Dear Friends of ACT:

Mark Hassemer

Mark Hassemer

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed every year in October. Governor Nixon recently proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Missouri.

This month-long observation was created to:

  • acknowledge the value and accomplishments of workers with disabilities, and
  • raising focused awareness on increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Displaying impeccable timing, just last month, the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) for Individuals with Disabilities sent their Final Report to the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

This federal Committee was charged with recommending actions for:

  • increasing CIE for adults with disabilities,
  • making ideal use of Section 14(c) certificate, and
  • improving oversight of Section 14(c) certificates.

The Committee’s findings and recommendations portray a vision of the future worth noting. ACT has already taken steps where we can to move toward the vision laid out by the Committee.

Here are a few highlights. You can see how they view us now and where they’d like our nation to be:

  1. Widely inconsistent local and state funding structures lead to disparity in CIE participation across states.
  2. Reimbursement rates under Medicaid vary from state to state.
  3. Funding structures and approaches likely unintentionally support segregated rather than integrated services.
  4. To prepare persons with disabilities for CIE, we need a highly skilled workforce that has been trained and is adequately compensated with salaries that reflect the responsibilities and competence levels expected of professionals. Funding must be rebalanced to support this.
  5. Early work experiences are needed, along with a seamless transition from school to work. Federal agencies should require all people with disabilities to begin pre-employment transition services at or before age 14.
  6. Those same agencies should promote and fund innovative projects to create new CIE programs.
  7. Regulatory requirements that make it difficult for states to use and braid funding should be waived.
  8. We need a process that encourages and develops family involvement and support. Helping families navigate service delivery systems is a must.
  9. Congress should amend the Fair Labor Standards Act so Section 14(c) certificates can be phased out in a well-planned multi-year process. (Section 14(c) allows employers to pay sub-minimum wages.) Measures should be put in place to mitigate unintended consequences of receiving services from 14(c) certificate organizations.
  10. We need stronger oversight of organizations that continue to use the 14(c) certificate.
  11. Stricter standards are needed for agencies that seek 14(c) certificate renewal.
  12. The federal government should assist states that are building capacity for services that promote CIE as an alternative to facility-based employment using the certificate.
  13. Capacity building in the marketplace is necessary to increase CIE. Businesses need to hire individuals with disabilities because it makes sense, not because it’s good for a favorable public appearance.
  14. Business-led efforts that promote CIE should be developed.
  15. The Social Security Administration (SSA) should emphasize employment as a goal for working age Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries. They should work to dispel fears of losing cash, health benefits, financial stability, and personal security for those who enter CIE.

While we are unlikely to change the Social Security system, there are many things ACT and our community can do to reverse the impact of some of the undesirable findings in the report and advance the cause of CIE.

ACT provides information to job candidates on the impact of work on their benefits. We work closely with job seekers to help them understand the Social Security system so they don’t needlessly limit themselves.

The STEP Program, Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnerships, is a good example. We work with Boone Hospital and other community partners to provide meaningful transition into the work world for high school students in their senior year. And it’s working.

We’ve left our Section 14(c) certificate behind, too. Earlier this year, ACT notified the Department of Labor that we would no longer need it. Another non-profit company acquired our former facility-based recycling program. We are now preparing workers at volunteer sites in the community.

Abilities for Business (abilitiesforbusiness.com) is a great local example of building capacity with employers. It was started by a small committed group, including Kat Cunningham (President of Moresource), a tireless advocate, passionately spreading the message of the value of hiring a diverse workforce.

I think you’ll agree that this train has left the station and ACT is on it. We’ve not been left behind. But we’re not there yet.

The Final Report is 122 pages long. It offers much more than I can summarize or comment on in this letter. But the future envisioned in it is a good one and should be pursued to the benefit of Americans with disabilities.

We’ll certainly do our part in our Community. Join us in making new things possible for people with disabilities.

Until next month,

Mark