You're going to hear from a lot of people that defend 14c and want to keep it available as an option to ensure continued work opportunities, and you will also hear from a lot of people that say 14c is exploitative and everybody deserves minimum wage. How do you figure out what's right? Here's my experience - I've worked at a DD provider for 34 years, as CEO for the last twelve years. I'm also a CPA, so I understand the economics. The provider that I work at is a 14c certificate holder. Several years ago, I started hearing about providers discontinuing the use of 14c. So I started asking questions - I asked my staff if we could do that, and I asked other providers how they did it. I learned from other providers that paying full wage for all employees is not possible. Most indicated that making the transition involved some employees transitioning away from work to non-work activities or to other providers that still offered work with 14c. A few providers had ways to subsidize wages or didn't serve people with low productivity anyway. NOBODY had a sustainable way to actually pay full wages to everybody, even employees with low productivity. It just isn't possible to pay $7.25 (or $12 or whatever your state minimum wage is) to employees that work at very low productivity... unless the provider hasn't been successful at employing a significant number of people with low productivity anyway.
Then I started hearing about "Employment First" and "Community Integrated Employment (CIE)" and the concept that "everybody can work in the community." Eventually, VR sponsored training for selected providers in North Dakota, and we had the opportunity to learn from WiSE (consultants from Washington State). We had always done community employment, but we learned how to make it happen for more people using customized jobs and a very intensive job-matching process. We also learned that "everybody can work in the community" really means that everybody who wants to try should have the opportunity to work in the community, but not everybody will be successful. And we learned the "successful" community employment is often for a only a few hours a week – sometimes only a couple hours a week – and people still need somewhere to go and something to do with the rest of their time.
A few things happened along the way. As more job opportunities became available (community employment and more desirable jobs working for us (higher wages, better hours, or other reasons) became available, we found that we had more job openings than people to work. So we started getting pickier when we pursued contract work and we discontinued contracts that didn't offer work opportunities that potential employees wanted.
We noticed that some provider staff were creating barriers instead of working together to assist with job progress. It's more work for employment staff to support community employment than contract employment, PLUS it creates unique stress due to the constant change created by training & fading job support and even more stress when contract employees leave a contract job for community employment. Successful community employment also requires coordination and support from residential staff, case management staff, and family. EVERYBODY has to work together to figure out how to pick the right job and assist the person to develop the needed work skills, and then everybody has to keep working together to address logistics like transportation and conflicting appointments, job readiness, money management, etc. It's taken a lot of effort, but we have succeeded in strengthening teamwork and communicating the agency's perspective so that all staff are now on board with making sure that community employment is the top priority.
We have always struggled with motivating people that don't want to work. Sometimes the lack of motivation is tied to the cognitive disability – a lack of comprehension regarding responsibility, the value of money, and cause & effect. Sometimes the lack of motivation is because a person understands completely how to "game the system" and would rather collect benefits than work for their money. We have not yet found a way to solve either problem.
The best thing we learned: community employment really is awesome. It's impossible to quantify the benefits for people to be included in a group. We have been amazed at what people learn when those around them simply expect them to "be normal" (whatever that means). We have been touched by the difference it makes for somebody when real relationships develop with their co-workers.
However, we also see that community employment isn't going to happen for everybody. We are continuing to work to make it happen for as many people as possible… but that takes huge amounts of time, effort, and funding and people need something to do until it happens. And it still won't happen for everybody. It's hard for us to tell you why – not because we don't know, but because it's part of our training and philosophy that we don't talk about barriers and failures. Part of what we do is help people with disabilities be at their best and hide the failures and inadequacies – just like you don't broadcast your problems to the world. Part of what we do is to facilitate community involvement and integration, and disclosing the negative things that happen sometimes on a public web forum would hurt that effort. So I can't do it.
So call me. Or go talk to any provider. Because I can tell you about specific restrictions for peoples' safety that create an impossible barrier to community employment. I can tell you about behavior issues that sabotage community employment (yes, sometimes they go away when a person really likes their job, but sometimes they don't). Providers make accommodations that other businesses will not.
Likewise, there are real reasons why some people are not successfully earning full wage with contract employment (working for a provider). Sometimes a person requires frequent prompting to keep working (not because they don't like the job, but because their attention span is limited due to a cognitive disability and/or they are easily distracted). Sometimes a person is able to perform a task, but moves really slowly. A person may be able to perform a repetitive task, but is unable to react appropriately to any variation in circumstances. Maybe the task is done correctly 90% or 80% or 60% of the time (depending on the day), but the work requires close checking so that it can be corrected to required standards. It simply isn't always possible to find a job that everybody can do well enough to justify full pay. Providers have to stay solvent just like any other business.
I understand that 14c has been over-used in the past. Things have changed. There are a lot more options out there now, and we should take advantage of that. But please recognize that 14c serves a very valuable purpose, and taking it away will eliminate work opportunities for people that currently benefit from having a place to go and something to do. The people that really benefit from 14c aren't going to provide input for you because they don't have sufficient communication skills to do so, but you are hearing from families and providers that see the value in work – even limited work – and we don't want to see people with very limited opportunities lose their only hope of a continued work routine, the feeling of doing something productive, and a small paycheck.