Fairfax, Virginia, Feb. 23 – Gov. John Kasich said it’s just a matter of creating priorities in state and national government in order to help people with disabilities.
“You know what kind of lobby the developmentally disabled have?” Kasich said at a town hall in Fairfax, Virginia, on Monday. “ZERO! Zero. Somebody has to stand up for them.”
In response to a woman asking a question about the needs of her 22-year-old son on the Autism spectrum to live a fulfilling life on his own, Kasich said they have to fix the system.
“You have to reengineer the government to create priorities,” Kasich said on the George Mason University campus. “When you hear these things, you can’t put your head in the sand. You have to figure out a way to fix it. That doesn’t mean we need to fix it by somehow blowing up our finances; it doesn’t mean we need to fix it by being in a position where we have to raise everybody’s taxes.”
Kasich touted his record in Ohio in growing the economy and organizing the budget, discussing the state’s biggest percentage increase being for people with developmental disabilities. He also advocated for businesses to hire people with disabilities.
“This is on all of us,” Kasich said. “You have a business? You can bring some developmentally disabled into your business. We have our hospital system. They are hiring developmentally disabled. Wal-Mart, Myer, grocery stores, your company.”
Seventy percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are out of the workforce (compared to 28 percent of Americans without disabilities), and of those people with disabilities who are working, more than 400,000 are earning sub minimum wage (as little as 20 cents an hour) in sheltered workshops.
The Ohio governor spoke out against sheltered workshops.
“They don’t have to sit in some sheltered workshop being just pushed to the side. That is not right in our country.”
With Super Tuesday approaching, there are only five Republican presidential candidates remaining. Of these five, Kasich is one of just two, along with Dr. Ben Carson, who has responded to the #PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire. In addition, the Ohio governor often talks about disability issues on the trail, offering an understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.
Since he entered the presidential race in July 2015, Kasich has been consistent in his advocacy for people with disabilities, especially in terms of health care expansion. During Monday’s town hall, he defended his decision to expand Medicare coverage as governor of Ohio. He pointed out that during his presidency “Ronald Reagan expanded Medicare five times” so he did not feel guilty about Medicare expansion, although he touted his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Kasich made Ohio an “Employment First” state by executive order, which resulted in an increase in individuals moving into competitive integrated employment. In 2014, 4,580 Ohioans with disabilities were able to find jobs through vocational rehabilitation services provided by the reformed and renamed Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). One of the best programs to help people with disabilities pursue the American Dream originated in Ohio—Project SEARCH. It has been able to successfully recruit, train and place thousands of people with disabilities into jobs in 43 states across the country. Project SEARCH is achieving a 70 percent success rate in transitioning students with disabilities into competitive, integrated employment. It is a win-win-win model for how to serve the interests of people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers as well.
While there have been gains in jobs for people with disabilities, more work remains to be done in Ohio. There are 812,500 Ohioans with disabilities and, of that number, only 33.5 percent are employed. While additional funding by the General Assembly has eliminated all waiting lists for vocational rehabilitation services, much more work is needed in order to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities in the Buckeye State.
The progress being made in Ohio has been hampered by the fact that the state returned $18,215,538 to Washington. This hurts economic prospects for people with disabilities–especially the 50,300 Ohioans between the ages of 16 to 20–by not continuing to fund these vocational rehabilitation programs. State vocational rehabilitation programs operate by having the federal government give four dollars for every dollar that is spent by the individual state. However, if the states fail to spend the money or come up with matching funds, then the funds are returned to Washington, D.C.