Thursday, June 17, 2021

Michigan businesses and organizations that hold special subminimum wage certificates for people with disabilities

Section 14(c) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows the issuance of special wage certificates to employers of disabled workers who are unable to work successfully in competitive work settings for competitive wages. The special subminimum wage certificates have been used especially for vocational centers that serve people with severe disabilities who would otherwise not be employed. Vocational work centers often offer additional social services and specialized care for people with severe medical or behavioral problems. 

There are other resources available through state vocational rehabilitation departments to assist with opportunities for competitive employment. No one can legally be forced to work in a vocational work center. 

14(c) Certificate Holders in Michigan

From the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division

“The following employers hold or have applied for certificates issued under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The certificates authorize employers to pay subminimum wages to workers with disabilities that impair their productivity for the work they perform. This list is current as of April 1, 2021.

“The list contains the following information: certificate type, employer name, employer address, whether the application for the certificate was an initial or renewal application, whether the employer indicated it held government contracts covered by either the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA) or the McNamara O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) at the time of application, and the number of workers with disabilities who were paid subminimum wages by the certificate holder during their most recently completed fiscal quarter. This data is based solely on information provided on the employer's certificate application. The list also includes the status of the certificate and certificate starting and ending dates.

“For certificates in 'pending' status, some columns are blank. All data is displayed for issued certificates.”

To find Michigan holders of 14(c) wage certificates, go to the spread sheet on the website that lists employers. Click on the column for "state". This will show states listed in alphabetical order with detailed information about employers using the special wage certificates.

There are 1,704 subminimum wage certificates in Michigan issued by the US Department of Labor. 13 businesses have wage certificates “pending”. If Congress eliminates these subminimum wage certificates, many these employees will either lose employment opportunies currently offered or they will be shifted to other programs, such as day programs, if they are unable to unwilling to participate in competitive employment. In the "Raise the Wage Act of 2021" there are no requirements for states to track what happens to these workers or to examine the fate of many workers who have been moved out of work center programs. There is an assumption in the proposed legislation that competitive employment works for everyone and when it doesn't, the federal government is not interested in hearing about it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Myths and Facts about Vocational Work Centers

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, a move supported by a majority of Americans. However, the bill would also lead to the elimination of work opportunities for thousands of severely disabled workers. By eliminating the use of sub-minimum wage certificates authorized by section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, businesses that operate work centers that make special accommodations for severely disabled workers would very likely be unable to continue operating. 

Here are the Myths and Facts about work centers from VOR (a Voice Of Reason), a national nonprofit organization advocating for a full range of employment, service, and residential options to meet the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).



MYTH: People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families are dissatisfied with vocational work centers.
FACT: Vocational work centers (also known as sheltered workshops) are valued for the services they provide to people with I/DD who are unable to adapt to competitive employment. When these centers are threatened with closure, employees with I/DD and their families are the most fervent advocates for keeping them open.

MYTH: Vocational work centers are isolating environments.
FACT: These work centers are part of the greater community. Those who choose jobs at work centers develop a sense of accomplishment and self-worth because of work completed. Far from being isolating, they offer people a sense of camaraderie and a chance to interact with their peers.

MYTH: Vocational work centers are the only choice for work for people with intellectual disabilities.
FACT: There are many resources available through state vocational rehabilitation departments to assist with opportunities for competitive employment. No one can legally be forced to work in a vocational work center. 

MYTH: Work centers do not provide opportunities to transition to competitive employment in the community.
FACT: For those who can develop skills to work in competitive employment, work centers provide opportunities to learn skills necessary to be successful such as being on time, working with others, and completing assigned tasks.

MYTH: All people, no matter the nature of their disability, can find competitive employment.
FACT: Some individuals have more difficulty adapting to competitive employment. Vocational centers provide opportunities for work while providing more specialized supports such as personal hygiene care, preventing and attending to seizures, or helping with behavioral issues and developing social skills.

MYTH: Work centers do not provide for meaningful jobs.
FACT: Examples of work opportunities include: manufacturing, item assembly, recycling, packaging, repair, and machine operating.   

MYTH: Oversight of vocational work centers is lax.
FACT: According to the Department of Labor: “All subminimum wages must be reviewed and adjusted, if appropriate, at periodic intervals. At a minimum, the productivity of hourly paid workers must be reevaluated every six months and a new prevailing wage survey must be conducted at least every twelve months.”

MYTH: Vocational work centers violate the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision.
FACT: The 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision supports CHOICE. Closing these centers contradicts the opinion expressed by the majority of Justices in Olmstead by eliminating a desired, chosen and helpful employment option. 

MYTH: Eliminating 14(c) certificates of the Fair Labor Standards Act will increase employment rates of all individuals with disabilities.
FACT: 14(c) wage certificates of the Fair Labor and Standards Act allow employers to afford to provide the specialized services needed by people with I/DD who are not able to adapt to competitive employment. Eliminating these wage certificates will force the closure of vocational work centers, eliminating jobs with no replacement in
competitive employment.


See also:

VOR opposes part of the Raise the Wage Act 

Biden's Opening Disability Gambit would eliminate crucial programs for the severely disabled from the National Council on Severe Autism

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

VOR opposes part of the Raise the Wage Act that would eliminate work opportunities for the most severely disabled

Legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour was initially part of The American Rescue Plan, a huge piece of legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021. It was removed before the bill was voted on, but proposals to raise the federal minimum wage continue as stand-alone bills in Congress. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 has the most support at the moment, and will likely come up for consideration in the future.

Although raising the federal minimum wage is supported by a majority of Americans, the Raise the Wage Act includes a proposal that would adversely affect thousands of  people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), especially those who are unable to work in integrated work settings for competitive wages. Part of the proposed legislation would phase out and then eliminate work programs that make accommodations for people with the most severe behavioral and intellectual disabilities. 

One of those accommodations is the use of special wage certificates that allow employers to pay less than minimum wage to people unable to successfully compete with other workers in competitive work settings. These work programs (formerly called sheltered workshops) are voluntary on the part of the disabled employees. They usually provide other social services along with supervised work opportunities. Many of the participants receive support from other government programs and do not rely solely on their employment for basic living expenses. Programs that help disabled employees include SSI (Supplemental Security Income), Medicaid health insurance, and home and community based services to meet the extensive needs of this population. Other employees live in federally regulated Medicaid-funded Intermediate Care Facilities for people with intellectual disabilities. The proposed legislation will result in fewer employment opportunities for these workers, not more. Most will lose programs in settings appropriate to their needs.

The following is a message to Congress from VOR (a Voice Of Reason) warning of the consequences of eliminating special wage certificates and reducing opportunities for work by people with I/DD.


Please Oppose Elimination of the Section 14(c) Subminimum Wage Certificate Program that Provides for Vocational Work Centers for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

VOR is a grassroots advocacy organization comprising mostly families of individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), often complicated by significant medical, psychological, and/or behavioral conditions. Just as your neighbors and friends vary in ability, so do people in the disability community. The only difference is that the variance is far greater, with some older individuals with I/DD functioning at the level of young children. VOR has advocated for nearly 40 years for Congress and the public to recognize these differences and make sure these individual needs are not ignored in the push by other advocacy groups for everyone with I/DD “to live a life like yours in the community.” Our approach has been to advocate for a full range of residential options to meet the needs of individuals instead of the one-size-fits all approach. Consistent with this view, we support maintaining a full range of employment options for the I/DD community, making sure these opportunities provide for those who can succeed in competitive integrated employment as well those who cannot.

The American Rescue Plan, H.R. 603 and S. 53, include provisions to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers, including all individuals with I/DD. This legislation would phase out the section14(c) program authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The unintended consequence of such a broad provision would be to completely eliminate employment opportunities for thousands of the nation’s most disabled individuals.

What are specialized wage certificates and why is it important to retain them? Section 14(c) [of the Fair Labor Standards Act] authorizes the issuance of these certificates that permit employers to pay individuals with I/DD lower than the federal minimum wage when their level of productivity is so low as to make them noncompetitive in the general workforce. It requires employers to make special accommodations for their intellectual, physical, behavioral, and mental illness challenges, giving thousands of individuals with I/DD the opportunity to work in a specialized environment that nurtures them and fits their abilities.

They earn wages that are appropriate to their level of productivity and their capacity to work. Without 14(c) certificates, they would lose any opportunity to work. 

What is the argument for eliminating the program? Support for eliminating this program rests on the false premise that this is a civil rights issue, i.e., that all individuals, including those with I/DD, can perform work tasks at a level that warrants the minimum wage, and so should be paid accordingly. This is simply not true, and were this notion to be incorporated into legislation, it would result in many individuals with severe I/DD disabilities losing, not gaining, work opportunities. Surely, that is not the goal of this provision.

Who are the individuals who benefit from the 14(c) program, what do they do, and how does it enrich their lives? Employment usually takes place at facility-based work centers, formerly called “sheltered workshops”. These vocational centers provide a specialized environment adapted to individuals with I/DD who desire to work, but may have frequent seizures, act out physically, even violently, when stressed, or need help toileting or having their adult diapers changed.

At the centers, workers crush cans, fold letters for mailing, stuff envelopes, fill soda bottles and cough drop boxes, pack and label items, and perform many small-piece assembly tasks. Each of these employees has a job coach (direct support professional). Sometimes they work alone and sometimes they perform these tasks with assistance. If the work centers had to pay them minimum wage, they would have to close, leaving the workers unemployed.

These centers provide more than employment. They also afford workers opportunities to build self-esteem, develop friendships, and engage in their communities. People who work at these centers do so without fear of being fired, or of having to live up to competitive standards of productivity in order to show their worth. Earned wages, though appreciated, are not the substantive reward for these individuals. 

Congress should expand, not decrease, employment opportunities for all people with I/DD. This is not a binary, either/or, situation. Congress can help those who can perform in a competitive environment without depriving those who are less able from the opportunity to work. VOR supports paying minimum wage to people with I/DD who are able to work in the competitive workplace.

However, ignoring the reality of different degrees of disability would result in thousands losing their jobs. This must not be the outcome. The answer is simple – pay minimum wage to people with I/DD who can, with reasonable accommodations, perform at a competitive productivity level and continue the
section 14(c) program for those who cannot.

Retaining specialized wage certificates under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and supporting work centers will help persons with severe intellectual, behavioral, and medical challenges continue to find success in productive work, earn a wage, build self-confidence, make friends, and participate in their communities.

Read more: 

"An Existential Threat against the Significantly Disabled:
Phase-Out of Vocational Centers (Sheltered Workshops)", by Harris Capps, November 2019

"Subminimum Wage: Exploitation or Lifesaving?"

Friday, May 28, 2021

Message from VOR to Congress: "Build Back Better", but don't ignore the needs of our family members with the most severe intellectual and developmental disabilities

VOR (a Voice Of Reason) held its annual Legislative Initiative last week, not in-person in Washington, D.C. as it is usually done, but virtually with Zoom meetings, emails, and good old-fashioned telephone calls. The message was clear and easy to understand: the ideology that "everyone does better in the community" is not universally supported within the disability community and it is not the reality that VOR families experience when programs and residential options are undermined or eliminated in the name of integration and inclusion.

The following is from the VOR Weekly News Update for May 21, 2021.


Why Do Good For Some? Why Not Everyone?

VOR's Legislative Initiative has been in full swing over the last week, and our meetings with people in congressional offices are likely to continue through next week and beyond. One theme that has come up over and over has been the idea that the Administration and members of Congress plan to make major changes, many would say long overdue changes, to the system that deals with services, supports, and employment opportunities for people with I/DD, and that we don't want our loved ones, and our choices for their care, to be swept aside in this effort to do good things.

We worry that the effort to rebuild the system is aimed at only supporting one ideology, the "everybody does better in the community" ideal, or the notion that HCBS [Home and Community-Based Services] services provide a level of care equal to that of Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs). We know, from our own experience, that neither of these statements are true.

[ICFs/IID or Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities are federally-licensed and Medicaid-funded residential facilities, some as small as 4-bed group homes up to much larger settings. They serve people with the most severe degrees of I/DD and autism, and their families and guardians. These residential facilities offer a full range of services and 24-hour-around-the-clock support to meet the residents considerable needs.]

So we ask that our choices be supported in this effort to do good. The Biden Administration speaks about building back better. We'd like to take it one step further: Let's Build It Right, this time. Stop pitting the interests of one group of people with I/DD against the interests of another. Stop talking about a non-existent "institutional bias" while you are closing institutions and increasing funding for HCBS.

We support the idea of taking people off of waiting lists. But give them CHOICE. Support all options, and give people the opportunity to use whichever option best suits their needs, at this point in their lives. And if and when their needs change, let them then choose an appropriate option to meet their needs at that point in their lives. Just like our society does with non-disabled individuals.

The first two articles in this week's newsletter exemplify what we encounter daily. The Biden Administration, through the American Rescue Plan as passed by Congress, is giving states flexibility to expand disability services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the money is only supposed to go to HCBS services. People in ICFs got COVID, too. The staff of ICFs got COVID, too. Why is the Federal Government only giving extra money to the recipients of HCBS services and their staff?

Again, we see that 500 CEO's have committed to programs that advance inclusion for people with disabilities. That is certainly laudable. But why are people still trying to shut down opportunities that people with I/DD currently enjoy, and thrive under, that do not fit the criteria of "integrated employment"?

Why are there no companies trying to create opportunities for people who have skills and the desire to work, but who are, for one reason or another, not candidates for succeeding in a competitive, integrated environment?

We ask that all people be included in the solutions, and that all options be funded. If there is going to be a $400 Billion increase in spending on disability services, shouldn't it be spent on the people who receive the services, and not divided according to the different ideologies or separate funding streams that have turned our systems into a them vs us system?

Let's build it right this time. Let's provide funds to meet the needs and aspirations of all individuals with I/DD, and let's make sure we fund all of the options that meet the needs of this diverse community.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Service provider's plea to Michigan to maintain increased wages for direct care workers

Bridge Magazine,"Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source", published an opinion piece by Darren Hodgdon, the CEO of Beacon Specialized Living, a care provider serving individuals with disabilities and mental health needs at over 80 locations across Michigan. 

 The article, "Michigan must keep the wage supplement for direct care workers", 4/27/21, urges the State to make permanent a temporary supplemental wage increase of $2.25/hour for direct care workers who work with people with disabilities, mental illness, the elderly, and others with disabilities.  Covid has exacerbated a problem that already existed:

"While the $2.25 supplemental wage increase currently allows providers such as Beacon to offer a starting wage of $12.50, this is still below what other states are funding and it is only temporary – set to expire again at the end of September. Mental health providers statewide are calling for permanent enactment of the wage increase on an ongoing basis per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Budget Recommendation. We also need a clear return to work policy and funding support to help cover the costly weekly testing of employees who may refuse vaccination.

"There are high costs associated with not providing adequate access to specialized mental health services, including detriments to quality of life, uncompensated emergency care, lack of medication compliance and increased hospitalizations. This permanent funding is a vital step to ensuring sustainability and retaining caregivers as they shoulder the critical, but challenging, work of caring for one of Michigan’s most vulnerable populations."

As the economy heats up, as it is expected to do, better paying and easier jobs will become available. There is good reason to believe that many direct care workers, even those who love their jobs and are dedicated to helping people with disabilities, will join the exodus of workers from this difficult and unappreciated profession.  

Hodgdon continues,

"Our citizens and communities simply cannot afford the ramifications of letting this additional pay disappear. It would also recognize the awe-inspiring and critical work these caregivers provide to Michiganders with severe mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic disease, or substance abuse disorders who rely on this care."

Monday, May 3, 2021

Misuse of CDC data on vaccine side-effects fuels unjustified fears of COVID vaccination

Some resistance to getting the COVID vaccine is driven by terrifying, but mostly deceptive and inaccurate rumors, spread on social media.

First, the good news: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been relatively problem free aside from some temporary side effects that many people experience. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been highly effective among vaccinated seniors 65 and older.

“In a multistate network of U.S. hospitals during January–March 2021, receipt of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines was 94% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults and 64% effective among partially vaccinated adults aged ≥65 years.”

This is from the Associated Press: "COVID-19 hospitalizations tumble among US senior citizens" by Matthew Perrone and Carla K. Johnson, 4/22/21.

"WASHINGTON (AP) — COVID-19 hospitalizations among older Americans have plunged more than 70% since the start of the year, and deaths among them appear to have tumbled as well, dramatic evidence the vaccination campaign is working. Now the trick is to get more of the nation’s younger people to roll up their sleeves.

"The drop-off in severe cases among Americans 65 and older is especially encouraging because senior citizens have accounted for about 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus since it hit the U.S., where the toll stands at about 570,000"

Reports of outbreaks among vaccinated people are not surprising. The vaccines were determined to be about 95% effective, meaning that for one out of 20 vaccinated people, the vaccine does not give full protection against the virus. When there is extensive community spread, as there is in Michigan, until the infection rate goes down, there is still a significant risk of contracting or spreading the disease. It is wise to remain cautious, wearing masks where it is not possible to social distance, and avoiding large gatherings, especially at indoor events.

One source of horror stories about vaccine side effects comes from misinterpretation and misapplication of data from VAERS, the CDC Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.  

From the CDC Website: “Established in 1990, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a national early warning system to detect possible safety problems in U.S. licensed vaccines. VAERS is co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS is a post-marketing safety surveillance program, collecting information about adverse events (possible side effects) that occur after the administration of U.S. licensed vaccines. This online database provides a nationwide mechanism by which VAERS reports are made available to the public and may be reviewed and analyzed…”

No specific conclusions can be drawn from the VAERS reports on whether the COVID vaccines actually caused the reported side effects. The CDC issues a strongly worded DISCLAIMER to prevent it being used to prove causation:  

"VAERS accepts reports of adverse events and reactions that occur following vaccination. Healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public can submit reports to VAERS. While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. Most reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind. [Emphasis added]

"The strengths of VAERS are that it is national in scope and can quickly provide an early warning of a safety problem with a vaccine. As part of CDC and FDA's multi-system approach to post-licensure vaccine safety monitoring, VAERS is designed to rapidly detect unusual or unexpected patterns of adverse events, also known as 'safety signals.' If a safety signal is found in VAERS, further studies can be done in safety systems such as the CDC's Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) or the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) project. These systems do not have the same limitations as VAERS, and can better assess health risks and possible connections between adverse events and a vaccine."

These are additional warnings on the limitations of VAERS data:

Review the limitations and interpret VAERS data with caution:

The data are unverified reports of health events, both minor and serious, that occur after vaccination.

•VAERS data are from a passive surveillance system. Such data are subject to limitations of under-reporting, reporting bias, and lack of incidence rates in unvaccinated comparison groups.
• Reports show the simultaneous administration of multiple vaccines (making it difficult to know to which of the vaccines, if any, the event might be attributed).
• VAERS occasionally receives case reports from U.S. manufacturers that were reported to their foreign subsidiaries. Under FDA regulations, if a manufacturer is notified of a foreign case report that describes an event that is both serious and unexpected (in other words, it does not appear in the product labeling), they are required to submit it to VAERS. These case reports are of variable data quality and completeness, due to the differences in country reporting practices.
• In some media reports and on some web sites on the Internet, VAERS reports are presented as verified cases of vaccine deaths and injuries. Statements such as these misrepresent the nature of VAERS. [Emphasis added]
• Establishing causal relationships between vaccines and adverse events requires additional scientific investigation. The CDC and FDA take into account the complex factors mentioned above, and others, when monitoring vaccine safety and analyzing VAERS reports.
• VAERS staff at CDC and FDA follow up on all serious adverse event reports to obtain additional medical, laboratory, death certificates, and/or autopsy records to help understand the circumstances. However, VAERS public data do not generally change based on the information obtained during the follow-up process.
• See also the Disclaimer at Summary above. 

When you read assertions on social media that the COVID vaccines have caused thousands of deaths and injuries, the source may have inadvertently or deliberately distorted information from VAERS.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Housing Projects for People with Developmental Disabilities in Southeast Michigan

Introducing two newly developed integrated communities in Michigan, St. Louis Guanella Village and Maple Oaks Community! 

Bill Godfrey discusses an established community in Saline, Michigan and also discusses projects "on the drawing board" in other towns in Southeast Michigan.
St. Louis Center is developing the Guanella Village on its campus in Chelsea, Michigan, along with other services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the local community.