Disability News Service, Resources, Diversity, Americans with Disabilities Act; Local and National.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Remind U.S. Congress that they represent YOU! - Autistic Self Advocacy Network

 
Dec. 2017 - Congress is determined to pass their disastrous tax bill before their scheduled recess begins on FridayThis week is critical - we need your voice to stop this billYour advocacy has already significantly delayed their process, and with your help we can grind it to a halt. There are a lot of people trying to influence the outcome of this fight, which is why it’s so important that your Members of Congress hear from the people they represent--you.

What’s in the tax bill?

Short answer: we don’t know yet. Long answer: all the components of the previous House and Senate bills are on the table, including:
  • Taking the “affordable” out of Affordable Care Act. The Senate version of the bill repeals the individual mandate. The consequences of that would be a 10% hike in premiums and 13 million Americans losing health insurance outright.

  • Blowing up the deficit, paving the way for massive cuts to Medicaid and social services. The tax bill will increase the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion - and Congress has openly admitted that they’re planning on paying for it by slashing funding to Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, and other social services.

  • Automatic cuts to Medicare, food stamps, special education, and affordable housing. The $1.5 trillion deficit created by the tax bill would trigger mandatory cuts to federal programs across the board. Medicare alone would see a $25 billion cut in 2018.

  • A health tax on people with high medical expenses. The House bill eliminates the medical expense deduction, which allows people to deduct medical expenses exceeding 10% of their income.

What can I do?

You can use ContactingCongress.org to find the phone numbers of your Members of Congress. When you call, you can use our script below, and if you don’t speak, you can call using your AAC device, or get a friend to call in and read your message.

My name is [your full name]. I’m a constituent of [Representative/Senator] [Name], and I live in [your town]. I’m calling to ask the [Representative/Senator] to vote NO on the final tax bill. No matter what the conference committee does, we already know that the final bill would balloon the deficit, leave the door open to cut funding to Medicaid, and automatically cut vital services including food stamps, special education, and Medicare.

People with disabilities in our state like [me/ my family member/ my friends] are not disposable, and our basic services are not your trust fund. Please vote AGAINST any tax bills that repeal the ACA or set up cuts to services disabled people rely on to survive. We’re calling on you to defend everyday Americans by standing up to this tax bill.

Calling your Members of Congress is crucial because it shows them that the people they were elected to represent do not support this bill. 

What now?

If you’ve already called, call again. After you call, send your Members of Congress an email or a fax. This site makes it easy to send free faxes to your Senators and Representative. Then, ask 5 people to call and email their Members of Congress too. Congress is making a huge push to get this bill through this week - so let’s show up, push back, and stop the tax bill in its tracks.

SOURCE: 

Autistic Self Advocacy Network Dec. 2017 press release

Federal Agency Sues Henry's Turkey Farm owner for Exploiting Mentally Disabled Workers for Years

Dec. 11, 2017 - Four years ago, an Iowa jury handed a group of intellectually disabled workers who had been exploited for years the nation’s largest-ever award in an employment discrimination case: a staggering $240 million.
 
The 'Bunkhouse' has been demolished.
article by Clark Kauffman for the Des Moines Register 
It was intended to compensate 32 men for the decades they'd spent in indentured servitude while employed by Henry’s Turkey Service, a labor broker accused of paying the men as little as 41 cents an hour while providing them with housing in a dilapidated bunkhouse on the outskirts of Atalissa.

The jury's award was immediately slashed to just $1.6 million — less than 1 percent of the amount specified by jurors — because of federal caps on damages.

Even so, the verdict represented an uplifting final chapter in a long story of exploitation and abuse.

But now that story has an unexpected postscript.

Robert Canino, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawyer who pursued the case against Henry's, is back in federal court.
This time, he's fighting Joseph Paul Byrd, a former Henry’s Turkey Service supervisor who took over the company’s Newberry, South Carolina, labor camp in the 1980s and kept it running for another 30 years.
In September 2016, the EEOC sued Byrd's company, Work Services Inc., alleging it had forced its intellectually disabled workers to live in a crowded, substandard bunkhouse, paid them “unconscionable wages” that were less than what nondisabled workers were paid, and subjected the men to a hostile work environment in which they were called “stupid,” “retarded” and “dumb.”
The company has denied the allegations, and a trial is scheduled for August.
"Sadly, the discovery of this situation, answers, in part, the question that has arisen since the disturbing Henry's Turkey Service operation came to light in Iowa a few years ago," Canino said. "After seeing how workers with intellectual disabilities had fallen between the societal cracks, being virtually invisible for decades, many have asked, 'Could there be any other situations like this out there or right in our own backyards?'
"The answer, sadly, turned out to be, 'Yes' — and what we found here serves to remind us all to remain vigilant against such abuse of our neighbors and co-workers."

Workers exploited at every turn

In a deposition taken last December as part of a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Labor, Byrd acknowledged that the six disabled workers who lived in the two trailers that made up the Newberry bunkhouse were each charged $800 in monthly rent, while the three or four nondisabled men who lived there paid monthly rent of $150 to $200 each.
During his deposition, Byrd was unable to explain the disparity, except to say that he was maintaining practices established by his former employer, Henry’s Turkey Service,  decades ago.
“That’s just the way it was always done,” he told a lawyer for the Department of Labor. “That’s simply the way it was when I started.”
In his deposition, Byrd also acknowledged that he and his manager, David Perez, forged signatures on the disabled men’s paychecks and cashed them, then paid the men weekly allowances of $50 to $80 each.
Byrd also testified that he took the men’s disability checks as compensation for room and board and deposited the men’s tax refunds into a company account used to pay his personal and business expenses. 
According to Byrd, he began working for Henry’s Turkey Service in 1968, when the company was populating labor camps across the United States with intellectually disabled men recently discharged from state-run institutions in Texas.
Byrd said that because his job was to supervise the individuals running the various labor camps, he traveled from one site to the next, in Iowa, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, South Carolina and Kansas.
At one time, Iowa was home to three labor camps runs by Henry’s — in Ellsworth, Storm Lake and Atalissa.
In 1985, Byrd went into business on his own, purchasing the Henry’s labor camp operation in Newberry, South Carolina. At the time, he said, the bunkhouse consisted of 15 disabled men living in a set of trailers across the street from a turkey processing plant.
Over the next 30 years, the men who worked at the plant would arrive there in the morning, help unload live turkeys from trucks, hang them on hooks and kill them. It was, as Byrd later acknowledged, difficult and repetitive work.  
By 2009, some of the men had become too old or sick to continue working. A few of them retired but continued to live in the bunkhouse. The same was true at Henry’s last remaining bunkhouse, in Atalissa.
Some of the former residents at Henry's Turkey Farm.
The Iowa operation already was winding down in February 2009 when a Des Moines Register investigation triggered a raid by state and federal authorities. All of the Atalissa workers were relocated to fully licensed care facilities, and the bunkhouse was shut down.
But Byrd’s South Carolina operation continued to do business until late 2014, when New York Times reporter Dan Barry, working on a book about the Atalissa operation, discovered the Newberry bunkhouse and reported that six of the original Henry’s workers were still living there.
Because of health problems, two of the men — Claude Wren and Johnny Hickman — had retired from work at the Louis Rich processing plant across the street from the Newberry bunkhouse, Byrd told the Department of Labor.
But the four others — Leon Jones, Carlos Morris, and Jay and John Koch — were still working at the plant and collecting $50 to $100 per week in compensation from Work Services.

Seeking compensation for the workers

According to corporate tax records, Work Services Inc. had annual gross receipts of almost $1 million at that time. An affiliate, Work Service Co., reported more than $600,000 in gross receipts.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against Work Services, Byrd and Perez, alleging they had failed to pay the disabled workers the legally required minimum wage; failed to pay overtime; and failed to keep adequate payroll records.
But the lawsuit was limited in scope: Under federal law, the department could seek payment of only two years’ worth of back wages.
In February, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Herlong sided with the Department of Labor, granting the agency summary judgment before a trial could take place.
The judge called Byrd’s claim that the workers wanted the company to keep their wages for them “ludicrous,” and he ordered the defendants to pay $165,404 in back wages and damages.
Seven months later, the EEOC filed its own lawsuit against Work Services, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, if successful, could result in far greater damages than the Department of Labor case, because it seeks compensation in three categories: money for the men’s financial losses; for emotional pain, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation; and punitive damages for the “malicious or reckless conduct” of the company.
In his December 2016 deposition, Byrd acknowledged his bookkeeping at the bunkhouse wasn’t adequate — he kept thousands of dollars owed to the men stuffed inside envelopes hidden at his home, he said — but that he considered the workers family.
“I did a really poor job of keeping records,” he said. “I was trying real hard to take care of them and make their life a little easier and, hopefully, create a place where they could live the rest of their lives. … I had a lot of affection for each and every one of them. Well, when you’ve spent a third of your life or more with them, they become part of your family, nearly.”
Two of the disabled Henry's workers are related: Carl Wayne Jones and Leon Jones are brothers, just a year apart in age. They began working for Henry's in the late 1960s, but the company eventually split them up, sending Carl to Atalissa and Leon to Newberry.   
For decades, the two men didn't see each other.
But in 2014, Canino, the EEOC attorney, set up a Skype connection that enabled the two men, then in their mid-60s, to see and speak to each other for the first time in years.
According to the New York Times, Carl Wayne shared the news that their mother had died long ago; he also talked about his girlfriend and the group home in Waterloo where he lived with some of his friends from the Atalissa bunkhouse.
This year, Carl and his girlfriend got married. Leon rented a tuxedo and, along with some of his friends from the Newberry bunkhouse, traveled to Iowa for the wedding.
"I missed being there," Canino says, "but I am so happy the South Carolina and Iowa guys got to reconnect a bit — especially Carl and Leon."

Henry's Turkey Service still owes millions

No criminal charges were ever filed against Henry’s Turkey Service for the alleged financial exploitation of its Iowa workers, labor law violations, fire-code citations or the lack of a care-facility license at the Atalissa bunkhouse.
At the time, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the better course of action was to have other agencies pursue civil remedies against company owner Kenneth Henry of Proctor, Texas, who was worth about $3 million.
Several state and federal agencies imposed administrative penalties, or won court judgments, against the company.
They eventually totaled $5.9 million, but Kenneth Henry refused to surrender any of his assets or enter into a payment-plan agreement with the federal government before he died in April 2016.
In recent years, however, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor have aggressively pursued collection efforts.
To date, they have distributed roughly $800,000 to the disabled former employees of Henry's. They expect to soon collect an additional $900,000 from the estate of Kenneth Henry, which should bring the total recovery for the Atalissa workers to $1.7 million.
Here's a look at the various judgments and penalties imposed against Henry's:
  • May 2009: Iowa Workforce Development imposed a $900,000 penalty against Henry's for violating state labor laws. The penalty was later increased to more than $1.1 million.
  • November 2009: The U.S. Department of Labor sued the company for federal labor law violations, resulting in a court judgment against the company for $1.8 million.
  • September 2012: After the company offered no resistance or defense to allegations that it violated the fair-wage provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a federal judge ordered Henry’s to pay $1.3 million to 32 of its disabled workers.
  • May 2013: An Iowa jury returned a verdict of $240 million against Henry’s Turkey Service for discriminatory employment conditions, but the jury verdict was later reduced to $1.6 million because of federal caps on damages in such cases.
https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2017/12/11/atalissa-echoes-federal-agency-sues-bunkhouse-owner-exploiting-mentally-disabled-workers/924471001/

RELATED POSTS on HENRY'S TURKEY FARM.

Monday, December 11, 2017

City of Chicago Sidewalk Snow Removal info: REPORT UNSHOVELED SIDEWALKS Q&A



The information is shared from the City of Chicago.


Your responsibility in removing snow and ice from the sidewalks

Many people rely on walking and transit as their primary way to get around, and without a wide, clear path through snow and ice, it is especially difficult for people with disabilities, seniors, and children to walk safely.  According to the Municipal Code of Chicago (4-4-310 & 10-8-180), property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice.
Increase awareness of sidewalk snow removal laws

Sidewalk Snow Removal Door Hangers

The door hangers are intended as a reminder to shovel the sidewalk and offer assistance to anyone physically unable to clear their own sidewalks.  The door hangers emphasize the importance of sidewalk snow removal and safe winter travel.
The door hangers are mailed to aldermanic offices and dozens of businesses and community groups throughout the city for distribution throughout the neighborhoods.
Download Sidewalk Snow Removal Door Hanger (pdf, 1.3mb)

Request a Snow Corp Volunteer

Chicago Snow Corps is a program that connects volunteers with residents in need of snow removal - such as seniors and residents with disabilities.
To request a volunteer to shovel your block in case of extreme snowfall, call 311.  This is a volunteer-matching service.  The City will do its best to match those who have requested assistance.

Report locations that DO NOT clear sidewalks to 311

Report locations that DO NOT clear their sidewalks by making a "Snow - Uncleared Sidewalk" request with
the City of Chicago 311 Service Request line.
DIAL 311 or Online Snow - Uncleared Sidewalk Request If calling from outside Chicago, call 312.744.5000
When you make a "Snow - Uncleared Sidewalk" request, please note the following:
- Make sure the problem occurs on the sidewalk.
DO NOT use this category to report snow on streets, parking lots, or alleys.
- Provide a specific address where the problem occurs.
- Request a reference number from the operator, this will help you track the status and resolution of your request.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sidewalk Snow Removal

Who is responsible for clearing the sidewalks of snow and ice?

According to the City of Chicago Municipal Code, "Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground abutting upon any public way or public space shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk..."
It is everyone's responsibility to make sure the sidewalks are clear of snow and ice.  We are all pedestrians and benefit from having a safe, clear, and continuous path to travel.

How long do I have to clear the sidewalks?

If the snow stops falling before 4 p.m. you have three hours to clear except on Sunday.
If the snow stops falling after 4 p.m. or on Sunday, you have to clear before 10 a.m. on the next day.

How much snow do I need to clear to comply with the ordinance?

The City of Chicago Municipal Code requires individuals to clear a 5 foot wide path along the sidewalk, where conditions allow. 
This width provides mobility and access to pedestrians in wheelchairs, people with children in strollers, students walking to school, and individuals with assistive devices.

What is the best way to remove snow from the sidewalk?

- Remove snow and ice along ALL sidewalks adjacent to your property including any ramps to the crosswalk
- Move snow to your yard or the parkway adjacent to your property
- Do not push snow into the street
- Do not cover the crosswalks
- Do not block alley entrances
- Do not pile snow around fire hydrants

What happens if I don't clear my sidewalk?

Individuals who do not comply can face fines of $50.
Businesses that do not comply can face fines up to $1000 per day of violation.

# The above information is from: City of Chicago, CDOT at:
http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/sidewalk_snow_removal.html
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RELATED POST: 
Chicago Snow Corps - connects volunteers with residents in need of snow removal – such as seniors and residents with disabilities.

* this is a reposted page, with updates as available. 
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Chicago 2014 Winter - Jim Watkins.

CIVIL IMMUNITIES [Illinois Compiled Statutes]
(745 ILCS 75/) Snow and Ice Removal Act.
(745 ILCS 75/1) (from Ch. 70, par. 201)Sec. 1. It is declared to be the public policy of this State that owners and others residing in residential units be encouraged to clean the sidewalks abutting their residences of snow and ice. The General Assembly, therefore, determines that it is undesirable for any person to be found liable for damages due to his or her efforts in the removal of snow or ice from such sidewalks, except for acts which amount to clear wrongdoing, as described in Section 2 of this Act.
(Source: P.A. 81-591.)
(745 ILCS 75/2) (from Ch. 70, par. 202)Sec. 2. Any owner, lessor, occupant or other person in charge of any residential property, or any agent of or other person engaged by any such party, who removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton.
(Source: P.A. 81-591.)

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The rules of snow shoveling in Chicago




Fox News Chicago By Lisa Chavarria, FOX 32 News Reporter | Jan 30, 2015

To shovel or not to shovel? hat is the question for people living in the city. You either risk getting hit with a fine, or you risk getting sued.

Chicago winter's can be rough for anyone, but even more so for pedestrians like Jake Fruend.

"I've fallen a couple of times. You know, it's part of the sport I guess of Chicago in the winter time," said Fruend.

A simple walk home becomes a greater challenge when sidewalks are not shoveled.

"There are times when you're trying to get from A to B and there's just some absurd amount of craziness on the sidewalk that you just can't get past," added Fruend.

The expected weekend snowfall is forcing the city to remind residents and businesses they need to shovel their sidewalks.

Here's how it works: if the snow stops falling before 4 p.m., you have three hours to clear except on Sunday. If the snow stops falling after 4 p.m. or on Sunday, you have until 10 a.m. the next day to clear it.

You may have heard this before, but some may think not shoveling their sidewalks will save them from liability if someone slips and falls in front of their home.

Personal injury attorneys, like Marvet Sweis Drnovsek, add that just isn't the case, thanks to Illinois law.

"There is a law out there that protects them when they shovel their driveway and the adjacent sidewalk. We want people to get in and out of their property, of course. So the law recognizes that and protects them," said Drnovsek.

Drnovsek also said homeowners can only be sued if there is negligence.

"Don't see a patch of ice, cover it up with some snow and leave it and somebody comes and slips. Even as a joke, it's a bad joke, don't do it," she added. "That's where the law comes in and protects pedestrians."

The city will ticket residents for not complying with the ordinance, but only after being warned or after neighbors file a complaint.

Last year the city saw some of the highest amount of tickets issued, primarily because of the amount of snow we saw.

This winter is much more kind-- but for pedestrians, the hope is when it turns ugly, they'll be able to get around.

"I have to walk everywhere all the time, so I'm dealing, I'm dealing with the negligence on a regular basis," added Fruend.

If you need assistance shoveling call 311 to request the city's volunteer assistance.
http://www.myfoxchicago.com/story/27989990/the-rules-of-snow-shoveling-in-chicago

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(Ed. Note)
If you are a senior citizen, or a person with a disability that are not able to remove snow, call you Alderman's office. Many of the Alderman offices will make attempts to assist - especially in election years!!!
# this is a re-post, the information and links are still current.

Chicago Snow Corps: connects volunteers with residents in need of snow removal, such as seniors and residents with disabilities

Snow Corps

Chicago Snow Corps is a program that connects volunteers with residents– such as seniors and residents with disabilities - in need of snow removal.

To request a volunteer to shovel your sidewalk or block in case of extreme snowfall, call 311, submit an online Service Request or contact your Ward office. This is a volunteer-matching service. The City will do its best to match those who have requested assistance with those who have volunteered.

To become a volunteer and help residents with snow removal, join the Snow Corps by filling out the form below. While winter can be hazardous for everyone here in the City of Chicago, it can be especially difficult for elderly and physically disabled residents, who may not have the ability or resources to remove snow from their sidewalks and walkways. Chicago Snow Corps aims to help minimize potential heavy-snow emergencies by pairing volunteers with blocks where elderly and disabled citizens have requested help.

###
Snow Corps - Frequently Asked Questions About

Chicago Snow Corps is a new program that will connect volunteers with blocks where residents in need of snow removal – such as seniors and disabled people – live.

While winter can be hazardous for everyone here in the City of Chicago, Chicago Snow Corps aims to help minimize potential heavy-snow emergencies by pairing volunteers with blocks where elderly and disabled citizens have requested help.

To request a volunteer to shovel your block in case of extreme snowfall, call 311. This is a volunteer-matching service. The City will work to match those who have requested assistance, in a timely manner but there is no guarantee. This is also not a 24 hour service, the coordination of volunteers will happen M-F during a standard work day unless we have an extreme snow emergency.

What is the Chicago Snow Corps?

Chicago Snow Corps is a City referral program that uses 311 to connect volunteers willing to shovel snow with blocks where those in need of assistance live.

What are the requirements for participating as a volunteer?

To be a volunteer, you need to be willing and able to help shovel out an area as designated to you by the City and have your own equipment, i.e. shovel or snow blower to do so. Volunteers will be notified via email in case of a heavy snowfall. Volunteers are not employees, agents, or contractors of the City of Chicago by virtue of participation in this program.

What are the requirements for participating as an applicant for assistance?

Recipients of assistance must be age 60 or older and/OR have a physical disability. They must also live within Chicago City limits and lack access to the available resources (financial resources or local family/friends) to assist with snow removal.

Please note that we might not be able to have enough volunteers to match up with every resident that places a 311 call for service. This is a voluntary effort and best efforts will be made to help out our most vulnerable residents.

What do I need to know as an applicant for assistance?

Guidelines for recipients include: What you should not do (please
read the following carefully):

Do not expect that a volunteer will provide services other than snow removal:
Do not expect that a volunteer will remove snow other than on the public sidewalks and on a path up to your front door.
Do not expect that your volunteer will remove snow if it is expected to melt within 24 hours.
Do not offer payment for snow removal.
Inviting a volunteer into your home is NOT endorsed by the City.
What do I need to know as a volunteer Chicago Snow Corps member?
Things you should not do (please read the following carefully):
Do not accept any payment or tips for your services.
Do not give your home phone number to your recipient.
Entering a recipient's home is NOT endorsed by the City.
Note: You are not obligated to shovel driveways.
Things you should do (please read the following carefully):
Do remove snow from the sidewalk of your recipient’s house. Clear a path to the front door if specifically requested. You are not obligated to shovel the driveway.
Do shovel the snow within 24 hours after a snowstorm ends.
The City of Chicago, its agents, and its employees (i) are not liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information on this site, (ii) assume no responsibility for anyone's use of the information, and (iii) are not liable for any damages (of any type, for any reason, however caused, or under any theory of liability) arising in any way out of the use of this site.

Join the Snow Corps AtChicagoShovels 
http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/snowportal/chicagoshovels.html

RELATED POST: 
City of Chicago Sidewalk Snow Removal info : REPORT UNSHOVELED SIDEWALKS

# this is a repost from 2013, information and links are up to date as of repost.

Let's Lower The Barriers for Young People with Disabilities | Sen. Bob Casey Commentary

Fear and hope. Pride and heartbreak. Sadness and love. Those are only some of the emotions of family members highlighted in the important Inquirer series “Falling Off the Cliff,” as youth with disabilities move from school-age services into their adult years.

opinion by Sen. Bob Casey, For Philly.com | Dec 2017
OFFICE OF U.S. SENATOR BOB CASEY - photo
Sen. Bob Casey is a sponsor of legislation aimed at improving support for children with disabilities.
The possibilities for young people with disabilities are endless, just as they are for our young adults without disabilities. The barriers are so much greater, but the challenges to families are not insurmountable with proper support.

More than 40 years after the passage of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and 27 years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a generation of young people with disabilities has grown up who have high expectations: to live on their own, to have a job, to become independent, to be active and valued members of their neighborhoods.

All of those expectations and goals, however, can be dashed without the right supports and services. As the series points out, if you have to wait for decades for services; or there are not enough skilled, professional direct service workers; or there is no accessible transportation or housing, then the transition from youth to adulthood for a person with a disability can be a plummet over the side of a cliff for both the young person and his or her family.

To avoid that cliff we need to do two things: Ensure community-based services and supports are available for young people with disabilities and remove as many barriers to employment as possible.

First, we need to make community-based services for people with disabilities as available as institutional services. Right now, through the Medicaid program, our laws guarantee institutional care for adults with disabilities but do not guarantee community supports. As the Medicaid law is written, receiving supports and services in the community is based on a waiver granted by the federal government. The result is that almost half a million people around the country are waiting for services in their homes and communities.

To make it possible for people with disabilities to live in the community with the supports they need, we need to amend the 1965 law that created Medicaid so that community-based supports are a right, enabling people with disabilities to choose to live in the community that will best enable them to succeed and to thrive.

The Disability Integration Act (DIA), which I and 15 other senators support, would change that. It would ensure that community-based services are a right as a matter of law, just as institutional support is now. It makes little sense that under current law institutional care is a right but community living is a benefit rationed only to a portion of those who seek it. The benefits of this would go far beyond stopping youth with disabilities and their families from falling off the cliff. Of course, all of this is meaningless if the budget passed by Republicans in October becomes a reality. If that happens, hundreds of thousands more people with disabilities will lose their community Medicaid supports and either be forced into institutions or receive no services at all.

Ensuring funds are available for community-based services would help to create a network of community providers to support people with disabilities. It would also ensure there is money to pay direct support professionals, thus creating a pipeline of workers to provide the necessary services.

The Department of Labor has estimated there will be over a million personal care aides and home health aides needed over the next 10 years. The DIA will promote the growth of agencies to provide support services and help to attract individuals into the field.

In addition to community support, we also need to prioritize employment of persons with disabilities, which is key to independence. Employment for people is now an expectation. To make that a reality, we need to remove as many barriers as possible to obtaining a job.

One of those barriers is the risk of losing one’s benefits. The Stephen Beck Achieving a Better Life Experience Act in 2014, better known as the ABLE Act, makes it possible for those with disabilities to save up to $15,000 a year without risking eligibility to their Medicaid health care and other benefits.

ABLE is a first step to encouraging youth with disabilities to work and save for the future. We need to remove more barriers. The current tax bill moving through Congress would eliminate the tax credit to businesses that hire people with disabilities. That is wrong. We should be encouraging businesses to hire those with disabilities, not putting new barriers in place.

We also need to ensure adequate funding is in place for vocational rehabilitation services, which help people with disabilities develop the skills they need to find and keep work.

And we need to make sure the last three years of school eligibility for students with disabilities are focused on developing skills to be successful in postsecondary education, the workplace, or both.

There are many more changes we can make to eliminate the cliff young people with disabilities and their families face when they turn 21. Let’s start by making sure services are available in the community and the path to employment is as smooth as possible. By doing so, we’ll be filling in that canyon and eliminate the cliff all together.

Bob Casey is a Democratic U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. @SenBobCasey
http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/intellectual-developmental-disabilities-americans-with-disabilities-act-bob-casey-pa-20171208.html

Quality Of Education Can Depend On ZIP Code For Students With Disabilities

The law says these students deserve to learn. In some districts, parents say that’s not happening.

Article By Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post 12/09/2017                                                  
At the start of every school year, Jawanda Mast met with administrators at her daughter Rachel’s school. Every year, it was the same fight. Teachers wanted to separate Rachel ― who has Down syndrome ― from her peers without disabilities, and put her in a segregated class. Mast always pushed back. Isolating her daughter from her peers would have a devastating effect. Rachel was vivacious and social, and loved to be with her friends.

After years of having the same fight over and over, Mast made a hard choice right before Rachel was set to begin third grade. Mast and her family decided to leave their home in Tennessee for Kansas, where they could put Rachel into a school system that offered a better education and would include her in an integrated classroom. The family also made the move due to Mast’s husband’s job, but the education issues in Tennessee were a key factor.

“I was like, how on earth am I going to do this for 10 more years,” Mast said.

As a child with Down syndrome, Rachel is one of the small number of public school students in America with an intellectual disability. These children made up less than 2 percent of public school students in every state during the 2015-2016 school year. Experts estimate that up to 90 percent of students with disabilities can graduate high school meeting the same academic expectations as their peers. But parents and advocates say the other 10 percent are often assumed to be less capable than they are.

Just a few decades ago, students with disabilities faced high rates of institutionalization and were rarely included in typical classroom settings. In 1975, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ― originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act ― enshrined into law these students’ right to an appropriate public education.

Part of IDEA’s framework requires parents to advocate hard to get what they see as their children’s needs met. Often, school districts have different ideas about what would best serve a child. Decades later, this is still the case.

Sometimes teachers lack the best training for dealing with a student’s specific disability. Other times, administrators have low expectations for what these students can achieve.

While IDEA says students with disabilities should learn in the least restrictive environment ― meaning with non-disabled peers ― parents still often find themselves fighting hard, expensive battles for their child to be included.

Success can be a matter of luck. But it also depends on time and resources. For Mast’s daughter, those two factors were important.

The district in Tennessee where Rachel previously went to school never had a child with Down syndrome graduate with a high school diploma, Mast said. (Rachel’s elementary school was part of Shelby County Schools. Since she left, it split off and is now part of another district, Bartlett Municipal School District. Both districts deferred to the other for comment.)

Now, Rachel is 18 and set to graduate in May from her district in Olathe, Kansas. She will receive a full, regular diploma ― Kansas does not have diplomas specifically for students with disabilities ― and has plans to start at a community college or go to a four-year college with a special program for students with special needs.

The move to Kansas didn’t solve everything. Mast still had to fight for resources for her daughter. She said she is “exhausted from doing all I had to do to make sure she could be included.” But overall, it has been a positive experience. Rachel spends all day in general-education classrooms with her peers without disabilities, aside from a resource class where she gets special attention.

Mast isn’t alone in feeling that she had to move in order to get the proper support for her child. HuffPost spoke to four families of children with severe disabilities who say they either moved in order to get their child better services, or allowed their children’s educational needs to factor into a move. They all ended up in places where they feel their child’s unique and individual needs are met.

It’s a luxury not every family has.

Maryland parent Marjorie Guldan has a 14-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. She fought for years and went to court to stop her district from giving her daughter certain assessments.

The district needed these assessments in order to push Guldan’s daughter, Rebecca, into a graduation track specifically for students with disabilities. This track allows students to graduate with a certificate instead of a regular diploma. High school certificates don’t carry the same weight as diplomas ― they are not recognized by postsecondary institutions. Twenty-four states have diploma paths specifically for students with disabilities.

A judge eventually sided with the district, allowing it to give Rebecca the assessments that would make her eligible for the certificate track. Guldan said officials started pushing for this path when Rebecca was only in the third grade.

“My argument all along has been lets just keep pushing her and see where we get. If in the end diploma is not possible then I will happily accept the certificate,” Guldan said. “What I resented was, from third grade on, every year them saying she really should be on certificate, she can’t handle the grade-level work.”

District officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Guldan’s daughter now only spends a few classes a day with her peers without disabilities. The results have been mixed. Rebecca’s behavior has improved because she is less challenged by the curriculum and doesn’t act out as much in frustration. On the other hand, Guldan wants her daughter to be challenged.

“I fully expect her to be able to work in the community. Obviously she’s not going to be a lawyer or a doctor, but there are plenty of opportunities out there that we can be working towards preparing her for that are going to require high expectations,” said Guldan, whose other daughter graduated from the district.

Like Mast, Guldan considered taking her daughter out of the district to put her in a school that was more dedicated to inclusion. But for Guldan’s family ― like so many others ― picking up and leaving is simply not an option. It would be a financial burden, and Guldan has come to rely on her neighbors for help looking after Rebecca. They have developed a strong community. And Guldan’s other daughter loves her childhood home.

“Even I don’t know that fighting for a diploma is worth all the upheaval,” Guldan said.

But for families of students with disabilities, it’s an unfortunate dilemma that they’re sometimes forced to face.

Experts say these battles play out all the time. Ricki Sabia, senior policy adviser at the National Down Syndrome Congress, said she sees tremendous variability in how students are treated based place and situation.

“Even within a district can vary from school to school to school,” Sabia said.

Sabia has seen families move to a specific district to take advantage of its inclusive options, only to have the school principal leave and the culture change.
“People keep saying education shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code. It’s thrown around a lot in terms of kids in poverty, but it’s also true for kids with disabilities. It shouldn’t depend on your ZIP code,” she said.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, in partnership with HuffPost. Read the whole series, “Willing, Able and Forgotten: How High Schools Fail Special Ed Students,” here. Sign up for our newsletter.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/students-disabilities-quality-education_us_5a2ac25be4b0a290f0503905

'Tolerating Low Expectations for Children With Disabilities Must End' A Commentary by Betsy DeVos

Dec. 2017 - Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision. The justices ruled 8-0 in Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District that Endrew, a child with autism, was entitled to an educational program that required more than the "de minimis"—or minimum—progress set by his assigned school.
This landmark decision was rightly hailed as a victory for the millions of children with disabilities and their families in America today. Too often, the families of disabled children have felt that their children are not being adequately challenged academically or given the support needed to grow and thrive.
Unfortunately, stories like the one in this case are not uncommon. Too many parents of children with disabilities see their son or daughter's individualized education program, or IEP, little changed from year to year. To these parents, it often seems as if the school district is content with simply passing their child along, rather than focusing on helping him or her progress and grow academically. They recognize that the de minimis standard isn’t working for their child, but, sadly, they often do not have the opportunity to access something better.
When it comes to educating students with disabilities, failure is not acceptable. De minimis isn’t either.
"When it comes to educating students with disabilities, failure is not acceptable."
That's why this week the U.S. Department of Education released a Q&A document to inform families, educators, and administrators of the impact of the court's decision on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and the scope of the free, appropriate public education, or FAPE, requirements under the law.
The court's decision gave legal weight to what so many parents and educators already knew to be true: In order to excel, each child must have an education program that is appropriately ambitious in light of his or her circumstances. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s opinion emphasized the individualized decision-making required in the IEP process and the need to ensure that every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.
No two children are the same. Each has his or her own unique abilities and needs. Personalized, student-centered education can help all children thrive, especially children with disabilities. Their education should embrace their diverse traits and aspirations, rather than limiting them with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Student success requires we put each child at the center of everything we do. Low standards and de minimis expectations tell our students that we don’t have hope for them. That we don't believe in them. But we do. Tolerating low-expectations for children with disabilities must end. Challenging children with disabilities empowers them, and doing so gives them the hope of living successful, independent lives.
Every student should be loved and respected, and with our help, they can gain the tools to grow and become everything they want to be.
Every family should have the ability to choose the learning environment that is right for their child. They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get it. Thanks to the Court’s landmark unanimous decision, other families won’t have to.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

Owner of Houston Home Health Agency Sentenced to 80 Yrs for Involvement in $13 Million Medicare Fraud

Owner of Home Health Agency Sentenced in Absentia to 80 Years in Prison for Involvement in $13 Million Medicare Fraud Conspiracy and for Filing Fraudulent Tax Returns

U.S. Department of Justice press release Dec. 8, 2017                                                                             
The owner of a Houston home health agency was sentenced today to 80 years in prison for his role in a $13 million Medicare fraud scheme and for filing false tax returns.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Region and Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of the Houston Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

Ebong Tilong, 53, of Sugarland, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon of the Southern District of Texas. In November 2016, after the first week of trial, Tilong pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, three counts of healthcare fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive healthcare kickbacks, three counts of payment and receipt of healthcare kickbacks, and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. In June 2017, Tilong pleaded guilty to two counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. Tilong failed to appear for his original sentencing, which was scheduled for Oct. 13, 2017.

According to the evidence presented at trial and Tilong’s admissions in connection with his guilty plea, from February 2006 through June 2015, Tilong and others conspired to defraud Medicare by submitting over $10 million in false and fraudulent claims for home health services to Medicare through Fiango Home Healthcare Inc. (Fiango), owned by Tilong and his wife, Marie Neba, 53, also of Sugarland, Texas. The trial evidence showed that using the money that Medicare paid for such fraudulent claims, Tilong paid illegal kickbacks to patient recruiters for referring Medicare beneficiaries to Fiango for home health services. Tilong also paid illegal kickbacks to Medicare beneficiaries for allowing Fiango to bill Medicare using beneficiaries’ Medicare information for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided, the evidence showed. Tilong falsified medical records and directed others to falsify medical records to make it appear as though the Medicare beneficiaries qualified for and received home health services. Tilong also attempted to destroy evidence, blackmail a witness, and suborn perjury from witnesses, including a co-defendant while in the federal courthouse, the evidence showed.

According to the evidence presented at trial and his admissions to the tax offenses, from February 2006 to June 2015, Tilong received more than $13 million from Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary or not provided to Medicare beneficiaries.

In connection with his guilty plea to the tax offenses, Tilong admitted that to maximize his gains from the Medicare fraud scheme, he created a shell company called Quality Therapy Services (QTS) to limit the amount of tax that he paid to the IRS on the proceeds that he and his co-conspirators stole from Medicare. According to his plea agreement, in 2013 and 2014, Tilong wrote almost a million dollars in checks from Fiango to QTS, purportedly for physical-therapy services that QTS provided to Fiango’s Medicare patients. The evidence showed that QTS did not provide those services. According to his plea agreement, in 2013 and 2014, Tilong’s fraudulent tax scheme caused the IRS a tax loss of approximately $344,452.

To date, four others have pleaded guilty or been convicted based on their roles in the fraudulent Medicare scheme at Fiango. Nirmal Mazumdar, M.D., of Houston, Texas, the former medical director of Fiango, pleaded guilty to a scheme to commit health care fraud for his role at Fiango. Daisy Carter, 58, of Wharton, Texas, and Connie Ray Island, 49, of Houston, Texas, two patient recruiters for Fiango, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud for their roles at Fiango. Neba was convicted after a two-week jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, three counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, one count of payment and receipt of health care kickbacks, one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and one count of making health care false statements.

On Aug. 11, Neba was sentenced to 75 years in prison and Island was sentenced to 33 months in prison. On Oct. 3, Mazumdar was sentenced to time served with three years of home confinement. Carter is awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by the FBI, IRS-CI and HHS-OIG under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney William S.W. Chang, Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum, and Trial Attorney Andrew Pennebaker of the Fraud Section.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.