By Enmanuel Gomez Antolinez and Elise Gurney
States are increasingly leading a transition away from sheltered workshops – where businesses employ people with disabilities at less than minimum wage and in settings that primarily or exclusively employ individuals with disabilities – and toward competitive integrated employment (CIE). While thirteen states have passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wages, Indiana is taking a unique approach by leveraging American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to transition employers away from sheltered workshops and advance CIE. The goal is to increase CIE for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state from 23% to 38% by 2027. This equates to a 68% increase in the number of individuals with IDD in the state employed in CIE by 2027.
Indiana’s Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS) has used ARPA funding to support the transition away from sheltered work and advance CIE outcomes through three main strategies:
Assessing and redesigning DDRS policies, procedures, systems and services to better support CIE;
Supporting and encouraging providers to transition away from sheltered work to CIE; and
Facilitating statewide transformations to enhance CIE outcomes.
Assessing and Redesigning DDRS Policies, Procedures, Systems and Services
DDRS has utilized ARPA funding to broadly reassess and redesign elements of its current operations to better support CIE. To do so, it has partnered with the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services’ Supported Employment Leadership Network, which has helped DDRS facilitate self-assessment and revision of DDRS systems, services and supports for CIE. Assessment and redesign efforts include:
Redesigning waiver services and supports to encourage, facilitate and maintain CIE. DDRS identified significant support needs gaps not covered by its existing prevocational operations (sheltered work), ongoing job supports and workplace personal care attendant services. It is therefore redesigning the state’s 1915c Medicaid waivers for individuals with disabilities to establish a wider, more flexible array of employment services (such as career exploration, benefits counseling, job development and other employment supports) and refocusing existing services to better support an individual’s CIE goals.
Developing policies and procedures to support coordination across DDRS. DDRS has three Bureaus that serve individuals with disabilities and their families throughout an individual’s life. Due to distinct federal program rules and oversight, these three Bureaus have historically worked in isolation. DDRS is working to align services and employment supports across the Bureaus so that consumers have a seamless point of entry and experience across DDRS and so that Bureaus can better coordinate program support and braided funding for CIE.
Developing and refining IT systems to improve customers’ ability to drive and engage in CIE services and supports. This aligns with broader DDRS efforts to make the individual the primary driver of their services and supports. To accomplish this, DDRS engaged in a multi-year-project to consolidate their current IT systems into a portal that allows state personnel, independent case managers and providers and eventually individuals to access, provide input and share information regarding the individual’s trajectory plan, services and support system. The final version of the portal will allow individuals to access their records and take ownership of their services and supports.
Developing a reimbursement system that incentivizes a team approach and rewards CIE outcomes. DDRS believes meaningful advancement of statewide CIE goals will only be realized when all parts of the system understand their roles and commit to shared responsibility in supporting CIE outcomes. To that end, DDRS is planning a systematic review of state policy to incentivize providers supporting these shared outcomes. This means revising provider expectations on collaborating with other service system providers and state program personnel when providing and planning service delivery to individuals. It also means evaluating the need for targeted incentives in current Home- and Community-Based Services waivers and Vocational Rehabilitation reimbursement structures and exploring value-based payment methodologies to drive focus on CIE outcomes.
Supporting and Encouraging Providers to Transition to CIE
In Indiana, 37 employment providers hold 14(c) certificates in sheltered workshop settings. To support these providers in transitioning away from sheltered work and in expanding their capacity to provide customized CIE services and supports, DDRS launched two two-year collaboratives in July 2022.
The first collaborative is designed to support providers who currently operate a sheltered work program in the transition to CIE, whereas the second is designed to support improved CIE services for providers that transitioned away from a sheltered work model within the last 24 months.
A variety of resources and supports are made available to providers throughout the two-year period to transform their business operations and/or enhance their capacity to support CIE. This includes:
Virtual and in-person trainings from national experts;
Technical assistance; and
Opportunities to receive peer mentorship and learn from one another.
Providers also receive a $50,000 stipend per year of full participation in the collaborative. Finally, collaborative participants are eligible to apply for a transformation grant of up to $400,000 to support their movement away from a sheltered work model and to develop innovative strategies to support CIE outcomes.
Strategies for supporting the transition to and improvement of CIE services include:
Engaging in a value stream mapping process, which helps providers identify what customers want and need and helps streamline processes to create a flexible, person-centered CIE service system;
Developing a roadmap and setting goals to transform services within three to five years;
Establishing partnerships with families to smooth the employment process and improve outcomes, including by raising family expectations that CIE is possible; and
Engaging employers in informational interviews to create a pipeline of CIE opportunities.
Facilitating Statewide Transformations to Enhance CIE Outcomes
Finally, DDRS has effectively engaged leaders and entities across Indiana to more broadly impact attitudes and systems relating to sheltered work and CIE. This includes:
Hosting an annual Employment Summit for leaders across agencies and systems to focus on improving CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities;
Engaging the Indiana Department of Education and school systems to change the narrative and expectations regarding post-secondary pathways for individuals with disabilities; and
Collaborating with other entities – such as the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and advocacy organizations – to improve CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
Other State Approaches to Eliminating Sheltered Workshops
Indiana is unique in using ARPA funds to transition away from sheltered work (though other states are also including people with disabilities in their ARPA-funded economic recovery efforts). Other states have eliminated subminimum wage and sheltered workshops through legislation, regulations and Executive Orders. For example:
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development adopted regulations in 2018 repealing authority to pay subminimum wages for workers with disabilities.
Hawaii enacted Senate Bill 793 in 2021, which repeals the exemption from the minimum wage requirement for persons with disabilities.
Illinois Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order No. 2021-26 in 2021, which specifies that all current and future State Use program contracts must provide for payment of no less than minimum wage for all employees performing work on the contract.
For more information about Indiana’s allocation of ARPA funds, please visit: https://www.in.gov/ocra/ARPA/#:~:text=The%20American%20Rescue%20Plan%20Act,billion%20given%20to%20Indiana’s%20communities.
This publication was funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor through the State Exchange on Employment & Disability. This document, and any other organization’s linked webpages or documents, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.