TRC work center may lose funding

By SAMANTHA

MCDONNELL

OBSERVER Staff Writer

There may be a work force loss in the community if the federal government cuts back funding for work programs for those with developmental disabilities. The loss would not only have an impact on those employed by The Resource Center’s work centers but other local companies would feel the impact.

The work center on Chestnut Street in the city of Dunkirk employs about 80 individuals with developmental disabilities to make various pouches for the military in addition to packaging of goods for local companies. In the New York state budget, proposed funding cuts for Medicaid and for the Office of People with Development Disabilities could impact TRC’s work centers in Dunkirk and Jamestown.

“Everyone who works at the Chestnut Street location gets paid a wage,” said Steve Waterson, director of community relations, marketing and development for TRC. The wages are possible through Medicaid funding which could potentially be cut.

At the factory, several kinds of pouches, including ones for grenades, first aid kits and folding shovels, are assembled for the military. Workers also package various condiments made by Carriage House, which is owned by ConAgra Foods Inc., and help assemble travel coffee mug lids made by Whirley, among others. If the funding were to discontinue, it would have an affect on local businesses. Joe Osbourne from ConAgra Foods said the company has tried to package goods in-house to no avail.

“We did (packaging) internally but it was too much to handle,” he said.

Production Coordinator for the Chestnut Street site, Russ Beyer said if the workshop were to close, it would have an impact not only on the local employees but the surrounding areas as well.

“(The closing) affects in- and out-of-state and the North East,” Beyer said.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell recently toured the Chestnut Street facility and spoke with employees. He said the work the individuals are doing is high quality work which they can be proud of.

“You’re making a difference here,” he told the employees. “I think these programs are good. An improvement to our area; providers rely on you.”

Goodell will work with State Senator Catharine Young and Congressman Tom Reed, both of which are in support of keeping the funding in the state budget. Goodell also said he will reach out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally.

“The message we need to send to the governor is people that work here, their parents, their caregivers and the community wants this work center to continue,” Goodell said. “It’s not a political issue. It’s about getting done what needs to be done.”

New York state is trying move toward more community integration in the workforce for those with development disabilities and away from work centers. Goodell said integration is a good option but should not be mandatory.

“Integration is a great option for many but should not be the only option for all,” Goodell said.

Waterson said some employees have been at the work center for several years and are comfortable in that setting, and do not want a job out in the community. Beyer said the work center serves as a comfortable setting for some. Some employees even work part-time jobs in addition to what they do on Chestnut Street.

“They have that comfort zone. They want to be here,” Beyer said.

Goodell said he will continue to work on this matter and has reached out to the acting commissioner of Office for People with Developmental Disabilities Lorie Kelley. For more information on OPWDD, visit www.opwdd.ny.gov.

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