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Disability advocates plan urgent meetings today

Disability advocates plan urgent meetings today

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The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is considering changes to its Family Care plan, which means places like Northwoods in Portage would have to transition the people with mental disabilities it employs into community-based jobs within five years.

The state agency has a 30-day window for the public to comment on the proposed regulations.

Emergency meetings — dubbed “Voice Your Choice” — about the proposal are being held from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. today at Northwoods, located at N6510 Highway 51 in Portage. The purpose of the meeting is to inform families or guardians of how the plan would effect the population and how to contact legislators about the issue. The meetings are being put on by A Team Wisconsin, a grassroots advocacy group of families, guardians and people with disabilities.

This year, the Center for Medicaid Services put out a new ruling that prohibits the use of Medicaid funds in settings that they say isolate or segregate individuals.

The state DHS would limit Medicaid dollars from going to such programs, based on the argument that they discriminate against the disabled population in a segregated work environment.

“They’re saying we’re segregated, we don’t feel we are, we’re part of the community and it’s a training place. I like to equate it to when people without disabilities graduate high school: they go on to a training program or college before they start their life’s work,” said Jeff Aerts. “Northwoods provides specialized training for adults that come out of the special education system and need to have opportunities to learn how to work in a competitive job. There are a lot of people that have been put in competitive employment because of us.”

Aerts is the CEO and president of Northwoods, a non-profit facility.

Each year, Northwoods serves about 300 individuals and families. It runs 14 programs that overlap with the programs at issue. They serve adults with disabilities, frail seniors, families in crisis and Columbia Correctional prisoners with a disability.

“They’re taking away an option and the state is dictating where people will work instead of giving them a choice,” Aerts said.

It’s the same battle that they had last year that prompted the “My Work, My Choice” rally in October, he said. But now instead of the federal government, it’s been handed down to the state government.

Another emergency meeting will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Northwoods.

For more information, contact Aerts at 742-7114 or visit ateamwisconsin.org

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