In 1977, Oregon’s House and Senate unanimously passed the Products of Individuals with Disabilities Law. The purpose of the law was to, “…encourage and assist individuals with disabilities to achieve maximum personal independence through useful and productive gainful employment… thereby enhancing their dignity and capacity for self-support and minimizing their dependence on welfare and need for costly institutionalization.” (ORS. 279.840). This created the Qualified Rehabilitation Facilities (QRF) program, now known as Oregon Forward Contractors (OFC).
The Oregon Forward Contractors Program employs more than 4,000 Oregonians with disabilities statewide, and I’d like to tell you a little about how Bay Area Enterprises (BAE) has put into action programs to fulfill the desired intent of this law with a focus on the hallmarks that nurture self-worth, value, and inclusion. To emphasize, I have highlighted and referenced significant earmarks from the excerpt of the law referenced above.
Dignity – Few things define the dignity of the American character more than the willingness to put one’s shoulder to the wheel, to work to move our nation forward. A job, or the opportunity for a good days work. For the 9.2% of people with disabilities living unemployed, more than double the unemployment rate of persons without diagnosed disabilities (1), this dignity is a wish that we at Bay Area Enterprises can turn into a reality through direct employment opportunities under the QRF Program and through our Job Development section. For the roughly 8 in 10 persons with disabilities who are not regarded as being a part of the labor force (not employed nor meeting the state’s definition of unemployed), Bay Area Enterprises can present a supportive environment to encourage these individuals to consider a return, or a first entry, into the labor force through our integrated employment opportunities and our accommodating personnel management practices.
Self-support – Hand-in-hand with dignity is the ability to support one’s self. This item bridges the gap between mental and physical health, venturing into a topic familiar to those medical professionals reading this as ‘minimum levels of care’. Put simply, a task done for a person who would otherwise be able to accomplish that task for themselves diminishes that individual’s capacity to perform that task in the future. By providing persons with disabilities the opportunity to work and the dignity afforded by that task, and by training and supporting the person towards ever-greater independence, we not only introduce persons with disabilities to a level of self-support they might not otherwise have achieved, but we also ensure that those individuals remain capable of self-support for longer.
Minimized support costs – It’s not news to anyone that our society possesses a large number of social programs, and to list them here would defeat the purpose of making a brief point. In broad strokes, the value of work to persons with disabilities, and the coinciding benefit to the taxpayer, can vary substantially from case to case. Here are the rough numbers:
- According to an economic study of the OFC Program in Oregon, $0.35 on every dollar spent came back to the tax base in the form of reduced public support expenditures and increased tax revenues.(2)
- At 20 hours per week, an SSI recipient working for minimum wage (11.50 in Coos County) will receive $452.00 fewer dollars of social security per month if no offsets are obtained, but will have earned $989.00 through their own labor.(3)(4)
- For those individuals with disabilities qualifying for Medicaid, the national average annual cost per individual is $12,834.26. BAE is fortunate to be able to offer private health insurance at 30 hours of work per week per individual, greatly reducing all taxpayers’ expense while improving the individual’s access to the health care of their choice. (5)
For individuals with mental health issues coupled with a history of substance abuse, also known as co-occurring disorders, the annual cost savings jumps to $16,635.00 in reduced treatment and institutionalization costs, achievable with consistent work schedules sometimes less than 20 hours per week.(6)
- Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics – 2017 (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm)
- The Employment of Individuals with Disabilities: An Economic Gain for Oregon
- SSI Calculator (https://careersourcebrevard.com/career-services/supporting-services-persons-disabilities/ticket-to-work-program-features/ssi-calculator-wages)
- 2018 Red Book, Social Security Administration summary on SSI & SSDI (https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/documents/TheRedBook2018.pdf)
- Policy Basics: Introduction to Medicaid, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (https://www.cbpp.org/research/health/policy-basics-introduction-to-medicaid)
- The Long-Term Impact of Employment on Mental Health Service Use and Costs for Persons with Severe Mental Illness (https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ps.2009.60.8.1024)