JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Missouri House resolution could provide some much-needed support for sheltered workshops in Missouri while changing the federal guidelines that surround them.
More than 6,300 people living with developmental disabilities work at such sheltered workshops across the Show-Me State, but the federal laws present a major issue. Workplaces employing individuals living with developmental disabilities face the threat of closure, as federal laws were passed without funding.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2014, and though it may not have been an intended consequence, the law could force those people living with disabilities to choose between working in a sheltered workshop or a place of competitive employment. Many split time between the two.
Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, argues that the federal changes encourage higher paying opportunities in competitive employment are threatening the existence of sheltered workshops, so in an effort to raise awareness, he put forward a resolution this session seeking to add the legislature’s support for sheltered workshops.
Rowland’s son has developmental disabilities and works at one such facility, which inspired him to sponsor the resolution.
“Right now, people with disabilities can stay in school until they’re 21. In the past, they used to be able to go from high school to a sheltered workshop, if that was the choice of the families,” Rowland said. “Now, they have an employment first option, and what that says is that they have to go out and find employment in the workforce before they can apply to the sheltered workshop, and what that does is make the waiting list even longer for them trying to get into a sheltered workshop.”
Rowland calls it the “bridge to nowhere,” as it leaves people hanging between school and workshops, a gap with nothing for them.
Rowland argues that if these individuals are not in sheltered workshops, they would be taken to rehabilitation centers and that an increase of people going there could cost the state more money.
Currently, the state pays roughly $20 per day for someone to go to a sheltered workshop. On the other hand, the cost of a rehabilitation center is closer to $80 per hour.
“The cost of that is four to twelve times higher,” Rowland said.
But Rowland points out that it’s more than a money argument. He says that, as a parent, he had always asked his son how his day at work was. His son would respond, saying he wasn’t going to work, but job training.
“Ultimately, that’s our hope,” Rowland said. “That he gains the skills to be enticing enough for an employer to hire him, and work in competitive employment. There are many people with intellectual disabilities that do not have that capability.”
The resolution has been given overwhelming support, passing through the committee by a unanimous 10-0 vote. Speaker of the House Todd Richardson has also pledged his support for this resolution.
Rowland says that the Speaker’s support was immediate, requiring no explanation from the representative.
“When I approached the Speaker and presented this idea to him, he understood it very quickly,” Rowland said. “His wife actually is on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop in Poplar Bluff, so he has great knowledge on the issue and understands it extensively.”
The House passed the resolution Tuesday morning with an overwhelming vote of 152-1.
“For us, this is terrific. It allows us to go to federal legislators and say that the state of Missouri has looked at this, we’ve seen the shortcomings of this law, and urge them to take another look,” Rowland said.
Now, it’s all up to the nation’s lawmakers.