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Monday, September 22, 2014

Society has moral duty to care for disabled, mentally ill


By JERRY WOLFFE

Potholes or people – that is the question.
In most of human history, those of us with severe physical disabilities or, in many cases, mental illness never lived much beyond infancy. However, with “modern medicine” and human services organizations those with disabilities are living into middle age and beyond because we are being treated humanely.
Some say this is a burden on society because some need caregivers, expensive medications and costly durable medical equipment.
But we are at a point where we, as a species, must decide if we are going to do what’s right – and that is being realistic and paying more of our income so that those of us with disabilities, who cannot work and need extensive medical care, get more than “three hots and a cot.” Life is far more than a place to sleep and enough food not to starve. It’s about having a chance to be, to have friends, to set and achieve goals or just to enjoy life. Other countries such as Sweden, Denmark, England, Norway, and Canada already follow this paradigm.
The fact that someone with a disability didn’t have to live in a state institution began in Michigan about 45 years ago. Organizations such as the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center and others found a way to use Medicaid funds and general funds to close all 12 state institutions where we, those with disabilities, had been housed for decades. Their courage helped move 13,000 people with disabilities out of the giant gray institutions into neighborhoods with community supports. Today, those institutions are closed and those with disabilities live in the neighborhood.
My own life was spared from such a fate when my father and mother told a doctor to get “blanked” when he said: “It would be better for everybody involved if Jerry was institutionalized.”
My dad took me, a 2-year-old, into the hall of the doctor’s office and said, “We’re going to raise you to be normal” and my dad Vincent and my mother Carol did. My sisters Nancy and Rene helped immensely after they were born a few years later.
Part of my father’s motivation “to save Jerry” may have been that this older brother Alex and sister Bernadette died in a state institution in Wayne County. My Uncle Alex had cerebral palsy, the same disability I was born with, and my Aunt Bernadette incurred a spinal cord injury in a fall down some basement steps. I saw Uncle Alex one time at Eloise, sitting in a chair in a gray shadowy room. I cried because it was evil. I never saw my aunt.
I and the many others I know that have disabilities who escaped the state institutions have contributed to the betterment of society in some way. The fact that we are in public in greater numbers now is helping to reduce the stigma I faced as a teenager when every time I went into a restaurant or movie show people would stare at me. Imagine now that people help me get my wheelchair out of the back of my SUV and talk to me as if I was “really normal.” Well, they know that I am.
We also have the Americans with Disabilities Act that I had a tiny hand in implementing since 1990 which guaranteed remedy if a person with a disability was discriminated in the work place, stores, in a state program, or unable to use the communication or public transit system. We’re not there yet in making the law reality, but we are slowly gaining access to jobs and more stores now are accessible to a wheelchair user like myself than are not accessible. We don’t have to sit in a house or room and just stare at the walls. We can go out into the sunshine like anyone else.
The state of Michigan has at least a $1 billion surplus from the current fiscal year. Many people say the excess should be used to fix the horrific potholes. I see their point, but I say let’s make sure that the agencies that care for those of us with disabilities don’t have to face financial cuts being implemented right now.
Some of the 10 Community Mental Health Authorities in the state are having funding shortages, putting at risk the providers who help give those with disabilities a home and safe environment. It’s a darn shame and morally inexcusable that the average caregiver in most places is paid an average of $9.06 an hour, but the budgets have no flexibility with many bordering on collapse if funds are cut further.
I say take a few percent of that surplus, give it to the CMHs that need it, raise the hourly rate of caregivers, allocate a certain percentage of the Lottery surplus or casino money or pass a new tax for those earning $340,000 or more a year so we can take care of those of us who were born or acquire a disability. The bottom line is that 8 million of the 10 million people in Michigan are just temporarily able bodied until illness, an accident or age transforms you into someone who can’t function “normally.” Michigan has about two million who already are living with disabilities.
If we make better use of available funds and “work it out,” you’ll know I am right. But why wait? Let’s help one another ASAP as we, all disabled children, did at the Leland Orthopedic School in kindergarten class when stronger children with disabilities helped those who had more extensive disabilities. We lifted each other up and the entire group survived and inspired even our teachers.
Society should be about helping one another make it. It’s called “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” a concept that’s 2,000 years old. Let’s quit gabbing and really do it.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large of the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Woman with disability named ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’





Amie Kupovits of Walled Lake who is wearing a red Avon top and her staff, Tracie Ellis, displays the Avon products she sells in Macomb and Oakland counties. Kupovits just won a statewide award for operating her micro-business. To contact Kupovits for Avon products or information, email amiejoy223@yahoo.com


By JERRY WOLFFE

A lovely smile and success just seem to be part of a recently honored Walled Lake woman.
Amie Kupovits, 55, of Walled Lake, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, was named the “2014 Entrepreneur of the Year” for developing her Avon business to where she has 41 people she has recruited to sell Avon. “Would you like to be No. 42?”
Selling Avon is a “seven-day-a-week job,” said Kupovits. “I go whenever the customers want me.”
In receiving the “Be Our Own Motivation” award, the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations said Kupovits “is a top-selling Avon Team Leader, and leads 41 representatives in southeastern Michigan.
“Amie has built a reputation in her community as efficient, hard-working and punctual and delivering services in a timely and professional manner, taking every opportunity to promote her business,” said MARO Executive Director David Price.
Kupovits is a familiar fixture at the Clinton Township and Auburn Hills offices of Macomb-Oakland Regional Service where she and her caregiver Tracie (Tra) Ellis display and sell Avon products.
“I started in 2010, quit for a while, and then resumed,” Kupovits says of her micro-business. “I was on the phone with Walled Lake Interim Fire Chief Jim Coomer. “ I was bored to death and didn’t even have gas money. I asked him if he thought I’d be a good Avon lady and he said to me: ‘You can do whatever you want.’”
Supports Coordinator Rebecca Borst of MORC asked Kupovits if she could be the Avon lady for MORC’s staff. Kupovits’ Avon team leader Lydia Kopeka said “Go for it.”
“She would meet me … and teach me how to set up a table,” Kupovits said, noting she will celebrate her second anniversary selling Avon full-time this August. She also is the official “Avon Lady” who sells Avon products at the Purple Door store in Wixom.
“My life now is very happy,” Kupovits said. “I’m very appreciative for my customers and my staff. I have 24-hour care, my own apartment (after living in a six-person group home).”
Her mother, Mary, died in 2007 and sister, Gloriann, in 2006 at age 54 of multiple sclerosis. Kupovits’ father, Charlie, passed away in 1985.
“My dad would be so proud of me because he taught about money, to pay my own bills and deal with people who would bully or make fun of me,” she said. “My mother would be so happy that finally I got a successful business of my own.”
“Too few Michiganders with disabilities are working because too often the system gets in the way,” said Maura D. Corrigan, the state Human Service Director. The goal of disability benefits should be to advance employment and entrepreneurial opportunities and help those with disabilities to enter or return to the workplace.”
“I love my customers and I can’t thank everyone enough for believing in me and for this honor,” Kupovits said as tears flowed down her cheeks. “If those with disabilities had the spirit and motivation they could figure out something they could do to be more self-sufficient and more independent.”
Winners will be recognized at the Opening Keynote & Awards Ceremony luncheon on Nov. 12 at the Amway Hotel in Grand Rapids.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Census: Fewer in Michigan without health insurance in 2013



By JERRY WOLFFE

The number of people with health care coverage in Michigan increased in 2013, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday, and is expected to increase even further this year thanks in part to the state’s decision to extend affordable health insurance to those in Michigan with low incomes.

There were 1,072,000 Michiganians, or 11 percent, who still didn’t have health insurance last year, though there was some progress between 2012 and 2013.

Dramatic gains are expected in 2014. In just six months this year, 386,000 adults in Michigan signed up for the Healthy Michigan Plan, Michigan’s version of Medicaid expansion. In 2013, Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Snyder adopted the Healthy Michigan Plan, making Michigan one of 27 states to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The plan took effect April 1.

Strengthening Medicaid so it provides coverage to more low-income people is a key component of the Affordable Care Act. The federal government agreed to pay the costs of expanding Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the poverty rate – just $32,600 per year for a family of four – for the first three years. But the U.S. Supreme Court left it up to the states to decide whether to implement the expansion. 

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Study: Higher minimum wage, tax credits together help workers



By JERRY WOLFFE

Raising the minimum wage and expanding state Earned Income Tax Credits are two key strategies to be used together to help working families as the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, a new national report said.

Michigan has taken steps in the right direction but has much room for improvement, researchers said.

“Workers in Michigan continue to struggle with low wages that have declined over the years. Strengthening the state’s minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit even more would help those earning the least in our state, and it would boost our economy,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The report, State Earned Income Tax Credits and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concludes that states should use both options together to boost income, widen the path out of poverty and reduce income inequality.

Michigan’s declining and stagnating wages were documented in the League’s Labor Day report released last week. Wages for workers in the lowest 20 percent of incomes have fallen dramatically, with a 31 percent drop since 1979 for male workers earning the least.

A report by the Michigan Association of United Ways this week also estimated that 40 percent of Michigan families do not earn enough to pay the basic bills.
Increasing the EITC and minimum wage are ways to reward work as opposed to increasing public assistance to meet the basic needs of housing, utilities, transportation, and food.

Michigan’s minimum wage on Monday increased from $7.40 an hour to $8.15 an hour and will climb to $9.25 by 2018. It will be indexed to inflation, with some exceptions, but does not eliminate the tipped wage. A ballot proposal to push it to $10.10 an hour and include tipped workers narrowly missed the ballot, and polls showed public support for the higher minimum wage. The state’s EITC is 6 percent of the federal EITC.

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.



Study: Higher minimum wage, tax credits together help workers

By JERRY WOLFFE

Raising the minimum wage and expanding state Earned Income Tax Credits are two key strategies to be used together to help working families as the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, a new national report said.

Michigan has taken steps in the right direction but has much room for improvement, researchers said.

“Workers in Michigan continue to struggle with low wages that have declined over the years. Strengthening the state’s minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit even more would help those earning the least in our state, and it would boost our economy,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The report, State Earned Income Tax Credits and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concludes that states should use both options together to boost income, widen the path out of poverty and reduce income inequality.

Michigan’s declining and stagnating wages were documented in the League’s Labor Day report released last week. Wages for workers in the lowest 20 percent of incomes have fallen dramatically, with a 31 percent drop since 1979 for male workers earning the least.

A report by the Michigan Association of United Ways this week also estimated that 40 percent of Michigan families do not earn enough to pay the basic bills.
Increasing the EITC and minimum wage are ways to reward work as opposed to increasing public assistance to meet the basic needs of housing, utilities, transportation, and food.

Michigan’s minimum wage on Monday increased from $7.40 an hour to $8.15 an hour and will climb to $9.25 by 2018. It will be indexed to inflation, with some exceptions, but does not eliminate the tipped wage. A ballot proposal to push it to $10.10 an hour and include tipped workers narrowly missed the ballot, and polls showed public support for the higher minimum wage. The state’s EITC is 6 percent of the federal EITC.

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.