Contract glitch almost derails jobs for Arizona disabled workers

State agency was slow to act in time, providers charge
2013-04-02T00:00:00Z Contract glitch almost derails jobs for Arizona disabled workersBethany Barnes Arizona-sonora News Service Arizona Daily Star

Twenty-three training programs for disabled Arizonans were spared the possibility having to send hundred of clients home on Monday after the state issued them last-minute contract extensions late Friday.

Contracts for the workplace adjustment training programs expired April 1, and the state Rehabilitation Services Administration was late getting new contracts negotiated and distributed. That forced providers to consider whether to send clients home on Monday morning or let them go to their jobs despite not having state authorization to continue providing services.

Although some providers had already put clients on notice they may not be allowed to go to their jobs, the crisis was averted when Rehabilitation Services emailed them temporary informal authorization to continue providing services late Friday.

For 20 years, The Centers for Habilitation has been sending people with disabilities to work at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, training them to enter the work force. The program now serves 15 clients.

Steve King, president and CEO of Beacon Group, said the threat of having to send workers home was resolved after he enlisted the help of state Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, when he was unable to get his own calls answered.

Beacon Group serves about 20 clients.

"The crazy thing about this is this was supposed to have been completed weeks and weeks ago, if not months," said Mark Jacoby, chairman of the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities, who said he had been fielding calls from providers across the state.

Daniel Mejia, 35, a Beacon client who recently started his training, said he'd been feeling great since starting to work. Finding out a bureaucratic issue might mean he could miss work for an indefinite amount of time was weird, he said, and not having the structure would hurt. It also would have put a kibosh on his plans to pay off his broadband bill, he said.

Expecting Davis-Monthan to do without 15 workers isn't a feasible way to do business, said Yvette Smith, vice president of The Centers for Habilitation. "It would just really knock us off kilter here if I disrupted their work day," Smith said. "They look so forward to coming to work it's hard to explain that this isn't something they've done wrong."

Rehabilitation Services Administration is a division of the Department of Economic Security. Orr said he put the agency on notice it needed to correct the problem or he would get the Legislature involved.

Kathy Levandowsky, Rehabilitation Services program administrator, said her agency was already in the process of sending out contracts to providers before Orr stepped in. She said the negotiations just took longer this go-around.

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