Some Say “Employer,” Others Say “Congregate Employment Setting”

Be Aware of the Details on Trump Team’s Potential Changes to Rules on Jobs for Individuals With Disabilities

A July 13 article in Ed Week explored a potential rollback of regulations for Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Passed in 2014, there are less than two years of data on these regulations – and no identified problem that requires a solution or warrants opening the regulations. APSE is concerned that opening the regulations is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Too many policymakers, and lobbyists for congregate employment settings, do not distinguish disability services providers from “Employers,” when in fact, they can be both employers of record and providers of disability services. These services are paid for by both state and federal dollars through Vocational Rehabilitation and Medicaid and can be quite lucrative. It’s important to recognize that paying providers to deliver disability services while acting as employers creates a conflict of interest.

People with disabilities rely on providers for services that support their employment and make it possible for them to live independently. However, when provider organizations are also businesses there is a conflict of interest created between the best interest of the recipient of services—the individual with a disability—and the best interest of the business. When individuals with disabilities are placed in congregate work settings (“sheltered workshops”), this is not considered an employment outcome under the current regulations. Thus, providers are not eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation dollars that they would otherwise receive for achieving employment outcomes in the community. This point is important to recognize as, for many providers, the motivation for revisiting the WIOA regulations is more about the loss of revenue than it is about achieving the goal of facilitating independence on the job for people with disabilities.

WIOA is important to Americans with disabilities. Through it, “Competitive Integrated Employment” was defined for the first time in a law. WIOA sets a clear the preference for real employment for disabled individuals (particularly youth) who want to work alongside individuals without disabilities — at a living wage. Utilizing billions of federal and state dollars, WIOA has shifted the goal to one that supports individuals with disabilities to pursue and maintain employment. It would be a mistake to make changes to the regulations based on a problem that doesn’t exist.

— Julie Christensen
Chair of APSE’s Public Policy Committee

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