October 22, 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 Annual Fall Membership Drive


This campaign was started by Marilyn Straw, who served as President of VOR's Board of Directors from 1998 to 2003, and has been an active member since VOR was founded in 1983. Marilyn has been supporting VOR for 38 years!

"Now," she says, "It's up to you!"

It's quite simple. In order to increase our influence on Capitol Hill and with members of state and local governments, we constantly need to bring in new members.

And where do these new members come from? They come from members like you.

So now is the time to reach out to friends, family, and members of your community and ask for their support. Pass out our literature at meetings of your ICF family group, your DDS forums at the state capitol, at your loved one's vocational center, or any place you may be able to catch the ear of an interested party. Ask them to help support your family member with I/DD by supporting the national non-profit organization that gives a voice to those who have no voice.

"One member at a time. Every member makes a difference."
x - Harris Capps, current President of VOR's Board of Directors
Sheltered Workshops:
Federal Jobs Program Moves To End Subminimum Wage
By Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, October 22, 2021
A massive program that puts people with disabilities to work through federal government contracts across the country plans to no longer allow workers to be paid less than minimum wage.

The U.S. AbilityOne Commission issued a proposed rule this month barring any new contracts under the AbilityOne Program that pay people with disabilities what’s known as subminimum wage.

The program, which dates back 83 years, directs federal contracts to a network of nearly 500 nonprofits that provide products and services for the government. Over 42,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities are employed through AbilityOne at over 1,000 locations nationwide including dozens of government agencies and military facilities. In fiscal year 2020 alone, AbilityOne provided nearly $4 billion in goods and services to the government.

Under the proposal, people employed through AbilityOne contracts would have to be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. However, many jobs would actually pay more due to higher local minimum wages or federal pay
requirements for certain types of jobs, according to officials with the AbilityOne Commission, an independent federal agency that administers the program.

The rule would apply to new contracts as well as those that are extended or renewed.
The move to end subminimum wage within the AbilityOne program is years in the making. In 2016, the AbilityOne Commission issued a declaration calling for all participating nonprofits to commit to paying at least minimum wage. At the time, the commission indicated that 90% of those employed through the program were already earning at least that much.

In 2019, the commission took another step by asking SourceAmerica — one of two central nonprofits that facilitate the relationship between participating nonprofits and the government — to remove payment of subminimum wage from all AbilityOne contracts within three years.

National News:
Public Comment Sought On Nation’s Autism Plan
By Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, October 19, 2021

Federal officials are looking for feedback from the public as a key panel works to update the government’s autism agenda for the first time in years.

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a group of government officials and members of the autism community that’s charged with advising the secretary of health and human services and coordinating federal autism activities, is working to update its Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder. The plan guides priorities for autism research, services and supports and is relied on by both federal agencies and private organizations.

As part of the process, the committee is seeking input from stakeholders.

“The IACC is requesting comment on what you consider to be the most important issues, needs and gaps in these seven topical areas that could be addressed by federal programs and activities, and/or in partnership with community organizations,” reads the committee’s announcement.

The strategic plan has been organized around several topics — screening and diagnosis, biology, risk factors, treatments and interventions, services, lifespan issues and infrastructure and surveillance. In addition, the IACC is seeking input on two new topics, one related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the autism community and the other about considerations for underserved populations like racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged communities and rural populations.

Under the Autism CARES Act, the strategic plan is supposed to be updated annually, but the last update occurred in 2019. Since then, the IACC took a two-year hiatus after all of the members’ terms expired and there was a delay in appointing a new committee.

Public comments are being collected through Nov. 30.

Note: To date, we have not heard reports of the following occurring in ICFs or group homes. Given the shortage in health care workers, including DSPs and nursing staff, this situation may bear watching.

Price-gouging, Poaching and Thin Patience: LTC Providers Seek Fixes for Anti-Competitive Staffing Agencies
By Kimberly Marselas and James Berklan, McKnight's Long-Term Care News, October 15, 2021

As the bidding war over frontline workers escalates, provider organizations across the country are seeking government intervention to force temporary staffing agencies to play by similar rules as nursing homes attempting to hire.

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission last week, LeadingAge asked the federal agency to use its “resources and expertise” to address the “anticompetitive practices and pricing gouging of nurse-staffing agencies.”

In several states, local associations are lining up in support of legislative fixes that would prevent agencies from paying direct care staff rates that providers say are two to possibly four times as much as what operators offer.

But the battle may take precious time to lower labor costs, and agency caps are not a permanent fix.
Massachusetts and Minnesota currently are the only two states with existing pricing limits on staffing agencies. That wasn’t enough to fully insulate providers in Massachusetts, where demand is so great that the caps were recently raised by an average of 23.5%.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) March 2020 public health emergency declaration triggered a statute prohibiting profiteering during emergencies. Violations are considered an unfair or deceptive practice and violators can be fined by the state Department of Consumer Protection and the Office of the Attorney General.

Getting some kind of protection from highly inflated staffing rates remains essential as providers in many states are limiting admissions for want of workers. Others are blowing through their workforce budgets and operating in deficits.

Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said providers in his state are offering $17 an hour, plus shift differentials, for licensed nursing assistants. But staffing agencies are paying rates as high as $69 an hour, and charging agency fees on top of that.

“We’ve got to staff to be able to serve the needs of our residents,” Williams told McKnight’s at the AHCA/NCAL convention earlier this week. “So you’ve got to pay whatever ransom the staffing agencies are demanding of you.”

After dealing with this crisis throughout the pandemic, Williams likens the rates he’s seen lately to “vultures pecking at us.”

Unionization Could Help Home Health Care Workers with Wages, Experts Say
By Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, October 19, 2021
For Susie Young, the days before she was a unionized caregiver weren’t ones to cheer about.
“Before the union came in, we had nothing,” she said. “No training. Forget about a paid holiday or vacation. ... There’s many workers in this country today that’s where they are.”

Young, 73, lives and works in Spokane, Washington, where she has been a home care worker for about 35 years. She helps a developmentally delayed man who’s high-functioning enough to work outside the home and ride the bus but still needs reminders and other assistance to keep him on track.

Her workload, a couple of days a week, is less than it once was. Decades ago, Young, who’s a founding member of the executive board of the Service Employees International Union Local 775, was caring for people suffering from HIV and was a union skeptic. Having to press her employers for basic protective gear, a situation that’s since improved, was what, she said, changed her mind about the union.

“I had asked my office for a box of gloves. I wanted a box of gloves and I saw they’re just going to give me a few gloves in a bag, and I said, ‘What?’ and I was very vocal about it and I said, ‘I tell you what, if I get HIV, I’ll be coming and making sure that my husband sues this agency because all I want is a box of gloves. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to fight for a box of gloves?’ ” Young recalled.
Washington is among a handful of states, including New York, California and Illinois, where unions play a role in direct home care. In many states, paid caregivers who work in home care are not represented, a state of affairs influenced, in part, by the way home care is funded and managed in the United States as well as the isolated nature of the workplace.

What’s under consideration:
President Joe Biden has said he wants it to be easier for home care workers to unionize, but there are barriers to making that happen. Anti-union forces that fight "compulsory unionism" and court rulings in recent years that prevent unions from collecting agency fees from nonmembers highlight the broader ideological challenge to union expansion in this arena.

Conservative groups that oppose unionization of home care workers, such as the Heritage Foundation, have asserted that union membership numbers and coffers benefit more than the workers themselves. A 2014 article in the foundation's "The Daily Signal" publication said unions "negotiated union contracts on their behalf that include mandatory dues payments — and sometimes little else," a view rejected by union supporters.

The Fall Edition of the VOR Voice
is now available for download on our website

State News:
Massachusetts - DDS State-operated Group Homes Facing a Staffing and Possible Closure Crisis
By Dave Kassel, COFAR Blog, October 22, 2021

State-operated group homes for persons in Massachusetts with developmental disabilities appear to be facing a perfect storm of staffing shortages, potentially unvaccinated staff, and a possible departmental effort to shut at least some of the residences down.

The staffing shortages are also affecting the much larger network in the state of corporate provider-operated group homes funded by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). But we are increasingly concerned that the critically important state-run DDS group home network could be facing a crisis that could threaten its long-term existence.

We often advise families whose loved ones are experiencing poor care in provider-run residences to ask for placements in available state-run group homes. Staff in the state-run network generally receive higher pay and benefits and more training than their counterparts in the provider system.

Colorado Cuts Medicaid Funding to Provider Caring for Adults with Disabilities, Sparking Search for New Beds
By Shelly Bradbury, Burlington Record, October 21, 2021

Since June, Ron and Melanie Chaffin’s intellectually disabled son has lived in seven different places in Colorado, passed from agency to agency because of his high level of need.

After the constant shuffle, the Chaffins were hopeful when their 21-year-old son Owen, who is severely autistic and functions at the level of a 3-year-old, seemed to settle into a home in Lakewood under the care of Belk Model LLC, a home- and community-based service provider that cares for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We had high hopes, and honestly those high hopes haven’t been broken,” Melanie Chaffin said. “Belk has done everything for Owen that could have or should have been done.”

“Belk has been able to keep him for five weeks, when nobody else made it two days,” Ron Chaffin said.

But their son’s stay at Belk is coming to an end. The state is terminating Belk Model’s Medicaid funding, effective Friday, because of 19 rule violations documented at its facilities during the last year that have led to “significant health and safety concerns,” according to records provided by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the state’s Medicaid system.

The termination, a rare move by the state, puts some families, like the Chaffins, into a crunch. Residents need to quickly find new placements at a time when a severe staffing shortage is exacerbating Coloradans’ already poor access to long-term care, particularly for adults with severe behavioral issues. (The state on Tuesday was ranked worst in the nation for adult access to mental health care by Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization.)

“The whole provider community is in a staffing crisis,” said Sally Montgomery, executive director in northern Colorado for Mosaic, a nonprofit organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “So it’s very difficult to take on new folks.”

Belk is set to lose its funding Friday, which means, barring an extension, clients need to be out of the agency’s 25 residential facilities in Colorado by Thursday.

The company was notified of the termination on Sept. 22 after authorities found numerous problems at its facilities, including that the agency failed to properly train staff, did not have enough staff, wrongly used physical restraints, did not check on the breathing and circulation of people while they were in restraints, failed to administer medications, and did not investigate allegations of abuse, among other violations.

Illinois - Vital Initiatives Confront COVID Crisis for those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
By Brittany Edelmann, Medill Reports, October 21, 2021
“It has been a struggle,” Bonnie Schmidt said. 
Schmidt is the guardian to Kim Winger, a 35-year-old with autism, and the parent to Jessica Schmidt, a 28-year-old who also has a developmental disability and a seizure disorder. 

Many people experienced an increase in isolation during the pandemic. But,Bonnie emphasized how isolation is already an issue for many individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability. To help with the increased isolation during the pandemic, Lexi Chung moved in with them. Chung is a 28-year-old with Down Syndrome and Type-1 diabetes.  

To keep everyone safe, Winger had to take a leave of absence at the grocery store that she worked at for the past 18 years. Even when she went back to work after receiving her vaccine in spring, a change in hours over the summer created new challenges. 

Winger’s behavior changed. 

Schmidt said she has meltdowns and wakes up saying things in a disgruntled tone about her work schedule – “I only got four hours.” The change took away her essential routine, which helps Kim and other people with autism thrive and can anchor their “very basic identity and purpose in life,” Schmidt said. 

The pandemic also left Schmidt trying to explain what was happening in the world with COVID-19.
Anxiety overcame Jessica. She lived free of seizures for over 20 years until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, leading to a renewal of seizures.
Schmidt added how she knows three other individuals with a developmental disability who were seizure-free for many years, who also suffered from a return of seizures over the past year. 

This wasn’t just a struggle for Schmidt and her household. 

The calls that Ali Nyman, a licensed clinical social worker, and Samantha Sehter normally received at their local social service agency in Florida were to provide information and referrals for individuals with disabilities. But in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the calls from families and caregivers “took a complete turn” and “all of the sudden were crisis calls,” said Sehter, who holds a master’s degree in exceptional student education with a specialty in autism.

“I’m desperate.”

 “I can’t keep them engaged.” 

 “My child has autism. He’s 35 and I’ve never seen his behaviors as heightened the way they are now because of the pandemic.”

The phones at this social service agency never stopped ringing.

Vaccine Mandates:
Nearly All Staff are Vaccinated in Majority of Connecticut’s Long-Term Care Facilities
By Alicia Lasek, McKnight's Long-Term Care News, October 19, 2021

One state is experiencing success with its COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Fully three quarters of long-term care facilities in Connecticut have a 95% staff COVID-19 vaccination rate, the state’s Department of Public Health announced Friday. For the outliers, penalties await.

The data come from LTC operators who met a state-mandated Sept. 28 deadline to report staff vaccination participation. Connecticut has required all workers to be vaccinated unless they apply for a health or religious exemption. There is a $20,000 per-day fine for noncompliance.

Among the more than 61,200 vaccinated LTC staff members included in the reports, 89% are fully vaccinated, and 7% are reported as partially vaccinated. In the meantime, 167 eldercare providers still had not complied with the mandated reporting by a grace period extension of Oct. 8. Some may need time to consolidate data from multiple locations that share staff, the DPH reported.

“We applaud the tens of thousands of vaccinated long-term care workers for prioritizing the health and safety of the patients and residents under their care as well as the health and safety of themselves, their families, and their co-workers,” DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, M.D., said in a Friday, Oct. 15, statement. 

Maine - Vaccine Mandate could Displace Group Home Residents with Disabilities, Operator Says
Meanwhile, the state reported 551 new cases of COVID-19 and 5 more deaths.
By Joe Lawlor, Press Herald, October 15, 2021

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers could force a nonprofit group-home operator to kick out some residents later this month because there won’t be enough staff to care for the adults with intellectual disabilities who live there, a nonprofit leader said Friday.

Unvaccinated health care workers were required to get a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Friday to comply with the state mandate by Oct. 29. The John F. Murphy Homes in Auburn is one of several facility operators around the state that could lose significant numbers of staff.

“There is no doubt we will have disruptions. There will be people that will lose their placement, and it’s awful,” said Todd Goodwin, CEO of John F. Murphy Homes.

Goodwin said he’s reached out to the state and exchanged some emails, but so far there has been no discussion about how to solve the problem. State officials couldn’t be reached late Friday afternoon to discuss what might be done about this and similar situations around the state.

State officials have held fast to the deadline and defended the mandate against critics, saying all health care workers should be vaccinated to protect the health of their patients and coworkers. There is no option for workers to instead get regular tests because that is not an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, state officials have said.

Goodwin said he expects up to eight adults with intellectual disabilities – including some with severe disabilities who live at Two Teakwood Knolls group home – will lose their services and new housing would have to be found for them. Goodwin said there’s nowhere to place them.

VOR Bill Watch:
[Please click on blue link to view information about the bill]


Including language to provide funding for Intermediate Care Facilities in parity with increased funding for HCBS services in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill currently being written in Congress.

H.R.4761 - A bill to amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure workplace choice and opportunity for young adults with disabilities.

H.R.4762 - A Bill to amend the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to clarify the definition of competitive integrated employment.


H.R.4131 & S.2210 - The Better Care Better Jobs Act - To be clear, we don't oppose this bill. We object to the fact that it excludes the most vulnerable members of the I/DD population.

While the Better Care Better Jobs Act would greatly increase the amount of federal funding for people with I/DD, it only supports those in waiver programs receiving Home and Community Based Services. It unjustly discriminates against those who have chosen Intermediate Care Facilities as the necessary and proper form of residential treatment. By giving a 10% increase n federal matching funds only to HCBS clients, and providing training and increased pay only to direct support professionals working in HCBS facilities, the act deliberately favors one form of treatment over another, one ideology over another, and one set of people with I/DD over another.

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 these 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.
Direct Support Professionals:

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?

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Do you have information or a news story you would like to share?
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