NYSILC Presents Employment Agenda to Governor

NYAPRS Note: The following letter was sent by the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC) to Governor Cuomo and his office, demanding that employment for persons with disabilities is made a governance priority. NYSILC is a consortium of individuals who receive, provide, or advocate for suitable and gainful employment for persons experiencing a disability; this proposal reflects their efforts to bridge the gap between our current employment environment—in which 68% of New Yorkers with disabilities are unemployed, and many more are underemployed or work in subminimum wage positions—to one in which integrated employment is an expectation available to any individual with a disability who wants to work. NYAPRS’ employment committee is continuously strategizing on the issue of employment, particularly as the BH community transitions to new managed care outcome measures in coming years related to social determinants of health. NYAPRS appreciates this strong position taken by NYSILC to promote employment for our community members, and has inspired us to improve our systematic connections to statewide and national employment advocates. Join us for NYAPRS Legislative Day on January 28, where employment will likely hold a prominent place in our advocacy agenda.


Dear Governor Cuomo:


On behalf of the New York State Independent Living Council, Inc. (NYSILC) we are writing to voice our strong support for the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Chair’s Initiative related to “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities Blueprint for Governors” and to ask for your commitment to make this a priority in your upcoming State-of-the-State address, followed by its implementation in subsequent years to improve upon the employability of New Yorkers with disabilities.


NYSILC conducted a statewide needs assessment in 2012[1] and found some startling statistics related to New Yorkers with disabilities:

  • The employment rate for a New Yorker with a disability (ages 18-64) is 31.2% compared to 72% for a person without a disability resulting in a gap of 40.8 percentage points.
  • The poverty rate for New Yorkers with disabilities ages 18 to 64 living in the community is 28.6%, which is more than twice that of persons in our state without disabilities (12.3%).
  • Among civilians age 16 or older during the last 12 months, New Yorkers with disabilities earned $10,903 less on average compared to a person without a disability ($21,581 versus $32,484).
  • Labor force participation rates by race and disability (25-34 years of age) note large gaps for racial and ethnic minorities with disabilities (a 44.5% gap between Black disabled and non-disabled individuals and a 35.7% gap between Hispanic/Latino disabled and non-disabled individuals).[2]


The council believes that New Yorkers with disabilities will continue to languish in these areas unless employment is made a priority by the Executive as recommended by the NGA. NYSILC believes that the plan you present must start off with an aggressive, over-arching goal of reducing the employment gap for New Yorkers with disabilities by 10-15% over the next 10 years utilizing a comprehensive program of targeted strategies. Tangible goals must be set in a wide variety of areas in order to achieve the desired impact. Based on the feedback of our members, and the guidance provided by the NGA Chair’s initiative, NYSILC is recommending the following items for inclusion into the plan.


First, as the Governor, be the force behind an Employment First Initiative to direct State agencies to include people with disabilities as part of workforce and economic development programs. As an initial resource to the various possibilities that you could pursue, we recommend that you review the report issued by Senator Harkin as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) entitled, “Unfinished Business: Making Employment of People with Disabilities a National Priority,”[3] which provides a comprehensive overview of this subject. A general theme highlights integrated, competitive employment.


Your administration’s recent commitment to Olmstead implementation and a State Olmstead Plan has been long-awaited by the disability community. The section of the plan related to “Employment Services” must be part of the comprehensive proposal for all New Yorkers with disabilities. This employment section identifies the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission, workforce development programs, economic development efforts, workforce strategies, and Regional Economic Development Councils. It references how each entity can better coordinate with the State agencies responsible for serving people with disabilities, disability workforce initiatives, DOL regional business services, and One-Stop Career Centers. Further, it describes specialized programs and supports and ultimately looks to connect with the New York Employment Services System (NYESS) and the New York State Job Bank. All of these groups, networks, and entities must be included in the initiative, with benchmarks and timelines that contribute to the over-arching goal.


Our members also noted that the State agency “55-a/b/c programs” must be updated and more effectively promoted better. During a time of hiring freezes, qualified peers could be prioritized to backfill positions at both the State and local levels. In order to encourage opportunity, New Yorkers with disabilities should be provided with the same additional credit allowed for veterans with disabilities in competitive examinations and given preference in retention upon abolition of positions.[4]


To promote hiring in the private sector, we want to draw your attention to a NYS legislative bill (A.8385A/S.4107A), which establishes a tax credit for small businesses who hire and retain people with disabilities. Small businesses are defined as 100 employees or less. The tax credit is provided when a small business hires a full-time employee with a disability (35 hours per week) for twelve months. Small businesses that qualify will receive a $5,000 tax credit per person with a disability hired - not to exceed a maximum credit of $25,000. 


Second, another aspect the plan must focus on is youth and young adults with disabilities.


NYSILC members provided direct input, and received feedback during the public hearing process last year, about how the current high school diploma options earned by New Yorkers with disabilities may have a negative impact on their employment goals. The new Work Readiness Certificate (formerly the IEP diploma) is seen by many employers as a sub-standard diploma, creating a potential barrier to employment. Efforts need to be made to increase awareness about the new Work Readiness Certificate, especially since the Olmstead decision and the expectation that people are entitled to integrated, competitive employment.


While we realize that education issues are within the realm of the Board of Regents, we believe that State agencies responsible for serving individuals with disabilities (including young adults with disabilities) must be involved with the transition of students. State agency Memorandums Of Understanding (MOUs) can be structured to assist students with the supports and services they need toward meaningful diplomas and Work Readiness Certificates and a greater likelihood of transitioning successfully into adult life.


The recently awarded Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) grant in New York is a new and important partnership. The New York State Office of Mental Health with the support of the New York State Employment Services System (NYESS) Coordinating Council and Cornell University have designed a model to address approximately 2,000 New York youth ages 14-16 who receive SSI to prepare them to transition from benefits.[5] It will be crucial to talk directly with families and the young adults who have transitioned into higher education, work and living independently. The lessons learned from this model should be incorporated into the plan.


Progress of the Career Building ACCESS Project for Youth at the federal level should be monitored by the Governor’s Office.[6] ACCESS stands for Adult Coaching, Counseling and Employment Support Services for young adults 18 to 30 to achieve independence through employment.


The World Institute on Disability (WID) has been working with Senator Harkin’s Office and others to get legislation introduced to create a pilot project to increase the employment rate of American youth with disabilities by providing them with a more effective alternative to current SSI rules by 2027. They will look to reverse the increasing trend of youth with disabilities on SSI by allowing them to keep their benefits as they develop a personal plan under this program. This will be accomplished through the provision of life coaching, benefits assistance, asset building, and transition to work during this pivotal period of life. As young adults with disabilities jointly receive benefits during their transition to work, costs are being offset by paying taxes and having a greater contribution to the economy. New York should insist on being one of the five piloted states in the project!


Third, our members believe that there is an opportunity to be found in encouraging entrepreneurial business growth by New Yorkers with disabilities. Since people with disabilities are a protected class, it was felt that our peers should be included in opportunity provided for Minority and Women Owned Businesses so that we can go through the certification process to have “disability” become its own designation.[7] There is precedent for this in the State of Illinois. They have a Business Enterprise Program (BEP) similar to MWBE which includes minorities, females and people with disabilities. See the link below for details.[8] At a minimum, something must be done to promote the employment of women with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities with disabilities in this area.


Fourth, the council supports the State’s plans to close sheltered workshops and transition work opportunities for our peers to integrated, competitive employment. On September 30th, the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) released its “New York Draft Plan to Increase Competitive Employment for People with Developmental Disabilities.”[9]  The plan describes specific strategies to increase the number of individuals with developmental disabilities engaged in competitive employment, increase the number of students that transition from high school to competitive employment, and transition current workshop participants to competitive employment (or other meaningful community activities). The draft plan also factors in the opinions of those opposed to the closing down of sheltered workshops, and attempts to address those concerns. We encourage these efforts and look forward to similar plans from other State agencies. 


Finally, the State of Kansas has one of the strongest Employment First laws in the country (Kansas Employment First Initiative Act) enacted in July 2011.[10] The Act provides for the establishment of goals and objectives for State agencies, tracking measurable progress, providing oversight, and identifying barriers and strategies. Another option would be to offer direction through an Executive Order. The Governor of Nevada recently signed an Executive Order to provide opportunities for people with disabilities in their State.[11] We recognize this effort not so much in the details of their plan, but more as an option prioritized by the Executive and fact they are doing something about it.


NYSILC anticipates your leadership in New York on this extremely important issue for our community and State.




Denise Figueroa



Shelley M. Klein, Ph.D.

Chair, NYSILC Public Policy Committee


Brad Williams

NYSILC Executive Director


cc:    Courtney Burke, Deputy Secretary for Health

        Roger Bearden, Special Counsel for Olmstead

[1] Link to NYSILC 2012 Statewide Needs Assessment: http://www.nysilc.org/primary_source/FINAL-2012-NYSILC-Needs-Assessment-Report-10-11-12.doc.

[2] Table 4: Labor Force Participation Rates by Race and Disability: 25-34 Years Old, June 2013, “High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age,” Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, September 26, 2013. www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/52446704c3501.pdf.

[3] Link to report “Unfinished Business: Making Employment of People with Disabilities a National Priority” Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, July 2013: http://www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/500469b49b364.pdf.

[4] Link to N.Y. CVS LAW § 85: NY Code - Section 85: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/CVS/6/85.


[5] The NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTADA) reports that the number of individuals under the age of 18 who receive SSI continues to grow exponentially in NYS, with the highest prevalence rates occurring in highly rural counties and New York City.

[6] Link to description of ACCESS pilot project (black page appears, hit page down): http://wid.org/publications/downloads/The%20CareerACCESS%20Program%20-%20Legislative%20Summary%20-%20September%2025%2C%202013.pdf.

[7] Link to Division of Minority and Women's Business Development (DMWBD): http://www.esd.ny.gov/mwbe.html.

[8] Illinois BEP Program link: www2.illinois.gov/cms/business/sell2/bep/Pages/default2.aspx. Link to legislation authorizing BEP Program and defining disability as a separate category: www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=550&ChapterID=7.

[9] Link to OPWDD Draft Plan to Increase Competitive Employment Opportunities for People with Developmental Disabilities: http://www.opwdd.ny.gov/opwdd_services_supports/employment_for_people_with_disabilities/draft-plan-increase-employment-opps.

[10] Link to Kansas Employment First Initiative Act: http://www.ksde.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=Iqp6rXQr8dg%3D&tabid=2466&mid=8208.

[11] Link to Governor Sandoval Press Release: http://gov.nv.gov/News-and-Media/Press/2013/Sandoval-Signs-Executive-Order-to-Provide-Opportunities-for-Disabled-Workers/.