No Profit in America’s Safety Net for Low Income People with Disabilities

Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times column, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” suggests that America must choose between creating opportunity for children with severe disabilities and families living in poverty, or helping them meet basic needs like food, shelter, and medical care through the Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.) program. Unfortunately, Mr. Kristof misses what’s really at stake.

S.S.I. is a lifeline for over 8 million low-income Americans, including over 1.3 million children with significant disabilities. Benefits are modest, averaging about $600 per month for children in Kentucky, where Mr. Kristof visited, but are invaluable in meeting the often extraordinary costs of raising a child with a disability.

S.S.I. is reserved for low-income children and adults with the most severe disabilities. Despite the misperceptions of some people Mr. Kristof interviewed, low literacy and poor grades on their own do not qualify a child for S.S.I., and doing well in school does not mean a child will lose benefits. Instead, to qualify for S.S.I. a child must have a medically documented impairment that results in “marked and severe functional limitations” of substantial duration. Because the S.S.I. childhood disability standard is so narrow, the majority of children who apply are denied and as documented in recent research by the National Academy of Social Insurance, fewer than 1 in 4 children with disabilities receive benefits.

Childhood S.S.I. trends reflect broader patterns of childhood disability.  About two-thirds of child S.S.I. beneficiaries have a primary diagnosis of a mental disorder. This rate has been remarkably stable for 15 years and mirrors World Health Organization researchers’ findings that about 67 percent of youth with disabilities have a mental disorder.

Within the S.S.I. mental disorder category, a shift has occurred. In recent decades the share of children with “mental retardation” (now called intellectual disability) has declined while the share of children with other mental impairments has increased as medical professionals developed more specific diagnoses, such as autism.  Intellectual disability, far from being “fuzzy,” has a precise SSI definition of “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning.” Children in this S.S.I. diagnostic category typically have severe underlying disabilities such as Down syndrome and Fragile X, usually determined only after lengthy medical evaluation and testing.

As documented by Mark Stabile and Sara Allin in a recent article in the journal The Future of Children, families raising child S.S.I. beneficiaries often face enormous, diverse challenges. Many children need ongoing help with activities such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, communicating, mobility, and behavior management. Out-of-pocket costs include expensive items such as wheelchairs, ramps, and communication devices as well as lower but persistent costs such as adult diapers for some older children, special foods for medically-prescribed diets, and co-pays for ongoing therapies and doctor visits. Add the costs when a parent must take time off work, stop working, or forgo employment and educational opportunities to help manage medical appointments and around-the-clock personal caregiving. Unsurprisingly, Susan Parish and other researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have documented that families caring for children with disabilities are over twice as likely as other families to experience hardships such as homelessness, food insecurity, and utility shutoff.

The suggestion that S.S.I. keeps families in poverty is like blaming lifeboats for floods: only children in families with extremely low incomes and savings can qualify in the first place. Indeed, children’s S.S.I. enrollment has grown at about the same rate as child poverty. Between 2000 and 2011, a fairly stable 3 to 4 percent of low-income children received S.S.I.

High poverty in economically-depressed states like Kentucky means that more children with severe disabilities in those states meet the S.S.I. income and asset tests. Research also correlates poverty with a higher incidence of childhood disability. Poor families often have inadequate access to nutritious food or prenatal and early childhood care, and greater exposure to environmental hazards such as lead paint and contaminated water.

Most alarming is Mr. Kristof’s recommendation that policymakers take money from S.S.I. and devote it to other early childhood initiatives. Early intervention services – such as speech or behavior therapies, medical care, Head Start, and family education – are vital to ensuring that children with significant disabilities reach their fullest potential. S.S.I. serves as a complement, meeting expenses these important programs don’t cover. Early childhood initiatives don’t pay the rent when a parent is unable to work because a child needs round-the-clock care. Cuts to S.S.I. would have devastating consequences for already vulnerable children.

In today’s heated political climate, with deficit reduction center stage, what’s at stake is the well-being and future opportunities of children with severe disabilities, and the families who care for them in the face of often crushing economic challenges. Congress must preserve S.S.I., not slash this vital benefit when it’s needed most. It’s a matter of life and death.

The Arc’s Statement on the Military’s Pilot Program for Extending Behavioral Health Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement after the passage of the 2013 National Defense Reauthorization Act in the House and Senate.  The reauthorization will create a one year pilot program to expand the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by TRICARE, the health care program for our nation’s military.

“We appreciate this step forward for military families that have children with ASD.  We are hopeful that the pilot program will lay the foundation for making critical behavioral health therapies available to military dependents with a range of developmental disabilities that can greatly benefit from the services.

“We regret that language developed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Patty Murray extending coverage to dependents with other developmental disabilities was not included in the final bill.  There is considerable research proving applied behavioral analysis (ABA) to be an effective intervention for a number of developmental disabilities, including ASD.  ABA is particularly effective in reducing self-injurious behaviors in people with the most significant disabilities.

“The inclusion of other developmental disabilities would also have greatly benefitted military families who have children with ASD since many of these children only receive their diagnosis after many years.   Limiting the covered services to those with an ASD diagnosis will result in children not being treated at the earliest age possible, which is shown to have lifelong, cost effective benefits.

“We look forward to the Secretary of Defense’s report on the feasibility and advisability of establishing a beneficiary cost share for the treatment of ASD under TRICARE and its Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) Program for dependents with disabilities,” stated Peter V. Berns, the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

The Arc Reacts to New Proposals in Budget Negotiations That Could Result in Cuts to Social Security

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in light of reports of new threats to Social Security in negotiations on a budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff.  On the negotiating table is a change to the way benefits are calculated known as the “chained Consumer Price Index (CPI).”

“We are very disappointed by the newest proposals in Washington, DC that would result in a chained CPI. The chained CPI would cut all Social Security benefits, including for individuals receiving Social Security disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income.  Social Security is an essential lifeline for individuals with disabilities, and the chained CPI would cut their benefits and unnecessarily damage their quality of life.  Our nation cannot continue balancing the budget on the backs of individuals with disabilities and must preserve vital supports including Social Security, SSI, Medicaid, and Medicare,” said Marty Ford, Director, Public Policy Office, The Arc.

The chained CPI reduces the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries receive in most years, resulting in people getting smaller benefit increases than they otherwise would under the current calculation.

Cuts from the chained CPI compound and get bigger every year. For the average Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiary, the chained CPI would mean a benefit cut of about $347 per year after 10 years, $720 per year after 20 years, and $1,084 per year after 30 years. After 30 years, the cut is roughly 1 months’ worth of benefits for the average SSDI beneficiary. For SSI, the chained CPI not only lowers the annual COLA but also reduces the initial SSI benefit, which is calculated using a federal benefit rate that adjusts annually for inflation.

Generous Donor Offers Matching Gift

Donate Now!

Good news! A generous donor and long-time supporter of The Arc, Quincy Abbott, offered to match any donation you may make by the end of the year up to $2500. That means that we have an opportunity to double our impact on the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with your help! Know that any amount you give by December 31, 2012 will be matched dollar for dollar by this benefactor and that money will go toward fulfilling The Arc’s goals to promote and protect the rights of people with I/DD to live, learn, work and play as valued and contributing members of their communities. Every dollar counts – donate today!.

The Arc’s Statement on the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

“On behalf of The Arc and the families we represent, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these children and their teachers in this horrific tragedy.  Our hearts are simply broken for the parents, loved ones, and the community of Newtown.

“There are so many questions surrounding this tragedy.  As more information comes to light, the media is reporting that the individual responsible for this violence may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  As we struggle with this tragedy, it is important that the public is aware that people with autism spectrum disorders are not more likely than others to be violent.    This is a horrific event in our nation’s history, and as we mourn, we must come together as a nation to support this Connecticut community.”

Media inquiries can be sent to Kristen McKiernan, mckiernan@thearc.org

The Arc Responds to New York Times Column on Children’s SSI Program

Washington, DC – In response to The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof’s December 7 op-ed, “Profiting from a Child’s Illiteracy”, The Arc released the following statement:

“Mr. Kristof’s take on how to break the cycle of poverty completely misses the mark.  Our nation doesn’t have to choose between providing two essential supports for low-income children with significant disabilities:  early childhood programs and Supplemental Security Income, a lifeline. We must do both.  Children with severe disabilities must have access to robust, timely supports to help make the most of their early development, while at the same time, many who are low-income also need Supplemental Security Income to ensure a quality of life that isn’t crushed by economic circumstances. If the Supplemental Security Income lifeline is slashed thanks to articles like this one, it’s those most in need – the children with significant disabilities and their families, who face unimaginable day in and day out financial and personal struggles – who will suffer,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“Bob, Would You Like the Chance to Meet with Vice President Biden?”

Vice President Joe Biden has lunch with Americans to discuss the importance of middle class tax cuts, at Metro 29 diner in Arlington, Virginia, Dec. 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Vice President Joe Biden has lunch with Americans to discuss the importance of middle class tax cuts, at Metro 29 diner in Arlington, Virginia, Dec. 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

By Bob Hage, advocate from The Arc of New Jersey and father of two daughters with I/DD

It was a typical Saturday for our family – I was shuttling our 13-year-old son Vann from a hockey game, while my wife Odette Adrian was home with our girls, Annika and Maya.My cell phone rang, and it was Marty Ford with The Arc’s national office.What she said was anything but typical…

“Bob, would you like the chance to meet with Vice President Biden?”

Our Family and the “Fiscal Cliff”

Marty had the opportunity to suggest a few names of people whose families included people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to meet with Vice President Biden about the potential impact of taxes going up in January. I’m sure you have seen all over the news the dramatic “fiscal cliff” countdown, as leaders in Congress negotiate with the Administration on whether or not to extend tax cuts for the middle class. If they don’t extend the cuts for the middle class, then families like mine could see a $2,000 or more tax increase in 2013. And that could have terrible consequences on our family’s ability to pay for disability-related expenses.

My beautiful 9-year-old twin daughters, Annika and Maya, are the light of my life. Both my girls have severe developmental disabilities and are non-verbal and medically fragile. We’ve been involved with The Arc since Annika and Maya were very young – The Arc of New Jersey has given us a place to go with questions and has served as a vital link to other families like ours and resources and information that we couldn’t do without.

So Marty’s question had barely sunk in before I was calling Odette and we were drafting our family’s biography to submit to the White House. While we have been involved with The Arc nationally, as part of their re-branding initiative in 2011, we had never had this kind of chance to advocate on behalf of Annika and Maya and millions of families like ours ever before. This was huge, and while Marty warned that many other organizations were responding to the White House’s request and we may not be chosen, I had a feeling that this was our chance to make a big impact.

Fast forward five days, and I was on a train to Washington, DC for a meeting with Vice President Biden. I huddled with the staff of The Arc’s national office, who gave me top-secret information about where I was to join the Vice President and the other meeting attendees. We had all assumed it would be at the White House – but it turned out that I was having lunch at a diner in Arlington, Virginia. Security is always top of mind when the Vice President is involved, so I couldn’t even tell Odette where I was going!

The Big Meeting

The next day, I joined six other Americans for a candid, in-depth discussion with Vice President Biden. It’s an experience I will never forget. I had brought along a photo of Vann, Annika, and Maya, and I shared it with the Vice President. He immediately smiled, as any proud father would, and connected with our family’s story. Annika and Maya have defied so many expectations, and I’m immensely proud of my girls.

I shared with him that Annika and Maya go to speech therapy, which has been instrumental in moving them from being totally dependent on liquid tube feedings to eating all their nutrition from pureed foods. Currently, speech therapy’s primary goal is to help Annika and Maya learn to chew so they can eat solid food.

Both girls participate in weekly music and gymnastics classes for children with special needs. While music and gymnastics is recreational for most children, it is vitally important to Annika and Maya’s development. The music class focuses on building finger strength and coordination through piano and helps the girls to vocalize through singing. The gymnastics class concentrates on building muscular strength and endurance which is especially important for children with low muscular tone.

But if we were to face a tax increase in the thousands of dollars, some of their therapies and classes that help them develop could be cut from our family’s budget.

Not only did Vice President Biden listen, he clearly understands the challenges families like mine face, and I walked away trusting that he will do everything he can to protect my daughters’ future.

Please join me in being a strong advocate on behalf of The Arc – join The Arc’s action community today.

The Arc Announces New Members to Serve on National Board of Directors

Washington, DC — The Arc elected a slate of new and returning members of the board of directors to lead its work for the next two years at its recent annual business meeting.  This distinguished group includes professionals in the intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) field and affiliated services, parents, and self-advocates representing a cross section of leaders in this movement dedicated to promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

The Arc’s new board president, Nancy Webster of Indian Head Park, Illinois, said upon her appointment: “I’m honored to be a part of this organization’s leadership at this critical juncture in our movement.  We have come so far – closing institutions and moving people into communities across the country, expanding services so that people with disabilities are included in society, and educating the public about what people with I/DD can achieve – but we have a lot of work ahead of us.  New challenges emerge every day that threaten the progress we have made, and The Arc is uniquely poised to lead the charge to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected across the nation.”

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc, said:  “Under Nancy’s leadership and with the strong backing of the incredibly diverse and talented individuals appointed to our board, The Arc has powerful momentum going into 2013.  I thank all of our new board members and outgoing appointees for their commitment to people with I/DD and their dedication to the long term success of The Arc.”

The Arc’s Board Development Committee completed the process of preparing the slate of officers and directors for election in July.  The Committee identified and selected a group of candidates that, collectively, has the knowledge, skills and expertise to meet The Arc’s leadership needs.  The process by which the Committee worked to select the candidates unfolded over the course of a year, and included reviewing the board roles and responsibilities, developing a nominating process work plan, reviewing and updating the criteria relevant to board composition, conducting a board composition analysis, and completing candidate interviews.    The slate was then presented at the 2012 annual business meeting.

National Board Members of The Arc

Officers

President: Nancy Webster, Indian Head Park, IL – Nancy has served as a member of the board of directors since 2002.  Previously, she served as the Chair of the Committee on the Future of The Arc.  Prior to joining the board of directors for The Arc, Nancy was active in The Arc of Illinois.  Her first and most important advocacy role has been as a sibling to her sister, Martha, who has an intellectual disability.

Vice President: Ron Brown, Dallas, TX – Ron has served as a member of the board of directors since 2006.  He has over 36 years of experience in the volunteer arena as an advocate for the disability community.  He has served on the local, state, and national board of directors of The Arc.

Treasurer: M.J. Bartelmay, Hermitage, PA – M.J. has served The Arc at every level – national, state, and local since 1992.  He is a Past-President of both The Arc of Pennsylvania and a local chapter.  In addition to his work with The Arc, he has also held numerous positions as an advocate and leader for people with I/DD.  M.J. has a son with an intellectual disability.

Secretary: Elise McMillan, Nashville, TN – Elise has served as a member of the board of directors since 2005.  She also serves as a Co-Chair of the Policy and Positions Committee, which is responsible for updating The Arc’s position statements.  She is a Past-President of The Arc of Davidson County and The Arc of Tennessee and she remains actively involved with both chapters.  In addition to her work for The Arc, Elise is Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; Director of Community Outreach; and Senior Associate in the Department of Psychiatry. Elise and her husband have three adult children, including a son with Down syndrome.

Immediate Past President: Mohan Mehra, Cortlandt Manor, NY – Mohan has served in leadership positions with The Arc at the national, state and local levels. He has 25 years of experience in business strategy, marketing, sales, and business development at General Foods Corporation and Kraft Foods and as a consultant for major consumer packaged goods companies. Mohan and his wife are parents of Brian, a young man with Down syndrome.

Returning Board Members

Tony Anderson, Sacramento, CA – Tony is the Chair of the National Conference of Executives (NCE), and Executive Director of The Arc of California.

Barbara Coppens, Cherry Hill, NJ – Barbara is a self-advocate and currently works as an Advocate Assistant with Disability Rights New Jersey.  She also serves on the board of directors for The Arc of New Jersey and is a member of the governmental affairs committee. Over the years she has also been involved with Partners in Policy Making.

Hugh M. Evans, Baltimore, MD – Hugh is a Vice President of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.  He is the parent of a young daughter with Trisomy 21.

Gary Horner, Pittsburgh, PA –Gary is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of ACHIEVA/The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh.

Thomas A. Judd, Esq. Minneapolis, MN – Thomas is an active member of The Arc of Greater Twin Cities in St. Paul, MN, where he served as president of the board of directors.  He is personally connected to The Arc’s mission as a family member of several people with disabilities.

Michael Mack, Silver Spring, MD – Michael has been on the board of directors since 2004.  He serves as Co-Chair of the Policy and Positions Committee that is responsible for updating The Arc’s position statements.  Michael is the parent of a young man with an intellectual disability.

Joseph Meadours, Sacramento, CA – Joe is a self-advocate and author of three books, one of which focuses on policymaking from the viewpoint of a self-advocate.

Pat Napoliello, San Francisco, CA – Pat is a parent of Joseph, who has Angelman Syndrome, and has been the inspiration for her years of advocacy.

Randy Patrick, Aurora, CO – Randy is also on the board of The Arc of Colorado, and is an Account Manager with Rexell USA.

Kurt Rutzen, Minneapolis, MN –Kurt is a self-advocate and program specialist for the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration’s Research and Training Center on Community Living.

New Board Members

Fred Misilo, Northborough, MA – Fred is the Immediate Past-President of The Arc of Massachusetts and a longstanding board member of that chapter.  He has devoted 35 years of service to The Arc both locally and nationally.  Fred is an Officer and Chair of the Trust and Estate Department and Chair of the Elder Law and Special Needs Practice Group at the law firm of Fletcher Tilton PC.

Michele Poole, Lake Worth, FL – Michele has served for many years on the state and local level as the President of The Arc of Palm Beach and as board member.  She is the current President of The Arc of Florida.  On the national level, Michele was co-founder and Past President of the Shaken Baby Coalition.  She has a daughter with a developmental disability. She is also CFO-Secretary-Treasurer at North Ridge Electric, Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL.

Philip Richards, Birmingham, AL – Phillip is the Past-President of The Arc of Walker County, Past-President of The Arc of Jefferson County, and currently sits on the board of The Arc of Alabama.  On the national level, he has served on the Marketing and Resource Development Committee when The Arc began its work to develop a new visual identity and brand.  Philip is a Manager of External Affairs at Energen, a diversified energy company.

Margaret-Lee Thompson, Redmond, WA – Margaret-Lee has worked in public policy for 40 years.  She became a member of The Arc of Washington when her son was born in 1968, and has remained an active advocate with The Arc ever since.  She is the founder of the King County Parent Coalition for Developmental Disabilities, a grassroots organization involved in advocacy and parent education.

Carol Wheeler, Washington, DC – Carol is a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.  Her professional experience includes leadership roles in a wide range of non-profit organizations and positions in the White House, on Capitol Hill and as Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters.  She is the mother of a transition age son with Williams Syndrome.

On December 20, 2012 Gary Bass, Doug Church, and Kelly Piacenti are expected to be elected as Board Elected Directors:

Gary Bass, Washington, DC – Gary is the Executive Director of the Bauman Foundation, a Washington, DC based grant making foundation.  In 1983, he founded OMB Watch, a national research, educational, and advocacy organization that he directed or 28 years.  He has deep expertise in public policy and fundraising.

Doug Church, Oak Hill, VA – Doug is the Founding Chairman and Director of Virginia Heritage Bank, and the father of an adult son with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  He also serves as the Chairman of the Arc of Northern Virginia’s Foundation

Kelly Piacenti, Chester, NJ – Kelly is the Special Needs National Director, The MetLife Center for Special Needs, and the mother of a young son with developmental disabilities.

The Arc also thanks our outgoing Board members: Joyce Lipman (Maryland), Susan Bassett (Indiana), Sam Givhan (Mississippi), and Mary Jordan (Tennessee).

Chapters of The Arc coming together in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Claiming more than 100 lives, leaving millions without power, and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, Hurricane Sandy will not soon be forgotten. The total cost of damages in New York and New Jersey alone will likely total more than $50 billion. Many chapters of The Arc are still coping with the aftermath of this treacherous storm.

While tragic stories filled media reports, inspiring tales of communities coming together seemed to be overlooked. The Arc’s network includes more than 700 chapters in 49 states across the country, with more than 70 in the hard-hit states of New York and New Jersey. But chapters in affected states were not alone as the storm approached.

Inspiration in New Jersey

In New Jersey, chapter staff was rushing home from The Arc’s National Convention in Washington, DC to prep for the storm. After previous storms, chapters had plans for disaster situations and specialized training programs on emergency preparedness had taken place. While chapters were concerned about all the individuals and families they support, a priority for many was to educate individuals with I/DD living in the community about what to do and who to contact in an emergency.

The selflessness and dedication of the direct care support professionals throughout the state was truly inspiring. They went above and beyond what was expected. One employment support worker lost her home during the hurricane. Despite her loss, her priority remained locating the young man with I/DD she worked with in an evacuation shelter, and making sure he would be able to go back to work once the business he worked in was reopened. Not once did she mention her own loss; her main concern was making sure that one young man didn’t get lost in the system. Her work paid off and she was able to move him into temporary housing with friends and even contacted his employer to make sure his job was secure. These stories of compassion and generosity are plentiful in The Arc’s community.

Many chapters suffered power outages and flooding, but The Arc of Monmouth in New Jersey was one the hardest hit. One building, where day programs were held, was destroyed. These programs not only allowed individuals with I/DD an opportunity to work and participate in the community, but gave parents the ability to work while knowing their loved one was safe. The Arc of Monmouth was not willing to give up on their community and the hundreds of families they serve, so they set up a make-shift center in their main office. Pulling together staff and volunteers they have been able to host a variety of mini-seminars and workshops – no small feat in an area severely affected by the storm.

Resilience in New York

In New York, similar stories of inspiration can be found. Some of the most compelling stories come from NYSARC, Inc., the New York State Chapter of The Arc. Their New York City chapter, AHRC NYC, knew the key to survival was preparation. Learning from previous experiences and storms, they knew what had to be done to ensure that they could continue serving their communities even if they ended up bearing the brunt of the storm.

Despite the amazing preparation throughout New York, the aftermath of the storm did pose problems. Accounting for all individuals they supported in many urban areas proved difficult, but chapter staff used all available resources to account for everyone. In spite of severe flooding and power outages in the Wall Street area (where AHRC NYC’s main office is located), staff was in the office immediately after the storm sweeping water out so that they could get back to work. Through teamwork they overcame the barriers to getting their office functioning again.

After dealing with the immediate crisis, the staff at AHRC NYC knew they had to ensure that everyone was paid on time so that they could cover personal expenses they incurred from storm damage.  With no power in their main office, staffers carried a 300-pound piece of equipment down 13 flights of stairs, and transported it to an area where there was power to get paychecks out on time. AHRC NYC employs 3,000 staff who fan out across the city providing services and supports to more than 15,000 people with I/DD.

The sense of community was powerful, and AHRC NYC truly exemplified it in the aftermath of the storm. They shared their limited resources, including gas, with other chapters to make sure the work of The Arc could continue.

We at the national office commend The Arc of New Jersey, NYSARC, Inc., and all chapters that were affected by this storm for their amazing work and dedication. We ask any chapter affected by the storm to contact the national office if they are in need of assistance, or wish to share their story with us.

The Arc of Madison County eRecycling Program

By Joyce Rinaldi, The Arc of Madison County

While The Arc of Madison County has worked hard to help individuals obtain employment in businesses throughout our community, we have also developed businesses to create new work opportunities. Our most significant success has been with our recycle and an on-site paper shredding businesses. With these programs, we have employed over 100 individuals with disabilities as sorters, material handlers, and on-site shredding personnel.

With our newest endeavor, we are excited to partner with The Arc’s eXplore eRecycling Initiative, funded by the Walmart Foundation, to place more individuals with disabilities to work! With this grant, we will be recycling and shredding metal products, circuit boards, cell phones and computer hard drives. By working with community stakeholders (individuals, local businesses, etc.) to recycle electronic equipment, it allows us to empower the individuals we serve and conserve natural resources, protect public health and the environment.

Our e-recycling employees work extensively in the community, engaging one-on-one with our customers. This structure has provided a maximum benefit to both employees and customers. We have received only the most enthusiastic feedback from our customers to this end and have enjoyed seeing the relationships they have been able to establish. It is also important to note that all employees associated with this particular initiative earn at least minimum wage, which further facilitates independence.

While taking a community leader on a tour of our facility last week, I noticed excitement was in the air. As we came upon several recycle workers, they could not contain themselves. They just had to show this person the new additions to our recycling program, our truck and new hard drive destruction equipment.  They explained how we received a grant from The Arc of the United States; how we would be recycling (and destroying) new items like hard drives and cell phones; and how other people “like me” will get to work. I did not have to say anything as the workers sold the program. It is exciting to see the “ownership” in the program. It also reminded me that their commitment is what has made our recycle and shredding services successful. Commitment to their job and to our community, in the services we provide.