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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sheltered workshops question funding

Camden County, Mo. -

Lake Area Industries, of Camdenton, is one of a group of workshops across the state that has challenged a recent decision by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to pay workshops at less than the rate demanded by statute.

Six workshops, representing a cross section of Missouri’s nearly 100 workshops for people with developmental disabilities, agreed to join and proceed with litigation to ask the court to direct the DESE to pay all Missouri Workshops at the correct statutory amount of $17 per diem.

The focus of their action is a letter from two legislators that directed DESE’s Special Education Administration to pay sheltered workshops at last year’s rate of $15 per diem or $75 per work week. The workshops noted that statute says without qualification that the department “shall pay” the $17 per diem for the 2008-2009 budget year.

The six workshops are Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises in Columbia, Mo.; Valley Industries in Hazelwood, Mo.; Harrison County Sheltered Workshop Association in Bethany, Mo.; Lake Area Industries, Inc.; Sheltered Industries of the Meramec Valley Inc. in Sullivan, Mo.; and Vocational Services, Inc. in Liberty, Mo.

The workshops are all members of the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers. They filed an independent legal action last month requesting that the Department of Education fund workshops at the level designated in Missouri statute, which was passed by a vote of the legislature in last year’s session. That amount represents $17 per day for each worker with a disability that completes a six-hour work day. However, a letter from the two legislative finance chairmen of the house and senate directed the department to only fund at last year’s, $15 per diem.

“We understand the legislature has to balance the budget, but this is not about the amount of funds appropriated. We are concerned that most legislators don’t realize that state statutes were being overridden without their vote,” Randy Hylton, executive director of Vocational Services, Inc. said. “A lot of legislators may not know this, but it’s fiscally very serious for workshops that have only had one increase in 10 years.”

Missouri’s sheltered workshops derive most of their income from contract labor for business services such as packaging, original products and services. The state funds provide key support to help workshops provide supervision and training for their workers with developmental disabilities while remaining competitive with their business services.

The legal action filed last week asks the DESE to fund the per diem as approved in the 2007 legislative session at the designated 2008-09 funding level of $17 per diem or $85 for each standard workweek. “We believe the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must pay sheltered workshops from the funds appropriated at the rate set forth for 2008-2009,” Hylton said. “We also don’t think that two legislators speak for the entire Senate and House or that they can negate laws that have been voted on, passed and been signed by the governor.”

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