.12168
Boyd, J. M., & Davis, C. (2016). When good is no longer good enough: Transitioning to greatness. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 44(3), 279-285. doi:10.3233/jvr-160798
Cimera, R. E. (2007). The Cumulative Cost-Effectiveness of Supported and Sheltered Employees With Mental Retardation. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 32(4), 247-252. doi:10.2511/rpsd.32.4.247
Cimera, R. E. (2010). Supported Employment’s Cost-Efficiency to Taxpayers: 2002 to 2007. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 34(2), 13-20. doi:10.2511/rpsd.34.2.13
Cimera, R. E. (2016). A comparison of the cost-ineffectiveness of supported employment versus sheltered work services by state and demographics of program participants. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 45(3), 281-294. doi:10.3233/jvr-160829
Cimera, R. E., Avellone, L., & Feldman-Sparber, C. (2015). An investigation of the outcomes achieved by individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 43(2), 129-135. doi:10.3233/jvr-150762
Cimera. (n.d.). The percentage of supported employees with significant disabilities who would earn more in sheltered workshops.