Press-Republican

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October 6, 2013

Sheltered workshops face dramatic changes

PLATTSBURGH — A move by the state to integrate sheltered workshops could end up closing some — or at least drastically change how they operate.

At Mountain Lake Services in Essex County and Champlain Valley Industries (CVI) in Plattsburgh, officials are preparing for the possible loss of Medicaid dollars that subsidize the employment of the people with developmental disabilities served by those agencies.

“We would have to replace all those Medicaid dollars with contract dollars,” said Advocacy and Resource Center Executive Director Theresa Garrow, referring to the work that comes in to its workshop, CVI, on a contract basis from businesses around the region.

“That’s about $1 million.”

PREVAILING WAGE

The federal government has told the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities that work centers must be desegregated in order to continue receiving Medicaid dollars, Garrow said.

So while those employed at them now will not lose their positions, any newcomers with disabilities can come aboard at a sheltered workshop with Medicaid support only if an equal number of non-disabled people are hired.

The exception to that, Garrow said, is if new clients can work at an integrated business in the community.

As well, the centers will no longer be allowed to pay sub-minimum wage, which they have done with permission from the State Department of Labor, Mountain Lake Services Chief Operating Officer Beth McKenna said.

That agency’s workshop, Essex Industries, relies on that system, while CVI bases its pay on prevailing wage.

“We have a certificate, but we don’t use it,” Garrow said.

GREATER CHALLENGE

Opened in 1974 in Mineville, Essex Industries currently employs 75 people with developmental disabilities and 21 non-disabled individuals, among them staff members.

The employees make canoe seats and wooden canoe parts for businesses like L.L. Bean, as well as wooden picnic tables. It had $1 million in contract sales last year.

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