Senators introduce “Transition to Independence Act”

Man sitting at computer using a power wheelchair and microphone.
Transition to Independent Act Introduced

A bill was introduced in the Senate on June 18 that would create a new demonstration program, incentivizing state Medicaid programs to provide increased integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

“A key public policy goal is giving individuals with disabilities every chance to live and work as fully in the community as possible,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whom introduced the bill with Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Bob Casey (D-PA), in a news release. “Medicaid is one of the biggest programs that provides support for the disabled, and it doesn’t do enough to achieve the policy goal. States have financial disincentives to do more under the current system.

“This bill would try something different. For participating states, it would change the incentives and help states do what they’d really like to do to better serve individuals with disabilities.”

The Transition to Independence Act focuses on people receiving Medicaid-funded home and community based services, which provides supports allowing people to live in their own homes and other community-based, as opposed to institutional, settings.

Specifically, it encourages states to take steps to assist these Medicaid beneficiaries transition from employment in “sheltered workshops” to the regular workforce.

“Sheltered workshops” refers to government and private employers who benefit from an exception to the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows them to pay employees with disabilities incomes below the minimum wage.

While this exception was originally designed to create employment opportunities for people who otherwise may be unemployable, the programs have been heavily criticized as exploitative and for perpetuating stereotypes about the capabilities of people with disabilities.

The bill would create a 5-year, 10-state demonstration program to states that meet certain benchmarks toward this goal.

According to the bill summary, these benchmarks include eliminating new placements in “sheltered workshop,” collaborating with other state agencies to improve workforce training and expand job opportunities, and increasing direct payments to supported employment providers.

“Those with disabilities should have the same opportunities for community participation and economic self-determination as anyone else, and this legislation reaffirms that,” Sen. Casey said in the news release. “This is a commonsense effort to encourage states to help those with disabilities enjoy life and work in their communities.”

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