State faces $1M in fines if it fails disabilities agreement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A federal judge has threatened to impose up to $1 million in fines annually on the state if it does not take steps to comply with a court-ordered agreement meant to provide better job opportunities to thousands of people with developmental disabilities.

Among the steps U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell ordered on Wednesday was for the state to set aside more money, to create a database to track whether people are being served and to increase salaries and training for people who act as support for those with disabilities.

The 2014 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department was the first statewide settlement of its kind and covers more than 3,000 people. The 10-year consent decree resolved allegations that Rhode Island violated the American with Disabilities Act for years by placing disabled people in segregated centers, called “sheltered workshops,” where the average pay was $2.21 an hour.

The state said at the time it would move people out of many of the workshops and into different, integrated programs within a few months.

The Justice Department indicated earlier this year that it did not believe the state was complying with the agreement, according to court filings.

A monitor, Charles Mosely, said in a filing last month that while the state has made progress, “additional steps needed to be taken to fully comply with the terms and conditions of the consent decree.”

The governor previously asked for $6.8 million in her proposed budget to pay for the requirements in the decree, but it was not immediately clear whether Wednesday’s order would cost more than that. Michael Raia, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, on Thursday said they were still reviewing the judge’s order.

Advocates and family members of those with disabilities told the court in filings that there were delays that sometimes stretched longer than a year in getting services to people as they transitioned from youth to adult services.

There is also a “dearth of job development services,” according to a filing last month by Clare Rosenbaum, of the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities. The center, at Rhode Island College, works to help people with disabilities participate in their communities.

Rosenbaum wrote that many families have been told that job development services are at capacity and aren’t accepting new clients.

Raia said in an email that the state is “fully committed to meeting the goals of the consent decree.”

McConnell’s order also says the monitor and federal government will randomly verify files to see whether the state is complying with the order. That process starts in July.

The state will be subject to a $5,000 fine per day for every provision it violates, and an additional $100 per day for each person the violation affects, up to $1 million per year.

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