Missouri’s Extended Employment Program a Model for the Nation

MASWM President Bruce Young: Extended employment is a great opportunity for many Missourians.
by Bruce Young, MASWM President

Missouri’s Extended Employment program continues to serve as a model for the nation in regard to providing meaningful work opportunities to thousands of adults with significant disabilities, just as it has for over 50 years now.

Missouri’s model is unique in comparison to many other states around the nation, in that employment of adults with disabilities is our primary focus. Despite the many obstacles (reduced manufacturing jobs, outspoken and misinformed critics, federal mandates, etc.) facing Missouri’s workshop program, our theme continues to revolve around one word, “Choice.” We fully support and embrace the idea of our employees moving on to other employment options if they so choose and/or have the necessary skills to do so.

However, for those who cannot or choose not to work at another job, Missouri’s extended employment program is a great opportunity. This is especially true for those who would otherwise be destined for a much more restricted and unproductive day program situation or, worse yet, sitting at home alone with nothing to do.

The importance of this program is evidenced daily by our employees and their families. All you have to do is walk through one of our facilities and speak directly to our employees. You will quickly learn just how important these jobs are to them. The dignity and self-esteem one gets from working and being a productive citizen within his/her community can never be underestimated or overlooked.

Employment is crucial to the well-being and quality of life for everyone, including those who work in Missouri’s extended employment program. With that said, it is imperative that we continue our fight to save this very important program. Federal mandates such as the Work Innovative and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which went into effect in 2016, prevent special education students from participating in valuable work experiences within their local sheltered workshops, as they have done for almost 50 years. As a result, many of these students have lost out on this opportunity to learn many of the valuable and important work and social skills required for gainful employment after high school.

That is one of the reasons we took over 40 employees and family members to Washington, D.C. this summer for our second annual “Missouri Day on the Hill”. The response this year was simply incredible. Every one of our Missouri delegates showed up in support of our employees and their families this year.

We were also joined by Missouri Representative Rory Rowland, whose son works at a sheltered workshop in Kansas City. Representative Rowland, who knows firsthand just how important this work is to his son, spearheaded a push to pass Missouri House Resolution 28 last year. HR 28 was a monumental accomplishment that gained the full support of the Missouri House and Senate. With over 100 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Todd Richardson, the message of support for our employees was evident.

We took framed copies of this resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives to Washington D.C. this summer, where Rep. Rowland gave each delegate an official copy. This helped to send a very strong message to those in D.C. that Missouri’s legislative body is 100% behind Missouri’s sheltered workshop program and its over 6300 employees.

We are confident that Missouri’s Extended Employment program is a model for the entire nation. As such, we must continue to move forward and show the nation that Missouri’s program is a flexible one. It provides every opportunity to its employees in order to assist them with developing the skills necessary to work successfully, wherever they may choose to work.

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