People with disabilities have voiced loudly and clearly that they can and want to work. It’s also clear that Minnesota wants employment to increase for people with significant disabilities. The Olmstead Plan and Employment First Policy paves the way for better employment outcomes. However, people are unclear about how these changes will affect their services and supports.
Minnesota Olmstead Plan is the state’s plan for how and when services for people with disabilities will be provided in the most integrated setting and across life domains. Employment goal for the Minnesota Olmstead Plan is: “People with disabilities will have choices for competitive, meaningful and sustained employment in the most integrated setting.”
Passed by Gov. Mark Dayton’s Olmstead Sub-Cabinet in September 2014 as a key objective to achieve this goal; the Minnesota Employment First Policy provides a call to action for state agencies that provide employment services and supports to more effectively facilitate competitive employment. With these changes come questions about what the Minnesota Olmstead Plan and the Minnesota Employment First Policy will really mean.
Below are some of the commonly asked questions and answers:
Question 1: Will the Olmstead Plan and Minnesota Employment First Policy (MEFP) close down my day services provider?
Answer 1: NO. Nowhere in the plan or MEFP is there language stating that day services will be closed. Both of these initiatives ensure all people with disabilities receiving public services for who want to work, with or without supports will have that opportunity.
Question 2: Will the plan and MEFP require me to work 30 to 40 hours per week, at prevailing wages with benefits?
Answer 2: NO. Neither the plan nor MEFP specifies the number of hours, wages, and benefits that people with disabilities are required to earn. In fact, there are no requirements on people with disabilities.
Question 3: Will the plan and MEFP force me to work in the non-disabled workforce if I don’t want to, rather than providing a choice?
Answer 3: NO. Neither the plan nor the MEFP require people with disabilities to work in the regular workforce. They require actions by state agencies to ensure processes are in place that help people with disabilities to make an informed choice about work. Both start with the individual to ensure choices are retained.
Question 4: Will the plan and MEFP force me off the public benefits and supports (e.g., SSI, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.)
Answer 4: NO. The plan and the MEFP states that people with disabilities will not be moved off public benefits or out of services until they are earning a livable income. In fact, they ensure that people understand the financial and other benefits of working and the work incentives that protect public benefits. People with disabilities can choose to work without losing any of the support they need.
Question 5: Will the plan and MEFP require me to work in community settings where I may not be safe?
Answer 5: NO. The plan the MEFP would not require people with disabilities to work in settings that they do not choose. Finding the right job match and setting are essential to successful employment. Being safe is part of that match. Both the plan and the MEFP recognize the importance of adequate support services to ensure people who want to work in the community can do so safely.
Question 6: Is the idea of “Community-Based Services” just a trendy topic that the plan and MEFP latched onto, recently?
Answer 6: NO. The notion that people with disabilities can and should have the opportunity to live fully in their communities goes back decades. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s people with disabilities and their families fought for the right to live in the community and receive community-based services, rather than living in segregated settings. In 1983, Home and Community-Based Services came into existence to ensure those with the most significant disabilities could receive long-term supportive services. Community-based employment supports also emerged during that time. In the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision affirmed the right for people with disabilities, including those with the most significant barriers, to receive public services in the community. Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan is aligned with that court decision.
Question 7: Is it true that most people with disabilities cannot work in the non-disabled workforce?
Answer 7: NO. This is inaccurate, most citizens with disabilities can work in the non-disabled workforce. That belief is a barrier to employment and is reflected in an employment rate of 44% for Minnesotans with disabilities compared to 81% for non-disabled citizens. With the right accommodations and appropriate supports, many jobs are achievable for people once considered “unemployable.”
Derek Nord, Ph.D. is Associate Director, Research and Training Center on Community living Institute on Community Integration, at the University of Minnesota.