Support for sheltered workshops rolls in as federal bill complicates funding

Community Opportunities, Inc., a sheltered workshop in Kirksville (KTVO)

A federal bill is causing concern about the future of sheltered workshops in Missouri.

But state lawmakers are working to show support for the workshops to keep the doors open, because it not only affects the careers of individuals with different abilities – it also affects their parents and caretakers.

Joe Boswell has worked at Community Opportunities, Inc., a sheltered workshop, since 1991.

Boswell and 50 others spend their days detailing vehicles or assembling small plastic pieces together.

“I come in here, we start work at 8:30 until 3,” Boswell said. “I’m here about five days a week.”

Community Opportunities has been operating in Kirksville since 1968.

It provides employment for workers with different abilities.

“This has been a big part of our community, there have been individuals here who started in their teens who have now retired out of employment from here so it’s a really valuable asset to our community,” said Katy Fine-Newman, executive director at Community Opportunities.

Restrictions from the federal Workforce Innovation Act that was enacted last year is causing some to question what life would be like without sheltered workshops like Community Opportunities.

The bill was designed with a goal to get individuals with disabilities into mainstream jobs after they’ve completed high school.

It would also divert a portion of funding that’s used for sheltered workshops into vocational training.

But those who work closely with workers at sheltered workshops say that’s not always the best option for everyone.

“In 2016, the WIO, the Workforce Innovation Act, was passed and that was geared to get every individual out into competitive employment. And unfortunately, they just stuck everybody in one box that said everybody can work in the community so we’re going to pass this legislation to have community competitive employment, but not everybody fits in that box and so sheltered workshops provide employment for those individuals,” said Fine-Newman.

Missouri lawmakers are working to express support for sheltered workshops in the state, that are so important to the workers who make them their life’s career.

“Very limited opportunities to employ individuals with disabilities, and every person is completely different and we try to customize the work here and find things for the individuals to do that they like to do and that’s very difficult to find in mainstream competitive employment,” said Fine-Newman.

“It’s extremely important to the individuals who are employed here to their daily lives to giving them a piece and purpose in life just like anyone else has.”

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