CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Federal rules aimed at ending the practice of “sheltered” workshops for the disabled could mean big changes for one well-known Linn County program. But on Wednesday, Linn County Supervisors still couldn’t tell workers at Options of Linn County what the future holds for them.
Options opened about 45 years ago as a sheltered workshop for those with disabilities. It remains the only county-owned vocational program for the disabled in Iowa. The $4-million dollar yearly budget gives workers both training and work to do earning a small paycheck for “piecework” production.
Forty-seven unionized workers are employed at Options. And those county employees asked for a question-and-answer session with county supervisors to see where the program stands.
Supervisors said they’re concerned about how the new federal regulations are being interpreted and what that will mean for Options. But county leaders said they don’t have any clear idea yet just what might have to change or when.
Some of the 200 sheltered workshop clients at Options may earn just a few dollars a week for “piecework” production. But several caregivers told supervisors that doesn’t matter because the clients are just proud to earn a paycheck. Several Options workers told supervisors the federal push to get sheltered workshop participants out to jobs in the community won’t work for all.
Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston agreed and said that was part of the problem in trying to interpret federal intentions.
“Some of them are not ready for work. We know that. The question is how do we balance that with what we’re required to do by federal law,” Langston asked.
All supervisors told workers they believe in the quality of the services at Options. But they also had to tell workers the uncertainty will last until federal regulators look at the Options program and probably determine it doesn’t meet federal rules.
Rachel Pettit, a program manager at Options, said workers can deal with change if they know ahead of time what’s coming.
“Depending on what the changes are, that will determine how people weather the change,” Pettit said.
Last fall, Linn County Supervisors appointed a task force to look at the federal rules and how that might change what the county’s Option program can do. That group is expected to have some recommendations ready this fall.
Family members of Option clients will get their chance to talk with supervisors about potential changes at a forum set for 6:30 p.m. on August 12th. The program will take place at the county’s Community Services Building, 1240 26th Avenue Circle S.W. in Cedar Rapids.
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