June 4, 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

VOR's Virtual Annual Membership Meeting

June 27, 2021

3:00 pm Eastern, 2:00 pm Central, 1:00 pm Mountain, Noon Pacific

Program to include:
  • Address to Members from VOR's President
  • Reports from VOR's Finance, Legislative, Issues/Oversight and Quality of Care in the Community Committees
  • Certification of the Election of Directors
  • Ratification of Change to Constitution
  • Guest Speaker - Mary Kay Cowen on the Louisiana Dental Task Force
  • Reports from the States**

(Events and program sequence are subject to change)

National News:
Chiquita Brooks-LaSure Confirmed as Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
By Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News June 3, 2021
The new head of the federal agency that oversees health benefits for nearly 150 million Americans and $1 trillion in federal spending said in one of her first interviews that her top priorities will be broadening insurance coverage and ensuring health equity.

“We’ve seen through the pandemic what happens when people don’t have health insurance and how important it is,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on May 25 and sworn in on May 27. “Our focus is going to be on making sure regulations and policies are going to be focused on improving coverage.”
Brooks-LaSure, whose agency oversees the ACA marketplaces in addition to Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, said she is not surprised at the robust takeup of ACA insurance since President Joe Biden reopened enrollment in January. The administration announced last month that more than 1 million people had signed up already.

Biden’s Budget Includes Boost To Special Ed, Disability Services
By Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, June 2, 2021

With his $6 trillion budget, President Joe Biden is cementing his resolve to significantly expand the nation’s investment in home and community-based services for people with disabilities.

Biden’s request to Congress, which was released late last week, includes $400 billion in extra funding for services allowing people with disabilities and older adults to live in the community as opposed to nursing homes and other institutional settings.

The spending proposal represents Biden’s wish list for Congress as lawmakers consider the federal budget for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins in October.

Biden originally called for the increase for home and community-based services as part of his American Jobs Plan, which was unveiled earlier this year. He said the money would be used to help people who have been on waiting lists access Medicaid supports in the community while also strengthening the workforce of direct support professionals who provide services. But, that proposal has faced opposition from Republicans who don’t believe that such services fit within an infrastructure bill.

In light of that, disability advocates say they are pleased to see Biden recommitting to growing services for people with disabilities in his budget request.

“The fact that President Biden’s budget includes the $400 billion to expand access to home and community-based services and create more and better direct care jobs is major,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc

Note: VOR seeks parity in funding for DD Services, asking that the Biden Administration provide funding based on individuals, their choices and the choices of their families, and not show preference to HCBS services over ICFs, Farmsteads, Intentional Communities, or other residential options serving the needs of people with I/DD and Autism.
State News:
Connecticut - Union, Lamont Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert Strike at Group Homes for the Disabled
By Keith Phaneuf, CT Mirror, June 3, 2021
Agencies had already begun moving disabled clients into nursing homes

Connecticut’s largest health care workers’ union and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration reached a tentative deal late Thursday on state funding for group homes for the developmentally disabled, averting a planned strike Friday involving about 2,000 caregivers.

SEIU District 1199 New England announced shortly after 11:30 p.m. that it had pulled its strike notices — about four hours after some group home operators had begun transferring clients to stay temporarily at nursing homes or to live with their families.

The Hartford-based Oak Hill School, Connecticut’s largest nonprofit social service agency with 70 group homes around the state for residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities, had moved 77 clients to nursing homes by 7:45 p.m. and the count was expected to reach about 150 later in the evening, according to its President and CEO Barry Simon.

Full details of the tentative agreement weren’t available late Thursday night, but a union spokesman said more than $180 million in state funds would be invested in the group homes over the next two years.
Oak Hill School, in Hartford
(Note: This is not an institution)

The governor’s office released the following statement: "This is an important agreement which represents my administration’s commitment to respecting the collective bargaining and negotiation process, while also ensuring those in the care of these homes are receiving the services they need. This agreement is a positive step forward for the workers as they will receive pay increases and more support. I thank SEIU and the industry leaders for working collaboratively with our administration to reach this agreement.”

Citing low wages, poor benefits and inadequate working conditions, the union warned in early May that it was planning to strike against six nonprofit agencies that collectively operate more than 200 group home sites statewide.

Connecticut relies on the private, nonprofit sector to deliver the bulk of state-sponsored social services. The industry has been urging governors and legislators for years to reverse more than a decade of under-funding.

Arkansas - Cotton Vows Support for Abilities Unlimited, Federal Wage Provisions
By Steven Mross, Sentinel-Record, June 2, 2021
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., voicing his long support for organizations such as Abilities Unlimited Inc. in Hot Springs and the U.S. Department of Labor provisions that allow them to operate, visited the local facility Tuesday and pledged to continue to fight for them.

Karen Kight, executive director of Abilities Unlimited in Hot Springs, located at 530 Mountain Pine Road, told those gathered for Cotton's visit that he has "been a true champion for our type of work programs."

Cotton told The Sentinel-Record his visit to Abilities "is really a sign of how Arkansans help me do my job for them in Washington," noting that a few years ago a group of sheltered workshops in the state came to him concerned about an effort underway to eliminate the programs.

The opponents want to eliminate the "federal wage provisions that allow sheltered workshops to give a good, productive place to work for adults with disabilities while paying them a wage that's below the federal minimum wage, but allows them to operate in an economically viable fashion," Cotton said.

"At that point, I stood up to stop that legislation because these sheltered workshops are not just a place where economic work is done, it's a place where adults with disabilities can get outside their home, have a sense of belonging, build friendships, have good social relationships," he said.

Cotton's proposal would also "preserve things like the sheltered workshop wage so these places can continue to operate," he said, noting it involves a "long-standing provision of federal law."
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act authorizes employers, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay special minimum wages -- wages less than the Federal minimum wage -- to workers who have disabilities that impair their productivity for the work being performed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Kight noted some people have referred to their programs as "modern day slavery," and Cotton told her, "That's obviously wrong and an incendiary claim, but it's not surprising what you say."

Stephanie Price, a client of the Abilities Unlimited in Van Buren, stood up and told Cotton, "For us, work is a safe place. It's a place we choose to go to. It's not forced upon us. Could we get another job in the community? Probably. But it wouldn't be safe. It wouldn't be what we chose.

"No one put a gun to our head and made us work here. We chose it. Because we love it and it makes us excel at what we love. Makes us be more outspoken and want to do more things. So we have a voice and have a chance to be anybody else."

The 14-C program "allows you to have individualized plans," Cotton said. "If they want to do away with 14-C it will be over my strong opposition. So far, we've succeeded."

Delaware Passes Record-Setting $17.225 Million Funding Increase for Disability Services
Ability Network of Delaware, May 28, 2021

Delaware’s Joint Finance Committee passed a record-breaking increase in the State’s budget for intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) services on Tuesday, May 26. The $17,225,400.00 commitment is the largest budget increase in a single fiscal year for I/DD services in Delaware and brings disability services closer to being fully funded.

This funding takes Delaware’s rate system for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to 85 percent of the benchmark set by the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services in a 2019 rate study mandated by the McNesby Act—which passed unanimously in Delaware’s House and Senate in 2018. It also increases provider’s reimbursement rates for direct support professional services from $9.62 to $12.00 per hour.

Oklahoma - State Supreme Court Halts Implementation of Managed Care for Medicaid
By Barbara Hoberock, Tulsa World via KPVI News, June 1, 2021

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has put the brakes on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s managed care plan for Medicaid.
The court in a 6-3 ruling determined that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority did not have the authority to implement managed care, according to an opinion released Tuesday.

A number of entities, including the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Dental Association and Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, filed a lawsuit to stop implementation of the governor’s plan. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority and its CEO, Kevin Corbett, are named as defendants.

The governor has pursued managed care despite the objections of numerous lawmakers. He says he believes it will improve Oklahoman’s health, while critics say the state has tried it in the past and it failed.
Critics also say it will force doctors and other health care providers to drop out of the program due to lower fees, causing a shortage of medical services, especially in rural areas.

The state has already selected contractors to proceed with managed care for more than $2 billion, and the court ruled that the contracts are invalid.

Under managed care, a fixed dollar amount per month per Medicaid enrollee is provided for services by providers who contract with managed care organizations.

Oklahoma currently operates a fee-for-service program.

The court found that there was no express grant of legislative authority to move to managed care. It also found that state law does not already authorize it.

Missouri - Bill Supporting Sheltered Workshops (HB 432)
By State Representative Ed Lewis, Moberly Monitor-Index, June 3, 2021

HB 432 contains a provision to help Missouri’s 87 independent sheltered workshops that employ more than 5,800 people with disabilities. The bill will protect these facilities from actions proposed at the federal level.

It mirrors the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which authorizes employers to pay workers with disabilities at commensurate wage rates when their disability affects their productivity for the work being performed.

Congress is currently considering legislation to abolish the federal language, but HB 432 will ensure commensurate wages are preserved in Missouri.

This bill now awaits the governor's signature to become law.

Advocates: NY Must Protect People in Group Homes Amid COVID
By Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press via Westport News, June 3, 2021

New York failed to provide desperately needed protective gear, testing and help with staffing for group homes serving residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of those homes and family members told lawmakers at a legislative hearing Thursday.

Staffing levels in New York’s system supporting individuals with disabilities have dwindled since the COVID-19 pandemic, which advocates say threatens the quality of care for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers faced calls Thursday to boost pay for group home workers, require routine COVID-19 testing and ensure people with disabilities are a priority in response plans.

Among advocates concerns is that group homes, unlike nursing homes, aren't required to regularly test staff for COVID-19 or launch rounds of testing after a resident or staffer test positive.

“It’s very troubling that people in group homes aren’t given the same protection as people in nursing homes and other congregate settings,” said Julie Keegan, a director with Disability Rights New York. “People in group homes often have higher rates of comorbidities that put them at higher risk of death. There is no rational basis for this discriminatory practice.”

At least 577 people have died due to confirmed COVID-19 infection at group residences overseen by the state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, according to the agency's latest data.
That tally doesn't include the number of residents who died at hospitals, or deaths of residents who likely died of COVID-19.

About 7,100 of roughly 40,000 people who live in OPWDD residences have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 11,700 staffers.

Residents of group homes in New York City saw higher rates of infection, hospitalization and deaths than other New Yorkers, according to Marco Damiani, chief executive officer of AHRC New York City, a nonprofit organization supporting children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The rate of infection was five times the New York City rate, hospitalization was three times the rate, and the fatality rate was twice the rate of New York City,” Damiani said at the Thursday hearing.

Low staffing levels and extensive use of overtime have long plagued New York group homes: OPWDD's workforce has decreased by 15% — or 4,500 employees — in recent years, according to Randi DiAntonio, vice president of the NYS Public Employees Federation.

OPWDD workers were required to go to work last spring even if they had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Joshua Terry, legislative director of CSEA Local 100.

“We were so stretched that even contracting this virus would not let them miss work, if they were healthy in other ways,” Terry said. "We had members that had to float in clusters from home to home, which likely spread the disease into different homes among staff and residents."

Virginia - Advocates Oppose Virginia Beach Housing Project because it Would Institutionalize People with Disabilities
By Alissa Skelton, Virginia Pilot, June 3, 2021
Over the past couple of months, a city-supported housing project for people with disabilities has faced heavy criticism for defaulting on a no-interest loan and not getting off the ground quickly enough. But another movement to kill the residential project known as Vanguard Landing is bubbling under the surface.

Local advocates for the disabled have encouraged city officials to cut ties with the project. They say creating an isolated housing community in rural Virginia Beach only for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities isn’t best practices or the type of housing people with disabilities want.

Tonya Milling, executive director of advocacy group The Arc of Virginia, said housing people together based on disabilities is not ok and that national standards have evolved in recent decades.

She also noted a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that segregating people with disabilities is discriminatory and violates the Americans with
Disabilities Act and a 2012 Department of Justice settlement that ordered the state of Virginia to close down four of its five institutions for the disabled.

Additionally, for organizations to be eligible for Medicaid reimbursements, Milling said the government has established rules that say people with disabilities should receive services in their own homes or in integrated settings rather than in institutions or other isolated settings.

“Our concern is that any time a service or program isolates people, that it is not inclusive,” Milling said. “Services should be provided to someone as they would for someone without a disability.”

Slated to be built on 75 acres near Princess Anne and Sandbridge roads, Vanguard Landing would be a $40 million residential community for 185 people — 18 and older — with intellectual disabilities.

Massachusetts - Yet Another Corporate DDS Provider is Slapped by a State Audit
By Dave Kassel, The COFAR Blog, June 3, 2021

The Berkshire County Arc is one of the the latest in a series of corporate residential providers to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) that have found themselves targets over the past two decades of the state auditor for misuse of state funds.

A few other examples include audits of Brockton Area Multi Services just this week; Human Service Options and Nonotuck Resource Associates in 2016; the May Institute in 2013; Crystal Springs in 2012; and Toward Independent Living and Learning in 2002.

From personal use by corporate executives of the Berkshire Arc’s credit cards to personal use of its frequent flyer airline miles, the problems cited in the Berkshire Arc audit sound almost monotonously familiar.

The Berkshire Arc and its lobbying affiliate, the Arc of Massachusetts, have hit back, arguing that many of the audit findings were technical in nature.

To be sure, the Berkshire Arc audit does have at least one finding that seems to imply a largely technical violation involving the financing of capital improvements and maintenance of residential and other properties. The Berkshire Arc shouldn’t have charged the state for that, the audit said, because the properties are technically owned by another nonprofit affiliated with the Berkshire Arc.

That violation seems technical because it seems that the Berkshire Arc’s clients did potentially benefit from the capital improvements.

But other findings about misuse of credit cards and airline miles were clearly about people in high-level management positions allegedly benefiting themselves personally. One would think that after decades of these kinds of audit findings, the heads of these organizations would finally put an end to these practices.
“Our audit makes clear that those in leadership fell short of meeting their oversight and fiduciary responsibilities,” State Auditor Suzanne Bump said in a press release.

But it seems these kinds of problems will likely continue to occur in a system that has seen care for persons with developmental disabilities largely handed over to corporate contractors to DDS. It’s a system in which DDS itself and other regulatory agencies appear to constantly fall short of their own oversight responsibilities.

The Berkshire Arc received over $25 million in funding in Fiscal Year 2019 from state agencies including DDS, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and the Commission for the Blind, according to the audit.

Maine - Justice Department Settles With Lewiston Public Schools
Associated Press, via US News & World Report, May 30, 2021

The U.S. Department of Justice this week reached a settlement with the Lewiston Public Schools aimed at ending what investigators described as a “systemic and discriminatory practice” of excluding students from school for full days because of behaviors related to disabilities.

The settlement will also mandate the district provide equal educational opportunities to students for whom English is not their primary language, according to the Sun Journal.

The department conducted its investigation in response to a complaint lodged in 2016 by Disability Rights Maine, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The investigation found the district routinely shortened the school day for students with disabilities without considering their individual needs or exploring supports to keep them in school for the full day, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine.

Adding to the problem was the district’s lack of training for staff on how to respond to students’ disability-related behavior, the office said.

Kansas - OCCK Raises Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour
Salina Journal, June 3, 2021

OCCK, Inc. said it is increasing its minimum wage to $15 for direct support professionals and drivers immediately. The organization said this wage increase will benefit more than 160 employees with OCCK and any new employees hired in these positions.

Additionally, OCCK said employees will continue to receive benefits such as comprehensive healthcare including medical, dental and vision coverage, company-paid life and disability insurance, enrollment in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), paid training and increased evening and weekend pay.

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.

H.R.1880 - To amend the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 to make permanent the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration.

H.R. 2383 - The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act - this bill purports to assist employers providing employment under special certificates issued under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in transforming their business and program models to models that support individuals with disabilities through competitive integrated employment, to phase out the use of such special certificates. We feel that, if enacted, tens of thousands of people with I/DD and autism will still be forced out of opportunities they currently, needlessly, and left without viable alternatives to occupy their time or address their needs and their abilities.


VOR takes no position on whether or not the minimum wage should be raised to $15 per hour, or some other amount. We do, however, oppose any bills (see H.R. 603 & S. 53, above) that would remove vocational centers and 14(c) wage certificates.

For those who do support raising the minimum wage, there are currently two "clean" bills in the House that would raise the minimum wage without taking opportunities to work in a therapeutic environment through the use of 14(c) certificates. Those bills are H.R. 112, from Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and H.R. 325, from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

Additionally, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has introduced a bill in the Senate, S 478, that would raise the minimum wage to $10 over a period of three years for some workers, without eliminating 14(c) wage certificates. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security to implement electronic verification to verify that prospective employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S.
Direct Support Professionals:

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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.

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