Chris Collins tours Hilltop Industries
Leadership, families and clients of the Arc of Livingston-Wyoming met with Rep. Chris Collins on Nov. 26 to discuss a federal directive preventing Hilltop Industries and other sheltered workshops from admitting new workers.
Sheltered workshops, like Hilltop Industries in Mount Morris, are facilities that employ disabled persons and provide them with a means of socialization. Under a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directive, New York State has not been allowed to permit new admissions into the workshops since July 1. Also, if a person leaves a sheltered workshop and seeks employment in the community, he or she will not be able to return.
New York was forced to submit a draft plan to CMS on Oct. 1 detailing the transition of people with disabilities to competitive employment in the community. A final plan must be submitted by Jan. 1. Consequently, sheltered workshops will eventually be phased out of communities throughout the state.
CMS based its directive on the 1999 Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. L.C. The decision says that people with mental disabilities have the right to be placed in community settings rather than institutions, if they are not opposed to doing so.
Collins wrote a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on Oct. 23 expressing concern about the directive.
“The Administration's directive to phase out sheltered workshops across the country is not in the best interest of the disabled,” Collins wrote. “The directive is not only unrealistic but destructive to the disabled community, which relies heavily on these programs for employment. CMS’ regulations will remove jobs for 8,000 persons in New York State with disabilities, many of whom love their current position and find value in their work alongside individuals with and without disabilities.”
Collins went on to write that the federal government is not in a position to direct all disabled people to join competitive employment and the decision should be left to those with disabilities.
While visiting Hilltop, Collins said he is still waiting to hear an answer from Tavenner, but he is optimistic that the decision will be reversed.
“They will get back to us,” Collins said. “They can’t go into a black hole.”
Also while visiting Hilltop, Collins heard from the leadership, families and workers of the facility regarding why it should still be able to admit new workers.
Kellie Kennedy, director of Hilltop, expressed her concern that if disabled people were able to find a job in the community, they would only get around 10 hours of work per week. She said parents would have the responsibility of finding someone to look after their children for the remaining time
The concerns of aging parents with disabled children in the sheltered workshops were expressed by Veronica Bump, whose daughter Lisa has been attending Hilltop for more than 20 years.
Bump said that parents are looking for somewhere for their children to go, so they can “rest easy should they pass on.”
“What it’s going to do, is just send them out and hope they take care of themselves,” Bump asked, speaking about the effect of the federal decision.
Kennedy also said it would be hard to find jobs for even 100 of Hilltop’s disabled employees.
Hilltop has hired more than double that number. The sheltered workshop employs 210 people, and in 2012 put $800,000 worth of wages back into the community.
Three of those 210 workers, Lisa Irwin, Heather Bump and Tony Wojtowicz, told Collins during his visit that they have enjoyed working at Hilltop and do not want to work in the community.
“It’s like New York State is taking away our rights to work in a workshop,” Irwin said. “Because I think we should have the right to ... if we get a job in the community, I think we should have the right to come back here and work, and have our jobs still here, instead of going out into the community, get a job and if you don’t like it, I don’t think you should have to stay home, sit around and not get paid for it.”
“I think that is the most compelling argument,” Collins responded. “Well said, thank you for that and I don’t think we need to say any more.”
Collins also toured Hilltop during his visit, where he was able to meet many of the employees and see the different work they do.