Regulations could affect jobs, housing for people with disabilities

Proposed federal restrictions to the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services program could stop funding for group homes, day programs and work programs for people with disabilities across the state. Locally, this could restrict jobs and housing for people utilizing the Opportunity Center and Lori Knapp Companies in Prairie du Chien.

But there is a plan to stop these regulations from becoming law. A national grassroots action campaign, sponsored in Wisconsin by RFW (Rehabilitation for Wisconsin) in Action, is underway to stop these proposed regulations. In Prairie du Chien, a letter writing event has been scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Sharing Spaces Kitchen, behind the Opportunity Center.

People who utilize the programs for people with disabilities, as well as those who simply see a good value in the programs, are invited to come to the letter writing event and spend a few minutes personalizing a form letter that will be sent to U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress. Writers may also have their photos taken to be sent with the letters to further personalize them. Staff will be on-hand to help with the letters, and they are also willing to videotape people’s personal stories and put them together in a video that will also be sent to lawmakers.

The proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would bar Medicaid dollars from going to such services, based on the argument that they discriminate against the disabled.

The CMS proposal is based on a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C., that said segregating the disabled is discrimination. The agency has ordered New York state to close all “sheltered workshops,” an outdated label that has been replaced by the term “community rehabilitation programs.”

People with disabilities should work alongside others out in the community, according to CMS.

For those who see the benefit of programs like these, like Angie Engrav, program director at the Opportunity Center, they fear these regulations could cause elimination of these programs for people with disabilities. Supporters feel the federal insistence that all people with disabilities have jobs in the community instead of at specialized facilities is short-sighted.

According to RFW in Action, jobs, homes, and community centers for people with significant disabilities are in danger, thanks to these proposed regulations. Changes are already being made in New York and other states based on the new rules proposed by the federal government.

However, proponents of organizations like the Opportunity Center and Lori Knapp Companies want the Senate and Congress to realize the importance of Medicaid-funded services received by people with disabilities and deny any changes.

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