Disability Employment Highlighted at Dan Miller Summit

Steve Suroviec, Achieva's President & CEO, along with Dr. Josie Badger, Chair of the Employment First Oversight Commission, recently gave testimony at Representative Dan Miller's 10th Annual Disability and Mental Health Summit on May 11, 2023, in Pittsbur
By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO

On May 11th, I testified alongside Dr. Josie Badger before a legislative panel convened by State Representative Dan Miller during his tenth annual “Disability and Mental Health Summit.” The focus of the panel was “Employment First,” and the findings contained in the PA Employment First Oversight Commission’s October 2022 Report. I was the Commission’s Chair when the report was issued, and Dr. Badger serves as the Commission’s current Chair.

People with disabilities are one of the largest untapped labor pools in our economy. While the labor participation rate for adults with disabilities is typically half that of those without disabilities, the disability unemployment rate is consistently twice the rate of people without disabilities. During a time in our country when the labor pool is tight, competition for talent is at an all-time high. Workers with disabilities as a cohort of the workforce are said to be consistently better performers and use less sick time compared to peers without disabilities, and a recent U.S. Department of Labor study suggests nearly half of all disability-related accommodations used in the workplace cost nothing to the employer.

In Pennsylvania, state policy requires that competitive-integrated employment be the first consideration and preferred outcome of publicly-funded programs, such as long-term supports and services, education, and other programs. That’s what “employment first” means. Yet, in my testimony before the legislative panel, I reported on data published in the Commission’s October 2022 report that suggests employment first policy isn’t being honored. For example:
  • Less than one percent of working-age people served by the publicly-funded Community HealthChoices program (funded by the PA Office of Long-Term Living) hold a competitive-integrated job. Less than two percent have an employment goal in their service plan, and of those only one in five have an employment service authorized to help them achieve their employment goal.
  • Only 17 percent of people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism served by the PA Office of Developmental Programs hold a competitive-integrated job. Only 13,600 have an employment goal in their service plan, and of those only 5,600 have an employment service authorized to help them achieve their employment goal.
With these numbers, how can anyone say that employment is the “first consideration and preferred outcome” of publicly-funded programs in Pennsylvania?

My testimony to the state legislators attending the Summit included a number of recommendations that the General Assembly could pursue if it wanted to improve the numbers. At the very least, the legislature can hold hearings and hold state agency heads accountable – require the new Shapiro Administration (Secretaries of Education, Human Services, and Labor and Industry, etc.) to come before the legislature and explain what they will do specifically to improve the situation inherited from the Wolf Administration.

Thanks and appreciation go to Representative Miller for hosting the summit and placing a spotlight on the disability employment numbers within Pennsylvania. Publicly-funded state agencies in Harrisburg can and must do better. The data suggest there are opportunities to do so – assuming our government officials want to do so. My full testimony can be found here.
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