New Mandates, Regulations Bring Challenges Across Missouri
Missouri’s Extended Employment Program currently faces many challenges with the new federal mandates that seek to limit employment options for some of our most challenged citizens.
Choice of employment just does not seem to be a theme with regard to many of these new mandates. The Work Innovative and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law by President Obama in 2014. WIOA went into effect on July 22, 2016. Its primary objective is to “strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help Americans with significant barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.”
MASWM’s members understand the importance of work. The self-esteem and dignity one gets from working and being productive is extremely important to one’s self-worth and well-being. This simply cannot be underestimated.
Although WIOA does have a number of positive attributes, like many other federal mandates, it also has resulted in many unintended consequences. Prior to this year, Missouri’s sheltered workshops have worked very closely with their local school districts, providing valuable work experiences to those students who were not yet deemed ready for competitive employment.
The special education teachers who worked with the students and their families to develop their Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) were instrumental in helping to determine the best postsecondary recommendations for their students. Since WIOA became effective on July 22, 2016, students are prohibited from working in Missouri’s Sheltered Workshop Program. They can no longer benefit from the real work experiences that help them develop the necessary work and social skills required in today’s work settings.
Despite these setbacks, the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers (MASWM) has been extremely busy during the last several months. On October 7, we launched our nationwide campaign “Dignity has a Voice.” This includes a new website, www.dignityhasavoice.com and Facebook page, http://bit.ly/2iHfJm6. Both of these sites provide great information about the importance of work, as well as the right to choose where one works. Both include powerful testimonials from our employees and their families regarding what works means to them.
During the last few months, several of our MASWM members have been working together with representatives from DESE, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and the University of Missouri Hook Center to develop a new system which will ensure that Missouri’s sheltered workshops are in full compliance with the new WIOA regulations. This includes career counseling for all new hires every six months for the first year and then annually thereafter. All 6600+ employees working in Missouri’s sheltered workshop program are required to participate in this career counseling at least once a year. Both VR and UMC’s Hook Center have agreed to help us with this massive undertaking.
The Hook Center has 35 masters-level special education teachers located all around the state. These teachers are currently working with their local school districts to help them comply with WIOA. They have agreed to help us with this project.
On Nov. 14, VR unveiled this new system with a test pilot at the Moberly workshop, with nearly 60 people participating. This joint effort with VR and the Hook Center was one of the first in the nation to use the group approach to comply with the new WIOA regulations. Once again, Missouri is on the cutting edge and, as such, we have received numerous calls from other states that want to duplicate this very successful system.
Moving forward, MASWM’s Board and its members are fully committed to making Missouri’s program a model for the nation, which will continue to focus on providing job training and meaningful work experiences to those who might otherwise never have the opportunity to work and be productive citizens within their communities.
Finally, I would like to thank former Legislative Co-Chairs Randy Hylton and Jim Guyre for their service, following their retirements from years of volunteer services to MASWM. Their contributions to this organization and around the state are tremendous. Randy also served as MASWM president and has done so much “above and beyond” for the organizations and workshops that it is literally beyond calculation.