ESSAY: Workshops provide vital service

The following essay can be found on

By Chris Collins 
Posted Nov. 26, 2013 @ 2:01 am
Nov 26, 2013 at 1:11 PM 

Canandaigua, N.Y.

I write with deep concern over the directive released earlier this year from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to New York State regarding health system transformation for individuals with developmental disabilities. The section involving supported employment services and competitive employment for persons with disabilities has significantly affected those who benefit from sheltered workshops in Western New York.
As you may be aware, since July 1, CMS has not allowed New York State to permit new admissions to sheltered workshops, facilities that employ disabled persons and provide them a sense of community and means of socialization. On Oct. 1, New York State submitted to CMS its mandated draft plan regarding transition to competitive employment, and will submit its final plan by Jan. 1.
The Obama Administration's directive to phase out sheltered workshops across the country is not in the best interest of the disabled. The directive is not only unrealistic but destructive to the disabled community, which relies heavily on these programs for employment. CMS's regulations will remove jobs for 8,000 persons in New York State with disabilities, many of whom love their current position and find value in their work alongside individuals with and without disabilities.
The federal government is not in a position to direct all disabled people to join competitive employment. Ultimately, the choice to stay in a workshop should be an employment option for the disabled who are not yet ready to make their transition to a competitive environment. Parents and providers are concerned about finding jobs in this tough economy, especially when non-disabled unemployment rates remain high and stagnant.
As I understand, CMS bases its rationale on the 1999 Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. LC., which provides for the treatment of the disabled in relation to institutionalization. In the majority opinion, Justice Ginsberg states: "Such action (placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions) is in order when the state's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the state and the needs of others with mental disabilities."
While the intention of integrating disabled persons into competitive work is admirable, many disabled persons do not wish for the elimination of sheltered workshops. My office has been overwhelmed with letters from disabled persons and those who care for them regarding the importance of these workshops, which already serve as transitional and vocational training centers.
Facilities in Western New York have transitioned thousands of employees from workshops into competitive employment, but only when the workers themselves are ready to move on. CMS is demanding in its directive that aU disabled workers, even those comfortable in their current employment, be thrown into a competitive environment with non-disabled workers against their will.
I urge the administration to reconsider this directive to New York State, which has a proud history of aiding the disabled and disadvantaged and does not need further direction from the federal government to continue providing care and transitional services.
Chris Collins, R-Clarence, represents the House of Representatives’ 27th District, which includes about half of Ontario County.

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