January 29, 2021
VOR Weekly News Update
VOR is a national non-profit organization that advocates for
high quality care and human rights for all people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities.
VOR promises to empower you to make and protect quality of life choices for individuals with developmental disabilities
New York City's Central Park welcomed a visit from a Snowy Owl this week, the first in over 100 years,
Photo by Rose Espinosa Quinto
The Movement to Eliminate Vocational Centers for Individuals with I/DD and Autism

This week, two bills were entered in the House and Senate that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Unfortunately, these bills also contain provisions that would phase out and ultimately eliminate Vocational Centers and Wage Certificates as allowed under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

H.R. 603 was introduced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) with 190 co-sponsors.
S. 53 was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with 37 co-sponsors. The reason the bills were introduced with so many co-sponsors is that they are identical to the bills that Rep. Scott and Sen. Sanders had introduced in the 116th Congress.

This movement to close vocational centers is not confined to Congress. In last week's newsletter, we addressed the intention of the Biden Administration to include similar provisions aimed at closing vocational centers in the pandemic relief bill

Tens of thousands of individuals with I/DD benefit from the opportunities these centers offer them. The centers cannot operate without the 14(c) wage certificates. For the most part, the individuals who work at these centers have disabilities that make them less likely to compete at jobs with competitive wages in integrated settings. They enjoy their work, this environment, and working among their peers. VOR believes that removing this option is cruel, and that it will violate their human and civil rights.

For more information, please go to our website, or click here
National News:
Biden Pandemic Strategy Puts Focus On People With Disabilities
By Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, January 25, 2021
As President Joe Biden introduces a coordinated federal approach to address the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s turning attention to the virus’ impact on people with disabilities.

Biden laid out a broad 200-page plan and signed a slew of executive orders late last week to increase access to vaccines, require masks in certain settings and implement a host of other moves in the face of a raging pandemic. Among the many changes he announced are several aimed at curtailing the coronavirus’ outsized impact on the disability community.

The White House said “focused guidance” on COVID-19 for people with disabilities will be coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, the administration is promising greater assistance to intermediate care facilities for people with disabilities and increased support for those receiving home- and community-based services.
Another major change is that the federal government will collect data on how COVID-19 is affecting people with disabilities. Disability advocates had long sought such data, arguing that it’s not possible to properly address a problem that goes unmeasured.

And, the strategy includes a commitment to establish new models to get vaccines to high-risk individuals, specifically including institutions for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and to “work with CDC to review concerns about vaccine guidelines for people with disabilities and other groups.”

In speaking about his national strategy, Biden acknowledged that things will take time.

Opinion: Biden's Opening Disability Policy Gambit would Eliminate Crucial Programs for the Severely Disabled
By Jill Escher, National Council on Severe Autism, January 26, 2021
recently wrote about how the Biden administration’s shift toward basing federal policy on facts, metrics and reality should be good news for the growing population disabled by severe autism and related disabilities.

So we should be worried about Biden’s non fact-based — and dangerous — opening move: the pursuit of the elimination of non-competitive employment for Americans with severe disabilities. As reported by Disability Scoop, “In his first major undertaking, President-elect Joe Biden wants to do away with a decades-old option to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage.”

Now, it goes without saying that a great many individuals with disabilities have the mental and functional capacity to engage in competitive work, for at or above minimum wage. We should fully support Biden’s desire to provide a transition to competitive employment for every single disabled individual who wishes to meet the demands of the marketplace.

But doing away with section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) is an unnecessary scorched-earth tactic that will prohibit all work programs, including those serving the other, less capable, portion of the disability spectrum. 
With so many jobs and programs at stake, we should ask, why such an extreme measure? Where are the facts and data to support eliminating all non-competitive jobs for all those with disabilities? What metric for success justifies throwing out that precious job-program baby with the social-justice bathwater?

There is in fact no data indicating that the proposed policy would help the more intensely disabled population, and, worse, the proposal to nix their jobs comes with no assurance of viable alternatives. Presumably those who lack intellectual or functional capacity to compete for minimum wage jobs are to sit at home all day in the care of their parents (who will no longer be able to work themselves, exacerbating the economic fallout) or group home providers. If they want purposeful work their only option would be as no-wage volunteers. How does that provide justice?
Moreover, FLSA 14(c) programs are not just about the wages, they often offer multiple benefits unavailable in the competitive workplace, including close supervision, therapeutic care, ongoing coaching, and social and recreational activities. A standard job supervisor is unlikely to treat seizures, change diapers or menstrual pads, allow for poor performance or absenteeism, or handle getting punched or scratched, to put it mildly. There is nothing "discriminatory" about jobs that protect the severely disabled from being fired or from the vicissitudes of the free market. Further, seen from a broader perspective, 14(c) paychecks often represent a small part of a suite of benefits, including SSI as well as Medicaid waiver programs. The job earnings — which are subject to an exacting certification process to ensure the wage is commensurate with the worker’s actual productivity — needs to be seen as part of a whole package of benefits that allow our most vulnerable citizens to participate in and contribute to society.
If the Biden administration stands by its fact-driven approach to policy, it will accept the realities of severe disability instead of the data-free fantasy often touted by high-functioning disability rights advocates that "all people with disabilities can earn minimum wage," when any reasonable observer can see this is simply untrue. My own autistic children, for example, are nonverbal, cannot follow even simple directions without continual guidance, and exhibit an array of disruptive behaviors . It is not just unlikely, it is impossible that they would ever be hired for competitive-wage jobs. The Biden plan would extinguish any hope for their future employment. In addition, a fact-based approach would be mindful of the staggering increase in the population with severe autism (growing at least 10- to 40-fold, depending on the data source), who will need vastly more, not fewer, options for day programming and supported forms of employment for those incapable of attaining competitive work.
The bottom line is this: retaining a non-competitive work option for the severely disabled does nothing to negate or undermine expansion of competitive employment for those capable of integrated minimum wage jobs. Both work options can and should peacefully coexist to serve a dramatically diverse disability population. 

Mental Health Issues Affect 3 In 4 Kids With Autism
By Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop, January 26, 2021

The vast majority of children with autism have at least one mental health condition too, new research suggests.

Almost 78% of kids on the spectrum are diagnosed with some type of mental health condition and almost half have two or more. Even among preschool-age children with autism, 44.8% have such conditions.

By contrast, just 14.1% of young people without autism have mental health conditions.

That’s according to a study published recently in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The findings are based on interviews with 42,283 caregivers of children ages 3 to 17 years across the country that were done as part of the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health.

Researchers compared the prevalence of mental health conditions in those with autism, intellectual disabilities and other chronic conditions. Children with autism were far more likely than any of the other groups to struggle with mental health.

A Brief Word From Our Sponsor:
Monthly Donations and
VOR’s “21 in 21” Campaign

Your monthly donation of $21 will allow us to continue communicating face-to-face with members of Congress and fight to stop legislation aimed at closing Intermediate Care Facilities or Facility-Based Work Centers across the country.

Your monthly donation of $21 will ensure a seat at the table for your family member and give you a voice in decisions that affect policies that govern their health, residential care, and daily activities.

Your monthly donation of $21 will insure continued regional conference calls where family members across the country have a voice and share concerns and ideas. It will help pay for the VOR Voice and our Weekly Newsletter.

Your monthly donation of $21 will insure a continued Voice of Reason.

State News:
Massachusetts: Legislative Report Misses an Opportunity on Employment of the Developmentally Disabled
By Dave Kassel, COFAR Blog, January 26, 2021

Even before the COVID crisis, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Massachusetts were facing daunting problems in finding meaningful opportunities for employment.

Ever since the closures of all remaining sheltered workshops in the state in 2016, hundreds if not thousands of clients of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) have been left in DDS day programs with little or nothing to replace the work opportunities they previously had.

For a potentially significant number of DDS clients, mainstream work settings have never been a viable option. They aren’t able to function in those settings or don’t desire to do so.

But even for those people with I/DD who can function in mainstream settings, it has always been difficult to find jobs. Now with unemployment a major problem in the state as a whole due to the pandemic, competing for opportunities in that workforce is an even more daunting prospect for people with I/DD.

For those reasons, we were glad to see a legislative subcommittee undertake a review of the subject of employment of the disabled in Massachusetts, although we were somewhat skeptical that the review would be unbiased and thorough.

Unfortunately, our concerns appear to be well-founded based on the report that has now been released by the “Workability Subcommittee” of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee. We think the Workability Subcommittee, which is headed by Representative Josh Cutler, missed a major opportunity to address the problems described above.

Report buys in to anti-congregate care ideology 

While Cutler’s 33-page report has some good recommendations regarding persons with disabilities in general, it unfortunately seems to have largely missed the challenges faced by people with I/DD.
A key reason for that is that the report subscribes to the ideology behind the privatization of DDS services and against congregate work programs for people with I/DD such as sheltered workshops. The report is a cheerleader for the view that everyone can function in the mainstream workforce, no matter what type or level of disability they have.

The report even termed the sheltered workshop closures “a necessary and important step.” Yet there is no supporting analysis behind that statement in the report.

That isn’t surprising given that the Arc of Massachusetts, a key opponent of sheltered workshops, played an “instrumental” role in assisting the Subcommittee in its work, according to the report’s acknowledgements.

What the closures of the workshops did was take away a choice that was available to people and their families and guardians to continue to participate in settings in which they were comfortable and could function.

There has been nothing adopted to replace that choice, and the report doesn’t offer anything.

California - HHS Sued for Allowing CA to Limit Access to Dental Care for Older Patients and Patients with Disabilities
Sierra Sun-Times, January 25, 2021

Registered Dental Hygienists in Alternative Practice (RDHAP), a group of dental hygienists represented by AARP Foundation and Foley & Lardner LLP, are suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its approval of changes to California’s Medicaid Plan that effectively eliminate access to critical dental care by California’s elderly and Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities.

The lawsuit filed by RDHAP alleges that California’s new preauthorization process and 58% rate cut to periodontal maintenance (a treatment for gum disease) often leave California’s institutionalized Medi-Cal recipients without critical dental care. In 2018, HHS, through CMS, approved a rate cut for perio-maintenance from $130 to $55. HHS also approved a new preauthorization process for scaling and root planning that required new diagnostic x-rays.

Plaintiff Diane Brown, one of the RDHAPs who treats severely disabled patients says that, “Most of my patients in Intermediate Care Facilities are unable to take X-rays due to medical conditions; they cannot keep their head still or bite down sufficiently to take x-rays.”

The lawsuit alleges that HHS’s arbitrary approval of unwarranted and onerous procedural hurdles to their provision of periodontal care to patients and the devastating 58% rate cut “has resulted in a complete denial of periodontal maintenance to thousands of Medi-Cal beneficiaries who reside in skilled nursing and intermediate care facilities.”

California residents who have struggled to get the perio-maintenance services they need can contact AARP Foundation at [email protected]

Pennsylvania: Letter to the Editor: Pa. DHS Secretary Forgets Some Front-line Workers
By Shane Clark, Tribune Review (TribLive), January 24, 2021

In a series of letters, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Teresa Miller expressed her appreciation for the front-line heroes who work for DHS and care for vulnerable populations throughout the commonwealth.She rightfully acknowledged the workers at a variety of DHS facilities, which include remarkable and dedicated AFSCME-represented employees. However, it was impossible to ignore Miller’s omission of the heroes at Polk Center in Venango County and White Haven Center in Luzerne County, which are both set to be closed at her direction.

“Pennsylvania’s state centers are more than facilities — they are homes” Miller wrote in her Jan. 3 piece in the Trib’s Opinion section.

I could not agree more. The members of AFSCME Local 1050 at Polk Center have been trying to tell her that since DHS announced plans to close their workplace a year and a half ago.

Despite the planned closures and a global pandemic, the workers at Polk Center have never stopped providing excellent 24-hour supported living, medical care and developmental activities to residents with intellectual disabilities. Some residents have known no home other than their state center.

Every front-line worker within DHS deserves the highest of praise and, more importantly, safety and security on the job. Sadly, Miller has offered neither praise or security for those at Polk and White Haven. In fact, DHS is moving forward with plans to close the state centers, robbing the workers of job security and robbing the residents of more than a facility, but of a home.

Shane Clark
Director, AFSCME District Council 85

Coronavirus Update:
Covid-19 Tracker:
More Than 90.8 Million People Have Gotten Vaccines Worldwide;
The U.S. has Administered 28.9 Million Doses

A Quick Guide to Statewide Vaccination Plans

Littler Publications is offering a free guide to vaccine plans for each state.

This chart is not all-inclusive and does not cover municipalities, some of which have issued their own guidance. Nor does the chart include vaccine provider registration procedures or industry-specific guidance. The purpose of the below information is to give employers a general idea of what vaccine-related actions various jurisdictions are taking.

VOR Bill Watch:
Click on blue link to view information about the bill


H.R. 603 & S. 53 - The Raise the Wage Act - These bills are aimed at raising the minimum wage, but they also have provisions to phase out and ultimately eliminate vocational centers and 14 (c) wage certificates over the next six years and to immediately stop the issuing of any new certificates. VOR believes the issue of employment options for individuals with intellectual disabilities should not be buried in a bill for raising the federal minimum wage. Both issues deserve clean, stand-alone bills.


At this writing, there have been no bills entered in the 117th Congress that support a full continuum of care, or advance the interests of Direct Support Professionals.
Stay tuned.
Direct Support Professionals:
Pandemic Helpline For Caregivers of People With IDD

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, a new 24-hour support line is working to help individuals with developmental disabilities and those who care for them cope during this tough time.

Known as Project Connect, the telehealth line is free and available anytime for people with disabilities, their families, caregivers and other members of their support teams across the nation.

Project Connect is available by calling 888-847-3209.

Our loved ones' caregivers are essential to their health, safety, and happiness.
In appreciation of their good work and kind hearts, VOR offers free digital memberships to any DSP who would like to join.

We encourage our members to speak with their loved ones' caregivers to extend this offer of our gratitude.

If you are a Direct Support Professional interested in receiving our newsletter and e-content, please write us at

with your name, email address, and the name of the facility at which you work. Please include the name of the VOR member who told you of this offer. 

What's Happening In Your Community?

Is there an issue in your loved one's home that you need help with?
Do you have information or a news story you would like to share?
Is there legislation in your state house that needs attention?

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