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Pedro’s Story: When Given the Chance, People with Disabilities Can Overcome Barriers to the American Dream
January 31, 2014 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Every day, countless Americans with disabilities are excluded from accessing important ladders of opportunity.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important tool for challenging assumptions and discrimination that trap people with disabilities in poverty and segregation.  When given the chance, people with disabilities are establishing their rightful place in the greater American workforce and the middle class, and are showing that they, too, can achieve the American Dream.  Pedro is one such person.

When Pedro graduated high school in 2010, at age 21, he found himself at home with no job prospects and no career direction.  A native Spanish speaker with intellectual disabilities, Pedro’s education had not prepared him to enter the general workforce; instead, he was headed for a life of segregated employment and below-minimum wages. 

Pedro attended a Providence, R.I., high school where students with intellectual disabilities participated in an in-school “sheltered workshop,” where there were no students without disabilities.  The students spent their school days sorting, assembling and packaging items such as jewelry and pin-back buttons, earning between 50 cents and $2 per hour for their labor.  Rather than providing the education and services needed to help them transition into regular jobs, the school prepared students for segregated, below-minimum-wage work in adult sheltered workshops.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2013 investigation of Rhode Island found that, indeed, the school-based workshop was a direct pipeline to a nearby adult workshop.  

Like many before him, Pedro began working at the adult workshop after high school.  Staff described Pedro as an excellent worker who stays on task and performs well, but he was paid just 48 cents an hour.  And because people who enter this workshop often stay there for decades, and are rarely offered help to move into community-oriented jobs, Pedro’s career outlook was dim. 

That all changed in June 2013 when the department entered into an interim settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence, requiring the state and city to provide the employment services necessary to help workers at the adult workshop and students at the school-based workshop move into integrated, competitive-wage jobs.  At the same time, the Providence Public School District closed the school-based workshop so students with disabilities can focus on education and career preparation. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (the agency) announced that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the City of Providence, the Providence School Board and Pedro’s former high school after the agency’s investigation found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Under the agreement, students will receive back pay for the work they did at the sheltered workshop.

Pedro was interested in the restaurant industry, so in 2013 he joined a culinary arts training program and 12 weeks later, helped by federal and state services, Pedro began working in the kitchen at a restaurant in the community.  He has excelled and forged strong working relationships with other employees.  Pedro says that he loves his job.

The owner of the company describes Pedro as the heart of the business.  “He has a great personality and loves working here,” he says.  “But more than just a personality, he does a great job.” 

In December 2013, just a few months after starting at the restaurant, Pedro was Employee of the Month.   His manager said that Pedro was chosen for the award because “he has changed the culture of the company by inspiring everyone around him to reach higher; he has led by example.”  Pedro has become known for his positive work ethic and his commitment to teamwork. 

Pedro started his job with a  job coach, funded by the state and federal government, but because the restaurant position was such a good match for Pedro and natural supports developed so quickly, Pedro no longer needs coaching, and is now helping the coach train other new employees with disabilities. 

Pedro deeply values his new job, where he has the chance to work with peers without disabilities, earn a competitive wage and employee benefits and enjoy the advantages of community employment.  His supervisor points out that the company, too, has experienced major benefits.  She describes the strong sense of pride in hiring Pedro, and giving him the opportunity to realize his capabilities and participate in the greater American workforce:  “It’s a very fulfilling experience to see Pedro mainstream himself, to show responsibility and to see him getting an honest wage for his work.” 

Pedro’s life is on a new path – and there’s no looking back.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
2013 Record Year for Medicare Fraud Strike Force
January 28, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division

Every day, the nation’s health care system is victimized by criminals intent on lining their own pockets at the expense of the American taxpayer, patients and private insurers. And every day, members of the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force aggressively investigate and prosecute these criminals, put them in prison, and prevent them from stealing millions from U.S. taxpayers.

Since its inception in March 2007, strike force prosecutors – under the supervision of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices in nine cities across the country and in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services – have charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program more than $5.5 billion. In Fiscal Year 2013 alone, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (46). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

According to a recent report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every dollar the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services have spent fighting health care fraud, we’ve returned an average of nearly eight dollars to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund and others. And these actions have helped to deter other would-be criminals from even attempting to defraud the Medicare program.

We can all be proud of this remarkable progress, but this is just the beginning. We have made combating health care fraud part of our core mission at the Department of Justice, and we are determined to keep moving forward – to thwart ongoing fraud schemes, to hold accountable those who steal from the Medicare program and to prevent this conduct from happening in the future.

Justice Department Seeks Input for Third Open Government Plan
January 27, 2014 Posted by

The Department of Justice is currently in the process of developing its third open government plan, which will outline additional “actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration” as set out in President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and the Open Government Directive.  As a part of this ongoing process, the department is seeking input from the public for ideas and opportunities to be more transparent, collaborative and participatory in how we carry out our various missions.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you would like to share with the department as we continue  working on our new plan, please send an email to OpenGov@usdoj.gov with the subject line “3rd Open Government Plan Suggestion” by February 28, 2014.   

The department’s previous open government plans included a variety of new initiatives such as the launchings of FOIA.gov and FARA.gov, the establishment of a quarterly Freedom Of Information Act reporting requirement, and the expanded use of social media by various department components.  Additionally, these plans demonstrated a number of ways in which we collaborate with outside partners and engage the public on the ongoing work of the department.  We welcome your ideas for further ways in which we can serve the public though our newest open government plan and we look forward to completing this process with you.

 For more information on the department’s open government plans and initiatives, please visit our open government homepage.

 

POSTED IN: Open Government  |  PERMALINK
National Institute of Justice Challenge: Create High Speed Software Applications that Improve Law Enforcement, Community Safety
January 27, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of NIJ Acting Director Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.

Recently, I was pleased to be part of a discussion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about using open data to support the Department of Justice’s core responsibility: protecting public and officer safety.

It was part of a series of conversations that began in September 2012, when the White House held its first “Safety Datapalooza.”  At that event NIJ announced the first Justice Department Challenge, seeking innovative solutions for determining the performance of body armor.  In November we announced the winner of that challenge — the team from Purdue University’s school of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering.

The Challenge process represents a unique approach to innovation for those of us in government, while it gives the field tremendous creative leverage to develop ideas and products to enhance our ability to meet our public service mission across the government.

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has long been active in improving public access to data.  To date, OJP has released almost 700 datasets to Data.gov, covering 20 years of crime victimization statistics, 35 years of prisoner statistics, and 10 years’ worth of grant awards, among many others.  This has allowed developers and the public access to important criminal justice data in open and useable formats.

Keeping the momentum going, we issued another challenge: we’re looking for ideas for the design and creation of Ultra-High Speed Network (UHS)-compatible apps that measurably improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice and public safety services and operations. 

These could be apps that alert criminal justice and public safety agencies to threats and disasters and help avoid or mitigate the impact of those disasters.  They could be apps that provide simulation for law enforcement and first responders.  Or they could enhance training and provide new methods of analysis.

Protecting America’s law enforcement officers is one of our top priorities at the Justice Department.  Through body armor standards and testing programs, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program and our VALOR training initiative, we’ve devoted substantial resources to keeping our law enforcement officers safe.

But we’re always looking for ways to do an even better job of protecting officers.  Our task is how to deliver the rich supply of data available to support public and officer safety quickly and in a manner that improves service delivery.

Until now, we’ve been limited by Web-based technology pipelines, which are subject to buffering and other delays and restrict the amount of data that can be transmitted.  The expansion of UHS networks gives us increased opportunities for the development of “disruptive” criminal justice apps – apps that actually change the way services and information are delivered to criminal justice and other public safety practitioners. 

New UHS apps have the potential to provide ubiquitous, real-time, individually tailored information and decision support for criminal justice and public safety practitioners in rapidly evolving emergency situations.  Some of these changes have already taken place in citywide and local networks in the US, where they have given startups and students  the same opportunity as industry and researchers to develop, test and deploy next-generation apps and services. 

The Challenge is open to everyone who has ideas about ways to use ultra-high-speed apps to keep law enforcement and communities safer. Please accept this Challenge, and create innovative software applications that employ freely available government data to advance public safety.

Learn more about the UHS Challenge, including deadlines and announcement dates.

People with Disabilities Find Middle Class Jobs, Thanks to the ADA
January 22, 2014 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill for the Civil Rights Division

President Obama recently emphasized the serious problem of income inequality across the United States and the Administration’s commitment to making sure our economy works for everyone.  People with disabilities, in particular, are being excluded from the middle class and from accessing important ladders of opportunity.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important tool for challenging assumptions and discrimination that trap people with disabilities in poverty and segregation.  And people with disabilities are showing that, when given a chance, they can participate in the middle class economy, contribute to their communities and achieve the American Dream. 

For the past 30 years Steven Porcelli has done what millions of Americans do: he wakes up, goes to work and earns a paycheck.  The fact that Steven has an intellectual disability has never stopped him from seeking to earn a living.  But, for most of Steven’s life he has had little choice other than to work in a segregated, sheltered workshop where he’s earned a sub-minimum wage and has had little to no contact with workers without disabilities. 

Steven is one of about 90 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who spent years working at the sheltered workshop and day program provider in Rhode Island.  There, workers sat along cafeteria-style tables for long hours and were assigned tasks such as assembling, sorting, packing and labeling various products.  Because this company held a Section 14(c) certificate under the Fair Labor Standards Act, it was permitted to pay individuals with disabilities sub-minimum wages, however, the Department of Labor found that the company was violating its Section 14(c) certificate and paying its workers  far less than they should have been paid—usually under $2 per hour. 

In June 2013 the U.S. Department of Justice entered into an interim settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence that addresses the rights of workers with disabilities to receive employment and day activity services in their community.  After an investigation, the Department of Justice found that individuals at the sheltered workshop were not being served in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, in violation of Title II of the ADA, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C.

Since implementation of the agreement, with the help of state and federal employment services, Steven is flourishing in his new job at a local small business headquartered in Warwick, R.I.  Steven works Monday through Friday alongside peers without disabilities and earns minimum wage (which increased on Jan. 1, 2014 under a new state law).  When asked what it means to Steven to realize his 30-year goal of working in the community, Steven responded, “It is a big achievement for me; I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”  Steven enjoys working in an office setting, and because of his self-advocacy, he persuaded his employer to provide him with computer training, which will enable him to expand his skill set and advance his career.

The president of the company initially did not know what to expect from Steven, but quickly realized he had invested well.  As company president, he initially thought hiring Steven was an important demonstration of his civic responsibility, but he now acknowledges that it simply made good business sense, as his business’ bottom line is served by Steven’s hard work, dedication, and positive attitude. He has expressed feeling very fortunate to count Steven among his staff.

For the past seven years, Peter Maxmean, another former sheltered workshop service recipient, was earning approximately $1.50 per hour.  Now, however, Peter has a job earning more than minimum wage working for the state of Rhode Island as a custodian at a hospital.  Peter points out that janitorial work is a great fit for him because he is “good with his hands and loves to clean,” and that he has a great relationship with his supervisors, who entrust him with significant responsibility to accomplish his work independently.   

Peter’s new job has also provided financial freedom.  For the first time in his life, at age 37, Peter was able to purchase a new mattress.  Before, he slept on a couch and a 30-year-old mattress he inherited from his mother.  Peter has recently completed driving lessons, received his driver’s license and is saving up to purchase a car.  

Peter has been together with his fiancé Laurie for almost five years.  They met at their prior employer and Laurie is currently in the process of transitioning to community employment.  For this couple, Steven Porcelli, and the rest of the service recipients at the sheltered workshop, the dreams that other Americans take for granted can now be theirs and the future looks brighter than ever.   

Click here to learn more about the Rhode Island interim settlement agreement.  For more general information about the Justice Department’s ADA Olmstead enforcement efforts, visit the Civil Rights Division’s Olmstead: Community Integration for Everyone website.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Improving Services for Victims of Human Trafficking
January 16, 2014 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Director Joye E. Frost

This week I was proud to host the Office for Victims of Crime’s Human Trafficking Survivor Forum and Listening Session at the White House Conference Center. Nineteen brave and inspiring men and women, U.S. born and foreign nationals, survivors of sex and labor trafficking, joined more than 40 federal representatives to explore how federal agencies could more strategically engage survivors in federal anti-trafficking efforts. 

Together, we brought to life President Obama’s pledge to survivors at the Clinton Global Initiative: “We see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity.” 

During the forum, the White House announced the release of the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States. The plan identifies concrete steps that agencies from across the federal government will take over the next four years to ensure that the response to victims of human trafficking is more coordinated, comprehensive and effective. Offices across the Department of Justice will conduct research, increase training of staff, service providers and law enforcement partners on how to support trafficking victims, and coordinate funding to improve access to trauma-informed and culturally-appropriate services. 

OVC is proud to have served as a co-chair in this effort, along with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign. The plan could not have been developed without the insights of human trafficking survivors and advocates who lent their voices and expertise through public comments last spring. 

OVC knows that survivors have more to contribute than their stories of victimization. Survivors know, better than anyone, the challenges of identifying victims, accessing services, working with law enforcement and reaching underrepresented survivor populations.

Survivors’ unique insights can help federal agencies create meaningful partnerships to overcome these challenges. As Attorney General Eric Holder has stated so clearly before, “we will never be able to make the progress we need on our own…We must work with victims and victim advocates to extend our impact in helping to make lives whole again.”

I know that our work will be stronger with their continued help.

In OVC’s new public service announcement “The Faces of Human Trafficking” released at the event, one survivor tells us, “I’m so much more than what happened to me.”  That’s why our video shows that trafficking can impact anyone – mothers, sons, advocates, educators, authors, sisters, brothers – and why OVC is committed to listening to and learning from crime victims. We are moved by their words and more inspired than ever to walk with them on their journey of healing. 

And we encourage you to join us.  Please visit www.ovc.gov/trafficking to learn more about human trafficking and ways to identify and support victims.

For information on OVC’s events and activities for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, please visit http://www.ovc.gov/news/HumanTraffickingPreventionMonth/.

 
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