Blending and Braiding: A Scam to Bypass WIOA Regulations

The State of Michigan is desperate to find a way to continue funding sheltered workshops despite new federal regulations.

In partnership with Michigan’s association of sheltered workshops (MARO), the Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), and the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council have submitted a detailed – and shocking – proposal to the Governor’s Office (PDF).

The authors of this document provided a chart demonstrating how the State can maintain the illusion of compliance while continuing the pipeline of Michiganders with disabilities to subminimum wage “jobs”. This graphic demonstrates how the state can move individuals with disabilities from agency to agency for 90 days, collecting every fee they can – with no identified outcome other than a closed case and “ongoing supports provided by Medicaid”. Translation: they intend to continue misusing Medicaid dollars to fund sheltered workshops, and to co-mingle those dollars with vocation rehabilitation funds, which expressly cannot be used to fund sheltered workshops.

Image: Six Boxes. Each box has an arrow leading to the next box: - Box 1: Person-Centered Plan indicates an Employment Goal (Medicaid) - Box 2: Refer to VR Services (MRS/BSBP) for an Eligibility Determination (Vocational Rehabilitation fund/VR funds) - Box 3: If Eligible for VR services develop Plan for Employment & Support Services (VR funds) - Box 4: Refer to a community organization (CRO/CIL) for skill development, job placement, etc. (Medicaid or VR funds) - Box 5: Individual obtains employment-Support such as job coaching may be needed [VR (90-days) or Medicaid funds] - Box 6: After 90-days VR may close the case Ongoing supports provided by Medicaid

The Medicaid funds in question are to be used only to provide skill building assistance in the community according to the Michigan Medicaid Provider Manual. WIOA expressly forbids the use of any vocational rehabilitation funds to Ability One Contractors and non-integrated entities.

The proposal outlines how the state can “blend and braid” funding streams so that it can continue to collect federal dollars while engaging in activities that are not allowable with those funds. The money gets passed from one organization to the next, until no one can understand its original intent or requirements.

  • Blending is a strategy to obscure the source of funding that has specific requirements. Money is transferred from the state to private non-profits so that it can no longer be tracked by the public. Blending will provide the cover Michigan Rehabilitation Services needs to mislead federal regulators.

The Code of Federal Regulations states:

“For Federal awards of similar purpose activity or instances of approved blended funding, a non-Federal entity may submit performance plans that incorporate funds from multiple Federal awards and account for their combined use based on performance-oriented metrics, provided that such plans are approved in advance by all involved Federal awarding agencies. In these instances, the non-Federal entity must submit a request for waiver of the requirements based on documentation that describes the method of charging costs, relates the charging of costs to the specific activity that is applicable to all fund sources, and is based on quantifiable measures of the activity in relation to time charged.”

  • Braiding is a strategy in which separate funding streams are brought together to pay for more than one funding stream can support, then pulled back apart to report to funders on how the money was spent. Braiding requires strict financial and programmatic oversight to ensure that state and federal tax dollars are spent only on allowable activities. Braiding requires a grantee to act in good faith – with transparency and honesty. It is not to be used to bypass or obscure federal regulations.

Two years ago, a formal partnership between Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living and sheltered workshops was developed behind closed doors by Sara Grivetti, Todd Culver (MARO), and Suzanne Howell (State of Michigan). These parties are so closely connected to sheltered workshops that they are completely flummoxed by the new WIOA Regulations because they believe – whole-heartedly – in sheltered work and their role supporting it.

The intent of Section 511 of WIOA is to limit the use of subminimum wage employment.

Graphic: Don’t be fooled! Community Rehabilitation Organization Equals Subminimum Wage EmployerInstead of a good faith effort to follow the law, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Michigan Centers for Independent Living (Disability Network), the Michigan SILC, sheltered workshops, and the Governor’s Office are doing everything they can to maintain the status quo.

Blending and braiding employment and Medicaid funds does nothing to benefit Michiganders with disabilities. The financial beneficiaries of this absurd proposal are sheltered workshops and their partners.

One major question remains unanswered: why have sheltered workshops and their partners been given control over implementing Employment First? It’s a huge conflict of interest. Employment First is not being carried out with the transparency necessary to blend and braid funds legally and zero consumer input is being solicited or considered.

Notes:

  1. Community Rehabilitation Organization (CRO) is a code word for sheltered workshops.
  2. This proposal references “CRO/CILs”. There is no such thing as a CRO/CIL. Centers for Independent Living are not sheltered workshops. CILs and sheltered workshops are radically different organizations. Centers for Independent Living are taxpayer-funded organizations required by law to be led by local disability communities. Real CILs do not support sheltered work or any other forms of disability discrimination or financial exploitation.
  3. Sara Grivetti should disclose conflicts of interest before requesting funds on behalf of the public that benefit her personally and professionally. It is not appropriate for Ms. Grivetti to use her position on the SILC to direct funds to her organization. This has been an ongoing problem for several years.

See also: How Michigan CILs Became Service Providers Chasing Money and Working for Our Oppressors

Advertisements

Independent Living Administration – IL Specialist: Job Description

The following Job Description for IL Specialists at the Independent Living Administration (within the Administration for Community Living) was obtained April 6, 2017 by FOIA Request. Shockingly, the IL Specialist Job Description has not been updated since 2005. Nevertheless, it’s very specific.

Save MI CILs - Oversight Now!Soon, Peer Action Alliance will draft a letter to the Senate HELP Committee asking why federal employees are refusing to fulfill their legal obligations to the public and the responsibilities specifically outlined in this Job Description.

The following responsibilities are not being carried out in the state of Michigan.

The purpose of this position is to represent, promote and give oversight to programmatic interest and requirements of RSA and its constituents in the public and private provider sectors, as well as maintain channels of information and consultation with various consumer advocacy groups.

Identifies areas of policy deficiency or conflict.

Negotiates and elicits from key agency officials workable agreements or acceptable corrective actions where long­ standing weaknesses or unique problems are identified and there are not appropriate guides to follow in assessing and correcting them. Conducts follow-up reviews to determine if improvements (corrective action plans) have been implemented.

Serves on State Teams to conduct on-site monitoring reviews.

Assures that assigned State VR agencies and other grantees operate in conformity and compliance with applicable Federal laws, regulations and polices derived from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended… and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The incumbent must exercise independent judgment, balance competing demands, develop complex options that are often unique, contribute to best practice decisions and provide interpretations of broad agency mission statements containing goals and objectives to elicit precise responses.

The incumbent must, from time to time, secure acceptance of controversial ideas. In the event of non-resolvable controversy or conflict surrounding State Plan issues, the incumbent prepares the compliance conformity citation and independently performs all research that supports and/or defends a position of compliance or non-compliance.

Complex and sensitive issues often arise for which little precedent has been established in the form of written guidelines. In resolving such matters, the incumbent seeks to assure – through negotiation, research, and consultation – that law and regulation is correctly applied.

When guidelines do not exist or are materially deficient, the incumbent is expected to independently research existing guidelines materials and propose responses or more specific standards appropriate to the circumstances.

More text from Kimball Gray’s Job Description is available below. Sighted people can access the full Job Description in inaccessible PDF. We hope this information is useful to others in the IL field who are not able to reach their IL Specialist at the Independent Living Administration.  Continue reading

Small Victories in Early 2017

Well Done GraphicWe’ve had some small victories over the past few months!

1. After years of advocacy, ALL Michigan Centers for Independent Living have been removed from the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations (MARO) member directory. (MARO is an association for subminimum wage employers.)

2. Tamera Collier is no longer the Executive Director of Disability Network West Michigan. Former Board Member Tracy Knight is currently serving as Interim Executive Director.

3. Sara Grivetti, Disability Network/Michigan CEO, has stepped down as Chair of the Statewide Independent Living Council (a major conflict of interest).

4. Disability Network/Michigan’s April 6 Public Input Session has been moved from SVRC (a sheltered workshop that pays 264 disabled employees less than minimum wage) to a more appropriate venue.

Michigan CILs and SILC Plan Public Input Session at Subminimum Wage Sheltered Workshop April 6 (Updated)

Update (March 23, 2017): This event has been moved to the Saginaw Intermediate School District (ISD)! 

On April 6, 2017, Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living (CILs) and Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) – collectively known as Disability Network – will hold a public input event at a sheltered workshop. Input will be used to develop a “Common Disability Agenda”.

No Subminimum Wage - End 14c - Subminimum Wage = DiscriminationThe event will take place at SVRC – a Saginaw business that segregates disabled employees and pays them less than minimum wage. According to the Department of Labor, SVRC pays subminimum wages to 264 disabled employees.

Obviously, this is not an appropriate venue for a public input session. In Independent Living, we don’t ask people to enter segregated environments in order to give public opinion on inclusive communities! Furthermore, the idea that Michiganders with disabilities want our CILs and SILCs to have a common agenda with the businesses financially exploiting the disability community is absurdContinue reading

Comments to the National Council on Disability

Save MI CILs - Oversight Now!February 23, 2017

The topic we were asked to address is the connection between disability and poverty. In this state, the connection between disability and poverty is that for every disabled person that stays poor and dependent, someone gets filthy rich.

It’s very important for you to understand the immense power and influence of sheltered workshops in Michigan. Our state government has partnered with the businesses exploiting the disability community. In partnership with Michigan’s sheltered workshops and Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have systematically and successfully destroyed and dismantled all consumer-controlled entities in the state.

Taxpayer-funded entities designed to serve the disability community that are no longer functioning include:

  • The Michigan Commission for the Blind
  • The Statewide Independent Living Council
  • The State Rehabilitation Council
  • Michigan Protection & Advocacy’s Client Assistance Program, and
  • Michigan’s Independent Living Program, which includes 15 Centers for Independent Living funded to the tune of $20 million dollars per year.

What’s going on in the state of Michigan is not normal. Outright corruption in our state government, and I’m speaking specifically about Michigan Rehabilitation Services, coupled with a complete lack of oversight from any federal agency, has created the perfect storm for businesses and their partners in the Governor’s Office to exploit people with disabilities.

Michigan citizens with disabilities are being treated as prey.

I began a campaign to bring consumer control back to Michigan Centers for Independent Living two and a half years ago. In that time, I’ve seen things you would not believe. I’ve been told by my CIL’s Board President that there is no such thing as a disability community and that I do not have the power to create change. I’ve been called “a disgraceful liar… with an axe to grind” by the staff at my Center for Independent Living. In an attempt to suppress free speech and criminalize advocacy, my own Center for Independent Living threatened to sue me (using taxpayer dollars) for speaking my mind.

These are not the actions of legitimate Centers for Independent Living. Michigan Centers for Independent Living are now controlled by vocational rehabilitation. Non-disabled people who are openly hostile to disability rights advocacy control the majority of our CILs.

I believe that consumer control is foundational to the Independent Living Movement.

When the foundation of a house is damaged, the structure will collapse. All of the materials that comprised the house will still be there; but it no longer serves its purpose. The same is true of Michigan Independent Living Program. When consumer control was erased from the IL equation, Michigan CILs began to identify as businesses and partner with the systems oppressing us. A decade later, advocates are no longer welcome in Michigan’s Independent Living Program.  Continue reading

Fighting for Consumer Control in the Age of Trump

By Darma Canter

After two years of advocating within Michigan’s publicly-funded local and state Independent Living program, I should have been more prepared for the new President, his loose interpretation of history, as well as facts in general, and his presumption of authority. I should have seen the government moving away from the people and public service, and investing power and authority in the service of corporate entities. Still, every day since January 20, I wake up to the unexpected, shocking new reality.

darma-canterI have spent a lot of time, too much time, thinking in the last three months. What is the role of government? What is the fundamental nature of democracy? How are units of government, their programs, policies, practices connected to the people? What is my role and responsibility in a democracy, and what responsibilities does the government have to citizens, to tax payers, and to me?

What is the people’s business? How does the public hold its government accountable to act in the public’s interest? These questions are surprisingly hard to answer. The 2016 election results seem to indicate not everyone agrees on the answers – or even the questions themselves.

Independent Living is a political movement developed by disabled individuals to address the social and environmental policies that limit our freedom to fully engage in the benefits of society. Prior to the 1960s, citizens with disabilities were institutionalized, dependent on charities, and viewed as politically irrelevant. No Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, no right to education or employment, no guaranteed right to participate in government services or activities. There were no public funds for Independent Living in the community because those state dollars went to life-long institutionalization. Literally, the “insane and feeble-minded” were dropped off at the hospital door and left for decades. No one was expected to leave alive.

Fifty years ago, this was the reality of disabled lives in America. Building on the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s, the disability community began gathering on college campuses and in cities to build a grassroots political entity focused on changing the long history of discrimination of disabled citizens. Our lives didn’t change overnight, but we are living with the accomplishments of 20 to 30 years of advocacy by and for our peers with disabilities. Our network of CILs across the country was formalized and funded in the amended Rehab Act in the early 1990s, but the IL philosophy of consumer run, self-help centers belonged to the people, and the historical changes produced by collective political action must still belong to the people.

We, the disability community, are on the verge of another shift, but not one of our making, and it may very well be one that undoes the changes we fought for. The systems that many people use to live and to participate as full members of the community, had lots of shortcomings, but I don’t think the new Administration will be reforming systems to our benefit. The new Secretary of Education didn’t know disabled students have the right under federal legislation to a free and appropriate education. The new Attorney General has a troubling history of voting against the ADA. The new Secretary heading up the Medicaid programs has a strong preference for block grants to states with fewer mandates, and we will likely be forced to justify independent living supports economically. I am afraid for myself and my people.

So how will we, the disability community, protect our essential civil rights and health services? 600 CILs across the country can help to gather and inform the 56 million disabled individuals about policy issues and advocacy strategies. But critically, it is the millions of informed voters with disabilities that must manage and shape the programs and policies they rely on. This is a time to act on the issues experienced almost exclusively by the disabled. Centers for Independent Living and their constituents will have to debate what issues and actions they will commit to for years ahead.

Many Centers for Independent Living may want to protect their revenue from state and federal budget cuts, but at what cost? If Michigan CILs and SILC defend the rights of consumers and protect essential community-living supports, they will become pertinent to the disabled. If Michigan’s Independent Living system scrambles to maintain their identity business entities at the expense of the needs of the disability community, they will continue to be irrelevant to the disability community and the IL Movement.

Michigan SILC Declares Itself Exempt from FOIA

Greetings from Michigan Postcard

Greetings from the “Laws Don’t Apply to Us” State!

Consumers have been pointing out that the Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council is operating in open violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) for years.

Now we have a direct answer. Let’s unpack the SILC’s absurd arguments about why they do not need to heed input from the community they are funded to represent and why the law simply doesn’t apply to them. Read their (unsigned, undated) arguments in full below.

  • SILC Argument 1: FOIA doesn’t apply to the SILC (no supporting arguments presented).

Reality Check: FOIA absolutely applies to the SILC, as the SILC itself has acknowledged since its inception. The SILC is a public body. The same standards that make it a public entity under the Open Meetings Act (which are acknowledged in their response) make it a public entity under FOIA. Even the Governor’s claim that his staff is exempt from FOIA cannot be rationally applied to the SILC because the SILC is not part of the Governor’s staff. The SILC is actually required to maintain autonomy. If the Michigan SILC is suggesting that they work for the Governor’s Office, the SILC is out of compliance with the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. The SILC does not work for the Governor.

  • RSA’s Technical Assistance Circular (2014 – PDF) states: “Section 705(a) and its implementing regulation stipulate that the SILC may not be established within a state agency, including the designated state agency (DSA) or designated state unit (DSU), and that the SILC must remain independent of the DSU and all other state agencies (34 CFR 364.21(a)(2)).”

When the Governor issued his most recent SILC Executive Order, consumers immediately raised red flags. The new Executive Order specifically noted placement of the SILC within the Governor’s Office, despite the requirement that the SILC remain autonomous. As Michiganders, it wasn’t hard to see what was going on: the Michigan SILC was establishing itself as another wing of the Governor’s Office in order to exempt itself from FOIA and the OMA. Right on cue, the Michigan SILC immediately closed all meetings to the public (except the four annually required by the Rehabilitation Act) and completely stopped responding to FOIA Requests.

  • SILC Argument 2: The OMA does not apply to committees and subcommittees composed of less than a quorum of the full public body if they “are merely advisory or only capable of making ‘recommendations concerning the exercise of governmental authority.'”

Reality Check: Over the course of the past year, the Michigan SILC administratively re-labeled all of its committees as “advisory”. The SILC then restricted membership on its committees so that a quorum can never be reached (because a quorum would trigger open meetings requirements). The problem is that these committees are not advisory. The committees in question directly participate in the SILC’s policy-making decisions. Re-naming a committee advisory does not make it so.  Continue reading