Our workgroup has convened and recommended a revised issue statement as follows:
Unemployment is too often accepted as an inevitable result of living with a developmental disability. Such low and pervasive expectations contribute to the fact that working-age people with developmental disabilities are among the most unemployed and underemployed populations in America. As a group, they account for more than half of US population living in long-term poverty.
Despite the Proclamation of Employment First in New Jersey in 2012 and the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014, New Jersey is far left behind 42 out of 46 states on the Employment Composite Indicator ranking of outcomes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), compiled by the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston in 2018. The delivery of support services by New Jersey state agencies to people with disabilities to help them find competitive integrated employment and continue career advancement continues to be in silos, with divergent rules and procedures. Financial self-sufficiency and full community integration in employment settings remain elusive for most New Jerseyans living with IDD.
Despite the Federal Rehabilitation Act’s definition of supported employment services to be provided by state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, NJ’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVRS) has not historically considered people with IDD to be able to benefit from their services. True supported employment includes person-centered planning in the process of job development, based on the job seeker’s strengths, interests, and skills.
People with disabilities should have access to the array of services such as apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and on-the-job training, offered by other divisions in Labor and Workforce Development (LWD), and not just by DVRS. Braiding and blending of all streams of funding from LWD, Department of Human Services (DHS), and Educational Entitlement (ED) help maximize opportunities and employment outcomes of people with disabilities.
Issue Action Items:
- The highest level of New Jersey government should closely monitor and proactively act to comply with WIOA requirements to ensure that employment and training services and its funding are better coordinated and complementary across all state agencies and systems including the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), Department of Human Services (DHS) (Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), Department of Education, One-Stop Career Centers, and Labor and Workforce Development (LWD). This responsibility includes providing oversight on policy implementation and reporting of robust performance measures in order to eliminate service delivery silos and to optimize resources and services through interagency coordination and blending/braiding of funding.
- The interagency agreement between DDD and DVRS should be strengthened and better disseminated to all stakeholders (individuals receiving services and their families, support coordinators, supported employment professionals and agencies, DVRS counselors, and DDD personnel). More clearly defined protocols and more effective collaboration between DDD and DVRS would help dual-eligible individuals access services to help them more successfully obtain and retain jobs in the community.
- Review multiple states in the country that have successfully implemented policies to help 14 (c) entities (which receive exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and are allowed to pay subminimum wages to employees with disabilities) transform their operations and business models to providing services to their clients to help them find competitive jobs in the community.
- DVRS, DDD, and ED should publicize success stories of individuals, their service providers, and schools which achieve positive or improving competitive integrated employment outcomes. State agencies should make concerted efforts to identify, publicize, and replicate successful evidenced-based and scalable programs.
Capacity constraint of qualified career and employment professionals and their high turnover in New Jersey significantly impede the improvement in employment and career outcomes of people with disabilities. In the past couple of years, multiple supported employment agencies in New Jersey have curtailed their services or shut down their supported employment divisions altogether. To address and remedy this shortage, New Jersey may take the following steps:
- The governor-appointment Developmental Disability Fee-for-Service Transition Oversight Board should collaborate with supported employment providers, DVRS, and an independent expert organization to evaluate the costs, revenue, and business infrastructure of provider agencies, in an effort to assess their financial health and to provide any technical assistance.Because of divergent definitions of billable time for supported employment professionals, used by different state funding agencies, the study outcome should include identification of all supported employment professionals’ activities which contribute to the success of job seekers and workers with disabilities. Any gaps or mismatch between billing and non-billing of any crucial activities such as training time of supported employment service professional should be addressed by state funding agencies. Both successful and failing agencies should be invited to participate in this fact-finding report.
- State funding agencies, especially DDD and DVRS, should consider offering outcome-based reimbursement rates, currently used in many high-performing states. A tiered schedule of reimbursement rates could depend not only on employment outcomes at different benchmark of employment, but also the number of working hours and the client’s level of support needs.To stem the high turnover of supported employment professionals, a flexible career pathway for them should be encouraged so that successful professionals who do not want to hold managerial positions or do not have such opportunities could be recognized and promoted as master professionals, highly valued by all stakeholders.
Individual and Family Engagements.
The belief that people with disabilities can work and can contribute meaningfully to their community should be fostered from an early age. The culture of high expectations of the individuals, family members, educators, state personnel, and service providers should be strengthened.
- Educators should utilize Person-Centered Planning and provide transitioning students with Pre-Employment Transition Services, including work-based learning opportunities and Structured Learning Experiences in the community, in collaboration with DVRS Work-based learning experiences should be individually tailored to individual students and should take place in typical places of employment to the maximum extent possible. Being informed about competitive integrated employment, consistent with their strengths and interests, help to transition youth and adults with disabilities make informed decisions about their lives.
- Benefits planning counseling is key to the success of people with disabilities’ transition to competitively paid jobs and job retention. Ongoing and intensive counseling is required, especially for those workers who are currently paid subminimum wages and those transitioning from school to work.
- Recognizing the need for ongoing and hands-on assistance with benefits planning and reporting requirements to Social Security by SSI and SSDI recipients, DDD should take steps to increase the capacity of certified service providers and DSPs to provide such services to DDD-eligible individuals.
- Peer-to-peer mentoring helps, in particular, those transitioning from segregated employment to integrated settings.
- Wrap-around services help those with part-time jobs maintain full days of meaningful engagements. Wrap-around services can also provide a means of Discovery for employment and enhance the skills of such individuals.
- Educate advocates, families, and providers about the importance of employment in creating a meaningful life in the community.
- In collaboration with Disability Rights New Jersey and SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, educate the disability community on Federal statutes on disability rights as related to employment, namely WIOA, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997, and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision and the Integration Mandate of the ADA as applied to employment setting.
- One of WIOA’s initiatives is the requirement that VR agencies establish a Business Outreach Team (BOT) to better link employers to job seekers with disabilities, including educating the businesses on disability inclusion and reasonable accommodation. Two-way communication between the BOT and supported employment providers goes a long way towards this goal.
- Advocacy at the Federal Level
Join national disability advocacy organizations in voicing our support for “Raise the Wage Act” and “Transformation to Competitive Employment Act.” Urge New Jersey’s Congressional Delegates to support and vote for these Acts.
- Advocate for the completion of the MOU between DVRS and ED so that Pre-ETS can be effectively delivered.
- Advocate for DVRS to enforce WIOA’s Section 511 requirements effectively and to hold all CRPs accountable for the 10% benchmark of transitioning to competitive integrated employment of their clients with disabilities.
- Advocate to all state agencies for building capacity of quality employment professionals which include those providing supported and customized employment services, Pre-ETS, and Trial Work Experiences.
- Advocate for building capacity of certified benefits planning counselors.
- Educate our legislators and policy makers at the state level about the importance of employment for those with IDD. Demonstrate to them the higher returns on investment on supported employment over an employment cycle, compared to year-after-year spending of state-only dollars on segregated and subminimum wage employment services.
- Even though New Jersey’s Minimum Wage Law of January 2019 does not address subminimum wage workers with disabilities, the Law offers a tax credit, totaling $10 million, to an employer who hires an employee with a disability at the applicable minimum wage.LWD must have oversight responsibility to ensure that such employment is in an integrated setting. Furthermore, LWD must closely monitor all employers which participate in a “qualified training program” which are allowed by the Law to pay their employees “training wages” during the first 120 hours after being hired. Such employers must have a reasonable expectation that the trainee will become a regular employee after the training period of 120 hours. It remains to be seen how this provision of the Minimum Wage Law will impact employment outcomes of people with disabilities.
- Advocate for New Jersey’s Employment First to be strengthened, with voices of individuals, families, all involved state agencies, educators, and service providers, so that the ADA’s promises of financial self-sufficiency and full community inclusion can be realized by New Jerseyans who live with I/DD.