A state House committee’s passed a resolution which supports the state’s sheltered workshops, and seeks changes to federal guidelines surrounding them.

The workplaces which employ individuals with developmental disabilities are under threat of closure after the federal law was passed without funding.

The law, known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2014, but its effects, which some think were unintended, weren’t realized until 2015-16.

It requires those with the disabilities to choose either a sheltered workshop or competitive employment, when many of them split time between both work environments.

Democratic House member Rory Rowland of Independence is sponsoring the resolution, which was approved by a 10-0 margin.  He thinks the federal requirements in their current form, will cost taxpayers a lot of money.

“The state of Missouri pays, basically $19 a day for someone to be in a sheltered workshop” said Rowland.  “However though, if we take them to a day rehabilitation center, the state pays $19.50 per 15 minutes, almost $80 an hour for them to be in that program compared to a sheltered workshop.”

The high cost of rehabilitation centers comes in spite federal assistance through Medicaid.  The federal law was designed to encourage higher paying opportunities in competitive employment, but Rowland says its failure to allow for work choice endangers sheltered workshops.

Roughly 6,300 people with developmental disabilities earn money at the facilities in Missouri.  The state’s system is known as the Extended Employment Sheltered Workshop Program.  It’s not connected to Medicaid and is funded state, local and business activities.

Rowland says among the pitfalls of the federal law is its elimination of the “bridge from school to work”.

“In the state of Missouri, children have to leave high school at the age of 21 if they have intellectual disabilities.  On their 21st birthday, they have to leave school.  Right now, sheltered workshops can’t accept them until they’re 25.  So there’s a gap there where there’s nothing for them.”

Rowland has a son with Down Syndrome who is among those who are employed at a sheltered work shop.  He says he and his wife have to get him competitive jobs, but he’s not ready yet.

According to Rowland, federal changes which encourage higher paying opportunities in competitive employment, are threatening the existence of sheltered workshops.

“If you take that option away from them, they’re not going to be paid at all.  If they don’t have any ability to develop their skills, they’re not going to be employed in two, three, four, five, six years.”