Governor Wolf delivered his budget address to the General Assembly in early February, proposing his budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2019-20 (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020). Overall, it’s a decent budget for people with disabilities. The positives include a waiting list initiative for 876 people, a three percent rate increase for the Infants and Toddlers Early Intervention Program (the first rate increase proposed in 10 years!), a five percent increase in state funds for the state’s vocational rehabilitation program, and a $50 million increase for special education. Unfortunately, an initiative for which ACHIEVA, The Arc of Pennsylvania, and numerous provider associations advocated to materially increase wages for direct support professionals was not included. And while no state institution closure is mentioned in the Governor’s budget, we remain hopeful that an announcement to close at least one of the remaining four centers will come later this year.
Two meetings of the newly created “Employment First Oversight Commission” have been held so far in 2019 (I am honored to have been appointed by Governor Wolf to serve as one of its commissioners). The commission was created when Act 36 of 2018 was passed into law. It’s advisory in nature but has the authority to conduct research, receive public input, and publish recommendations for the Governor and General Assembly to consider when it comes to promoting competitive-integrated employment for people with disabilities. Pittsburgher Mary Hartley was elected to chair the commission, and I will serve as Vice Chair. There is dignity in work, and I am proud that ACHIEVA continues to innovate when it comes to increasing employment outcomes for people with disabilities. With the U.S. labor participation rate for working-age (16-64) people with disabilities at a pathetic 33 percent while the same rate for those without a disability registers at 77 percent, the new Employment First Oversight Commission will hopefully be able to move the needle when it comes to increasing the number of Pennsylvanians with disabilities who have a job as well as those who want a job. (Anyone who wants to take that first step toward employment can call the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation office at 1.800.442.6351.)
As always, please feel free to send me constructive comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.