As the Legislature takes up Governor Baker’s budget for the coming fiscal year, it looks as though the battle over sheltered workshops for the developmentally disabled in Massachusetts is set to begin once again.
Supporters of these vital programs won a reprieve last year when the Legislature inserted protective language for the workshops in the current-year budget. The language prohibits the Department of Developmental Services from closing or cutting off funding for sheltered workshops as long as there are people who seek them or wish to remain in them.
The budget language temporarily thwarted the efforts of then Governor Patrick to close all remaining sheltered workshops in the state as of this coming June. But the protective language has been removed from Governor Baker’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016.
It appears that despite the fact that we have a new governor, it is the same DDS with the same administrators running it; and they will never back away from their ideological opposition to any program that serves more than a handful of disabled individuals in one location.
Sheltered workshops provide settings in which developmentally disabled people can do assembly jobs and other types of work. In the view of the now Baker administration, such settings of care “segregate” developmentally disabled people from their non-disabled peers, and supposedly prevent them from reaching their potential in the mainstream workforce.
Last spring, after a lobbying campaign by advocates of the workshops, language was inserted into the current-year budget, stating that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.” The protective language survived a House-Senate conference committee in June, largely due to the support of House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey.
But Governor Baker’s budget has not only removed that language protecting the workshops, the budget proposes a $4 million increase in a separate DDS account to move people from sheltered workshops into DDS day programs, many of which do not provide work-related activities.
We support the continued operation of sheltered workshops for reasons given in an email sent to Dempsey last May by Richard Urban, who is a guardian of his brother Tom. In December 2013, DDS closed Tom’s sheltered workshop where he had been employed for most of his adult life. Richard noted that Tom’s “work ethic and paycheck (from his sheltered workshop program) were two constants that allowed him a place on a playing field of equality with his peers, family and friends.”
Since his “forced exit from his workshop,” Richard said, Tom “has grown distant, is very confused, and expresses continued sadness over his job loss. His identity, and work community, have been lost, through no fault of his own but by virtue of a policy shift for which I am at a complete loss to understand.”
We’re at a loss to understand it as well.