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

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Self-evident Truths of Independent Living Philosophy

To have an independent living movement there are only a few principles that are immutable. “I speak for myself.” It summarizes the revolution from dependence to independence. Once our lives were controlled by experts; doctors, teachers, researchers, institutions, but now as a consumers, Disabled people make informed choices about every aspect of life. “I am responsible to make decisions, weigh risks, deal with consequences, fair and fowl, and to measure personal satisfaction in my terms.” Service delivery systems are structured by national policy making the individual served responsible to create service plans that express their personal standards for a meaningful life. There aren’t, in theory, any conditions or qualifiers placed on the inherent right of every individual to design their service plan to meet their specific goals irrespective of their diagnosis or level of disability. “I am empowered by the act of asserting my voice and taking responsibility for my decisions.” No abled-bodied person should speak on my behalf or usurp my voice.

Like many other minorities, people with disabilities often find themselves outsiders to mainstream society. Ignorance and prejudice conspire to segregate and deny us many of the benefits of society. Disability pride and community answer back. “We are a proud people. Disability identity and culture replace internalized stigma. The experience of belonging and the support of peers replace vulnerability with strength.” We value interdependence and accept that we all have things we need and things we can provide; that we are stronger together.

People with sensory disabilities, or intellectual disabilities, physical, or psychiatric disabilities have concerns specific to their type of disability, but we share many more critical social issues as a product of discrimination; low-expectations, environmental barriers, poverty, access to health care, equal opportunity in education and employment, parental rights, even the right to live. “The disability community must fight injustice in every form because no one of us is safe when any one of us is abused, exploited or oppressed.” As individuals we are vulnerable, but as a community we are strong and just.

Appointment of New Executive Director Unveils Widespread Dysfunction and Abuse of Public Funds at Disability Network West Michigan

In October of 2014, advocates learned after considerable effort that Disability Network West Michigan had begun the search for a new Executive Director. We approached DNWM (the Muskegon Center for Independent Living) with educational materials and offered to help them revise the position description to include experience with Independent Living or the disability rights movement. They revised the position description, but then we received several responses letting us know that we are unwelcome to voice our opinion on the matter further, including the following response from John Wahlberg (President at that time):

“Please do not misunderstand my position in your quest for who knows what. No invitation for dialogue was extended beyond the allotted 5 minutes of public comment time at the start of our monthly board meetings.” – John Wahlberg

We prepared to speak at the next Board meeting. The November meeting was closed to the public after we RSVPed, so our first chance to speak came in December 2015. When we finished speaking, the departing Executive Director asked us to leave so that they could hold the meeting privately. We refused and the meeting continued. Our hearts sank when they introduced their new Executive Director.  Continue reading

Channeling of Anger on the Part of the Consumer into Constructive Organizing

Putting Advocacy Rhetoric Into Practice: The Role of the Independent Living Center

By June Isaacson Kailes

This is an except from Putting Advocacy Rhetoric Into Practice: The Role of the Independent Living Center (Word document).

This role is core to the ILC mission and philosophy.  We must militantly guard this dual commitment!”

Introduction

This monograph is intended to reinforce the importance of both individual and system/community advocacy.  Its emphasis will be on systems advocacy with independent living centers (ILCs).  The major areas to be discussed include:  examination of the importance of advocacy, establishment of an effective advocacy approach, development of new consumer leadership, and identification of advocacy questions needing further attention and debate.

It is no secret that the independent living movement is being criticized by disability rights advocates who charge that:

  • The commitment of center board and staff members to advocacy is waning and ILCs are becoming no different than traditional human service agencies.
  • The fervor for changes in “the system” is being crushed by bureaucratic, administrative, and contractual compliance concerns.
  • ILCs have absorbed and quieted many effective advocates and have played a role in draining the disability rights/independent living movement of advocates.

We in the independent living movement need to ask ourselves if these are valid criticisms.  Are we losing sight of a fact pointed out by Peg Nosek, Justin Dart, and Yoshiko Dart that our society still uses, as it “has traditionally used, an extensive and sophisticated program of psychological, physical, and economic threats, punishments, and barriers combined with rewards that force people with disabilities into segregated situations and subservient roles” (Nosek, Dart, and Dart, 1981)?  It remains critical for ILCs as well as others in the disability rights movement to devote a portion of their financial as well as personnel and volunteer resources to consumer and public education and to consumer and class advocacy in order to abolish these disincentives to independent living.  Given these concerns, it is important to start this discussion with a review of the importance of advocacy. Continue reading