House proposes increase in state aid to sheltered workshops

The Missouri House has voted to increase state financial support to sheltered workshops.

Representative Rory Rowland’s has a son, JP, who has Down syndrome and loves working in a Kansas City-area workshop. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2644 would increase from $19 to $21 dollars the amount the state pays to workshops for every six-hour or longer day worked by a handicapped employee. Backers say the boost would give those workshops and their employees more financial stability, while reaffirming the state’s support for them and the work they do.

HB 2644 is sponsored by Representative Rory Rowland (D-Independence), whose son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“I want to thank everyone in this body for your kindness and support of this,” an emotional Rowland told his House colleagues. “This means so much to my family [and] my son.”

Many lawmakers spoke while HB 2644 was before the House about the workshops in their districts and what those mean to their communities, and their employees.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) has been on the board of directors for a workshop in his district for more than 30 years. He said the employees of that workshop would rather be there than have a day off even on holidays.

“You see these workers not grumbling about being there. They want don’t want to take off. They want to be at work. They want the socialization. They want to feel a worth,” said Wood. “When you’re packaging something that they can go to Wal-Mart and see on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, I packaged that. I did that work,’ it gives them a feeling of self-worth that nothing else can.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) is the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsy who died at the age of 15.

Representative David Wood has been on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop for more than 30 years.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“As a parent I often wondered, ‘Where would my child be able to go to work?’” Brown told his House colleagues. “A lot of the kids that she went to school with, they work at a sheltered workshop in my district called Southeast Enterprises, and when I look at kids like Dwayne Bell or Tiffany Johnson I see the joy that comes from their heart from going to work every day and having the ability to maintain a job and having a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth from doing a job each day.”

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman said the value of workshops doesn’t only come from what they mean to their employees. He spoke about a component for air conditioner compressors that is made at a workshop in his district.

“It’s not just about giving these individuals a job. They are huge economic drivers of our communities,” said Alferman.

Wood said because of a combination of lagging state support and a pencil producer moving its operation from his district to the country of Mexico, the workshop he sits on the board of had to cut 45 of its employees.

“The state aid is extremely important. This is an extremely important program to the State of Missouri. They do work that you wouldn’t believe,” said Wood.

Rowland and other lawmakers thanked Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for their support of the legislation.

HB 2644 goes to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, but Rowland is optimistic that because of its subject matter it will receive enough attention to pass before the session’s end.

Earlier story:  Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

A representative who says sheltered workshops make a huge difference in his son’s life spearheaded an effort to signal the legislature’s continued backing for those facilities.

Representative Rory Rowland (right) introduces his son JP on the Missouri House Floor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Independence Democrat Rory Rowland offered House Concurrent Resolution 28, which was adopted by both the House and Senate and declares those chambers’ support for sheltered workshops.

Rowland’s son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“A sheltered workshop is a great opportunity.  For my son, he loves it.  I actually asked him to come down and lobby with me on a variety of days for this resolution and he actually would rather go to work at a sheltered workshop, and I found that remarkable,” said Rowland.  “It was a great testament to the success of sheltered workshops for people with disabilities.  It gives him something that he feels is worthwhile and gives him a sense of accomplishment.”

Rowland said he was inspired to propose the resolution in response to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  He was told by relatives of sheltered workshop employees, and by workshop managers, that the Act was having unintended consequences.

Rowland said the Act makes it more difficult for people with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 21 and 25 to get employment at a sheltered workshop.

“They really created what I call a, ‘bridge to nowhere.’  Between the age of 21 to 25 there’s no way that these young people can get in there unless they jump through a number of hoops that I think are really unrealistic in regards to what they have to do,” said Rowland.

Rowland believes the Act’s aim is to get more people with intellectual disabilities into competitive employment, but he said that doesn’t work for everyone – including his son.

“We tried to get competitive employment for my son and he got rejected time after time after time.  He’s just not one of those people that’s eligible for competitive employment … we then sought out a sheltered workshop and found out the limitations in regards to the Workforce Innovation Act and how difficult it is now to get into a sheltered workshop if you’re under the age of 25,” said Rowland.

Rowland said he filed the resolution to raise attention about the impacts of the Act.

“The resolution was really designed to give the opportunity family members [of employees], and managers of sheltered workshops the opportunity to talk to their federal legislators and say, ‘I think we need to rethink the Workforce Innovation Act,’” said Rowland.

He said the resolution’s path through and adoption by the legislature generated a great deal of news coverage and other attention that he thinks could be its greatest effect – to generate attention.

Meanwhile JP Rowland is doing well at the workshop he works at.

“If he didn’t have a sheltered workshop he literally would be home today watching TV or playing video games, and I don’t think any of us after a while would feel like we should leave high school and be retired,” said Rowland.  “He now gets a chance to go to work, develop some skills, but also from a family member’s standpoint, you know he’s got three brothers and sisters and they get to talk about their job when we have family gatherings, and now they get to ask him about his job and he feels like he’s a contributing part of society.  I think that’s an important key – for him to have that sense of accomplishment, that sense of achievement, that sense of belonging.”

Rowland’s resolution passed out of the House 152-1.

He said that during the 2018 session he anticipates the possible formation of a task force to delve into issues faced by those with intellectual disabilities when seeking competitive employment.