Commuters during the morning, noon and night Wednesday will see a rally in Portage in front of Northwoods Inc. of Wisconsin. The My Work My Choice Rally is an effort to bring awareness to a proposed federal rule that would shift funding away from facilities, like Northwoods, that offer job skills training and employment for adults with disabilities.
The proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would halt Medicaid dollars from going to such programs, based on the argument that they discriminate against the disabled population in a segregated work environment.
"They're saying we're segregated, we don't feel we are, we're part of the community and it's a training place. I like to equate it to when people without disabilities graduate high school: they go on to a training program or college before they start their life's work," said Jeff Aerts. "Northwoods provides specialized training for adults that come out of the special education system and need to have opportunities to learn how to work in a competitive job. There are a lot of people that have been put in competitive employment because of us."
Aerts is the CEO and president of Northwoods, a non-profit facility.
The rally will be in front of Northwoods at N6510 Highway 51 at intervals from 8:30 to 10 a.m.; 11:30 to 12:30 p.m.; and 4 to 5:30 p.m. Free hot chocolate, coffee and cookies will be on site for people who stop at the rally and sign on to a group letter opposing the change. In case of cold weather there will be a canopy and heaters. There is also an "advocacy" tab on Northwoods website for the public to download a letter and send it. Rep. Keith Ripp will be in attendance at about noon, and staffer Camille Solberg will stand in for Sen. Ron Johnson at about 4 p.m.
Lisa Pugh, public policy coordinator for Disability Rights Wisconsin, is one of the groups in favor of the proposal. The office is based in Madison.
"Currently, our system supports an employment model that destines a person with a disability to a life of poverty and an on-going support significantly on Medicaid dollars. This rule says we want states to invest money in a different type of employment support that will allow them to be out in the community, in a more natural setting with people without disabilities because we think it's healthier for the people and an opportunity to earn a wage to reduce reliance on public funding," Pugh said. "The rule is literally about wanting people with disabilities to be in more integrated settings. But, what we're saying is that when people can earn a competitive wage in a community-based job they can use that money in the community, pay taxes, contribute to society in a number of ways and reduce reliance on Medicaid."
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