Neilson, House members advocate for ‘My Work, My Choice’

HARRISBURG, March 13 – A bipartisan group of legislators from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives today rallied to prevent individuals with disabilities from being forced to sit in the community and leave day programs and sheltered workshops where they are comfortable.

Following the rally, the House Human Services Committee conducted a hearing on the topic to gather more information.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) proposed changing how it administers its home- and community-based waivers. To be eligible, individuals with disabilities would be forced to spend time in the community away from sheltered workshops and day programs where they currently go. The initial proposal would have required individuals to spend 75 percent of their time in the community, rather than being segregated at day programs or sheltered workshops. This requirement left many day programs and sheltered workshops wondering how they would continue to operate if individuals can only participate essentially one day out of five. While an alternate proposal to have individuals spend 25 percent of their time in the community has been advanced, some unanswered questions remain.

“All Americans deserve the right to work and should have the liberty to keep a job they love,” said Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland). “We need more people working, not less. Clelian Heights and the Blind Association in my legislative district meet the needs of individuals with disabilities that make people feel valued and provide socialization among their peers”.

“Many of the individuals who attend day programs or participate in sheltered workshops find so much importance in them, and families want to be able to make the choice that best meets their situation,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), chairman of the House Human Services Committee.

“Individuals with special needs have valued the time they spend in day programs and sheltered workshops, and their families and caregivers appreciate these options,” Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) said. “By forcing these individuals to spend several days away from their normal routine is counterproductive and could cause them and their families additional hardships. This compromise isn’t perfect but strikes a better balance in their lives.”

“I have met with and heard from families in my district whose loved ones participate in community activities, but do so at their discretion,” said Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia). “Changing the rules is not something they support and is not conducive to their lives. Many of these individuals with disabilities engage with their community and spend part of their day in a structure environment. The changes would have a devastating ripple effect, not only on the individuals and families that are directly impacted, but their communities as a whole.”

“I’ve had the chance to meet with many of the individuals and parents who benefit from the great work being done in these facilities,” said Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks). “I think it’s vital they have a choice in where they work so they can continue to thrive and live as independently as possible.”