Monday, February 27, 2017

New York: The NY Assembly Minority Task Force Report on Developmental Disabilities

The New York state Assembly, the lower house of the New York Legislature, is dominated by a 62 vote supermajority of Democrats. The Assembly Minority (Republican) Task Force on Protecting the Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities has recently issued a report based on the testimony of parents, people with disabilities, advocates, service providers and other interested parties on services for people with developmental disabilities in New York state. Forums were held at eleven sites throughout the state, attracting crowds of 25 to 85 people who came to have their say on problems they had experienced with the service system for people with DD.

The task force heard a diversity of opinions representing people with varying degrees of disability and need for services. The name of the report is C.A.R.E.S. (Championing Aid, Rights, Equality, and Services: a Report on the Olmstead Decision & Its Impact on the State’s Developmental Disability Community). A number of complaints centered on the state’s misinterpretation of the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision. Many families and advocates for choice have been criticizing the use of Olmstead as a weapon to close programs and services that are considered “too institutional” by some, but are nevertheless highly valued and needed by a significant portion of the DD population and their families. The C.A.R.E.S. report addresses this issue at both the state and the federal level and calls for the state to revaluate its interpretation.

The recommendations that come out of the report are a logical and compassionate response to the problems that are heard again and again in many areas of the country: preserve, restore, and expand the services that people with DD want and need, compensate service providers with the funds they need to provide the best possible services, pay direct care workers enough to maintain a high quality and sustainable work force, and protect the rights of all people with DD to appropriate levels of service based on their needs and preferences.

I question why these recommendations come only from the minority in the legislature and why they are not at least bipartisan, if not universally supported by legislators who have surely heard from some of their constituents about the growing problems within the DD system of services. 


The following is the Executive Summary from the C.A.R.E.S. report: 


The Assembly Minority Task Force on Protecting the Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities was formed in response to numerous calls and complaints from constituents to members of the Assembly Minority Conference concerning the announcement by the governor that sheltered workshops would be closed in order to bring New York State into compliance with the federal Department of Justice’s interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision. The term sheltered workshop refers to an organization or environment (typically a business) that employs people with disabilities in a “sheltered” environment. The overarching decision required states to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. However, people have argued, there were several factors to the requirement of moving individuals to community settings that state governments, including New York, have overlooked. With this in mind, the Assembly Minority Conference conducted a series of statewide hearings to gather information from parents, service providers and individuals with developmental disabilities to determine if there are policy changes that can be made or new laws that can be enacted to help provide for people with developmental disabilities in the most caring and cost-effective manner possible.

Among those with firsthand experience, the belief that there has been a misinterpretation of the Olmstead Decision has caused a ripple effect throughout the developmental disability community as it pertains to the integration of employment and how individuals will find and get to employment outside of sheltered workshops. To meet the state’s requirements, sheltered workshops have changed their business models to incorporate non-disabled individuals into the workforce. This change has raised questions as to what happens to individuals in the developmental disability community who worked in these former sheltered workshops who can no longer perform their jobs in these facilities.

The deinstitutionalization requirements of the Olmstead Decision also impact housing for the developmental disability community. While many individuals live with their families, parents are concerned with what will happen to their children when they can no longer care for them or they should die. While New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) conducted a survey of individuals who contacted the agency with concerns about housing for their family members, their findings do not seem to help those who are actually looking for housing. A prominent finding in the “Residential Request List” (RRL) report by OPWDD concludes that there is enough housing for the 11,000 who want housing statewide, but this may not benefit each individual locally.

Numerous issues were raised during the Task Force’s forums. This report outlines some of the major problems that the developmental disability community is dealing with, including jobs and housing; services for families; and salaries and compensation for those who work with individuals with disabilities.


This is a summary of the recommendations of the Minority Task Force from the Website of Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, Chairman of the task force:
  • Requiring the Attorney General to reevaluate the state’s interpretation of the Olmstead Decision. 
  • Working with the federal government to prevent the state from losing funding as a result of the interpretation of the Olmstead Decision. 
  • Create post-schooling training programs for individuals with developmental disabilities to better prepare them for employment. 
  • Create incentives for sheltered workshops to hire individuals without developmental disabilities. 
  • Create a Bill of Rights for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities to outline in statute their rights. 
  • Fully fund the increase in minimum wage for direct care workers employed by non-profit providers. 
  • Create a commission to study and report on what wage levels would need to be in order to recruit and retain an adequate number of qualified direct care workers in the various regions of the state, with a special focus on making sure that staffing levels are adequate for the transition to integrated employment. 
Crouch noted that New York State’s minimum wage is set to increase to $15 an hour in most parts of the state by 2021. The task force was concerned about the repercussions this could have on the developmental disability community’s direct care workforce.

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