For the past three years, the state has been carrying out a policy of closing sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities and subsequently placing those people in mainstream workforce jobs.
Yet the Legislature, which bought into this policy, is failing to provide the necessary funding for it.
As the Department of Developmental Services and its corporate service providers jointly proclaimed in 2013, the policy has been to move developmentally disabled people out of sheltered workshops and into community-based day programs and ultimately to the mainstream workforce.
Sheltered workshops are settings in which developmentally disabled people work together on simple assembly-line tasks and are usually paid a small wage. The workshops have gone out of favor because they are viewed as “segregating” their participants from their non-disabled peers in the community.
Since 2013, the majority of the remaining sheltered workshops in Massachusetts have reportedly been closed. All are scheduled to be closed as of June 30 of this year.
But the problem is that the Legislature, and to some extent the administration itself, aren’t following through on the policy, which calls for beefing up funding for DDS day programs and job development staffing. Last week, the Senate joined the House in rejecting higher funding levels considered by the policy planners to be needed by both day programs and employment programs for Fiscal Year 2017.
The irony is that the Democratic-run House and Senate have proposed even less funding for these line items for Fiscal ’17 than Republican Governor Baker has.
A likely result of this apparent under-funding is that relatively few people will be placed in mainstream jobs, but rather will be sent to potentially overcrowded day programs with inadequate staffing.
Day and employment accounts were initially increased, but will now be under-funded or cut
In order to accomplish the policy for “integrated employment” of the developmentally disabled, the Legislature initially increased funding of the community-based day program line item in the state budget, and created a new line item to fund the transfers from the sheltered workshops. The idea was to increase both day program and job development staffing and training.
The new sheltered workshop transfer budget line item (4920-2026) was initially funded in Fiscal ’15 with $1 million. That amount was raised to $3 million in the current fiscal year, and the governor proposed to boost it to $7.6 million in Fiscal ’17. But the House and now the Senate are not going with the governor’s plan.
As the House did last month, the Senate last week approved a budget plan for Fiscal ’17 that will eliminate Governor Baker’s proposed $4.6 funding increase for the sheltered workshop transfer line item. Amendments proposed in both the House and Senate to restore the governor’s increase for the line item were rejected by the House and Senate leadership. As a result, the account will be level-funded next year, which amounts to a cut when adjusted for inflation.
Yet, even the governor’s proposed $4.6 million increase in this line item was $1 million too low, according to the Massachusetts Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP). The ADDP lobbies on behalf of corporate DDS providers, which operate day and work programs throughout the state.
In addition, the Senate budget approved last week would provide $700,000 less in spending for the community day and work line item (5920-2025) than the amount the House and the governor proposed. The governor and the House proposed a 4.9 percent increase in that account for Fiscal ’17.
In an email sent to members in early May, the ADDP contended that even the 4.9 percent increase in the day and work line item was $9.8 million less than the what was needed to maintain existing services. As a result, according to the ADDP, DDS was already planning to cut 5 percent in funding for contracts with all day and employment providers.
Should the Senate’s budget plan prevail regarding the day and work line item, it would seem the cut in contract funding for day and employment providers would have to be even deeper than 5 percent.
ADDP urged higher funding and staffing for day care and employment programs
Both the ADDP and the Arc of Massachusetts have become virtual partners with DDS in the operation of the department. The Arc and the ADDP co-authored a report with DDS in 2013 that called for the closures of the sheltered workshops as of June 2015. While that goal wasn’t met, DDS is continuing to work for those closures as of this June of this year.
In comments submitted to EOHHS Secretary Marylou Sudders late last year, the ADDP maintained that funding for both the community day and work line item and sheltered workshops transfer line items needed to be boosted significantly in order to fulfill the plans to close the workshops and transfer clients to mainstream jobs. A failure to boost that funding could put the state in violation of requirements issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), according to the ADDP.
The ADDP comments also noted that as of October 2015, the number of individuals receiving community based day services more than doubled from 2,656 individuals as of June 2013, to 5,422. While noting that this increase was directly related to the closures of the sheltered workshops, the ADDP stated that the majority of those persons were not receiving any other DDS-funded employment services.
The ADDP comments also pointed out that DDS day programs require significantly higher levels of staffing than the sheltered workshops did.
As we pointed out in a blog post in January, DDS records show that the number of participants in sheltered workshops dropped by 61 percent between August 2014 and August 2015, and the number of persons in corporate-run community-based day programs increased by 27 percent. Yet, the number of developmentally disabled people in “integrated employment” settings rose during that same period by only about 6 percent.
It appears that the only policy the Legislature and the administration have pursued with a real level of commitment has been closing the sheltered workshops. But that’s only half the plan. The problem with the Legislature, in particular, is that while it bought into the first half of the plan, it now has seemingly abandoned the critically important second half.
Thousands of people have or will be removed from their sheltered workshops, and the Legislature appears to be leaving an unknown number of them in the lurch.