A Portage group is concerned funding could be cut from a program providing job training for those with disabilities.
Northwoods, Inc. both employs its clients and helps place them with jobs. The program, started in 1972, helps more than 300 individuals each year.
Many participants work at the group's bakery or assembling and packaging products from magnetic name badges to truck parts for local companies. Job coaches also accompany many clients to other employment in the community and help them settle in. Northwoods staff fear a pending change to Medicaid rules at the federal level could limit funding for the training.
"We're training people what it means to work fast enough, what it means to do quality work, what it means to work with a supervisor," says Northwoods, Inc. President and CEO Jeff Aerts.
Aerts says the group is paid by local companies for their work, but relies on the state and federal governments to provide much of the funding for training. Northwoods is currently paid hourly for the programs.
Several state legislators are writing to leaders in Washington, D.C. advocating for a change that would keep current funding in place.
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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There is bi-partisan support for modifications to the proposed Home and Community-Based Settings regulation.
Download and read the letters from Sean P. Duffy to Kathleen Sebelius, as well as the letter to Congressman Mark Pocan from members of the Wisconsin Legislature.
Letter to Mark Pocan (PDF)
Proposed federal restrictions on programs that provide jobs and housing for people with disabilities would cost many of them their jobs, warns the president and CEO of Riverfront Inc. in La Crosse.
The proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would bar Medicaid dollars from going to such programs, based on the argument that they discriminate against the disabled.
“The federal government is dictating a one-size-fits-all approach for people with disabilities,” Mary Kessens said during an interview Wednesday.
I write you today to introduce myself. I was recently named President and CEO of Riverfront, a remarkable organization that creates opportunity for so many adults with special needs. One of my priorities is reaching out to community leaders for an ongoing conversation about creating more of those opportunities.
The successes Riverfront has enjoyed this year are propelling us to redouble our efforts in a number of key areas, one of which is exploring innovative partnerships with local companies. We are always eager to hear about emerging needs that could be fulfilled by a little ingenuity, some training, and a lot of willing hands.
How a Nonprofit Organization Moved From Disaster to Recovery in a Matter of Days, with a Little Help from their Friends.
On Friday, in the early hours before dawn, Reach, Inc., an organization that is a member of RFW in Action lost its building in a fire.
By that evening, in addition to offers of assistance from the local community, other members of the association began pledging help, with one (Chippewa River Industries) offering a program location for some of the individuals with disabilities; another (Eisenhower Center) offering tables, chairs, and cash; and a third (Opportunity Center) offering 15 computers, a server, and IT support for their installation.
Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a report on the ‘ADA Generation’—the young men and women who have come of age since the Americans With Disabilities Act was enacted—that offers bold steps to improve the employment of these young Americans as they seek competitive employment. Chairman Harkin was the Senate author of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 23 years ago, helped grant the promise of equality to Americans with disabilities. But today, more work remains to be done to knock down one of the last remaining barriers—the gap in workforce participation that exists for millions of young adults,” Harkin said. “A ripe opportunity exists for Congress, the federal government, and the business community to work hand-in-hand to make competitive, integrated employment the first choice for individuals with disabilities. The goals of equality of opportunity, full participation in American society, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are the birthright of this young generation, and we must work together to ensure this promise is met.”
Chairman Harkin’s report identifies four key areas of opportunity to improve support for members of the ADA generation as they seek competitive employment. These areas are:
- Increasing support for high school students as they plan for their transition into the workforce
- Improving the transition of the ADA generation as they enter postsecondary education and the labor market
- Changing the assumptions in disability benefit programs that discourage young people with disabilities from working
- Leveraging employer demand, correcting misconceptions about employing people with disabilities, building strong pipelines from school to the competitive workforce, and establishing supportive workplaces.
Harkin also sets a high—but achievable—benchmark for increasing the workforce participation of young people with disabilities, to 250,000 by 2015. In 2011, Harkin worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to establish a goal of increasing the workforce participation of people with disabilities by more than 20 percent, from 4.9 million workers to six million workers by 2015. To accomplish these goals, Harkin reiterates that that the public and private sectors must work together to provide young adults of the ‘ADA Generation’ with quality work and internship experiences while they are still in school.
Harkin also calls for enactment of several key pieces of legislation—including a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act¬ (WIA)—to create opportunities and incentives for young people with disabilities to work. The HELP Committee recently passed by a bipartisan vote of 18-3 a WIA bill that reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act, including vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs. Harkin worked on a bipartisan basis to make improvements to the Rehabilitation Act—Title V of WIA—aimed at making sure that young people with disabilities have increased preparation and opportunities for competitive, integrated employment. The bill requires state VR agencies, in conjunction with local educational agencies, to make “pre-employment transition services” available to students with disabilities.
The bill will also require individuals under the age of 24 with a significant disability to make a serious attempt at competitive, integrated employment—including getting pre-employment transition services and utilizing VR services—before he or she can consider working at a sheltered employment setting. For individuals who are currently in sheltered employment settings, the bill will increase opportunities to move into competitive, integrated employment by requiring ongoing career counseling, information, and referrals about programs that offer employment-related services and supports. Updates to the bill also focus on creating better alignment of government programs at the national level that are focused on employment and independent living for people with disabilities.
Chippewa River Industries is poised to expand at 1000 Lake Wissota Drive, including building a 20,000 square foot warehouse on its Chippewa Falls property.
But David Lemanski, the president and CEO of the non-profit agency, said CRI would be hurt financially if a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid proposal is adopted nationally.
“We would probably see close to a 40 to 50 percent reduction in revenues. This is an industry-ending federal policy,” Lemanski said on Tuesday.