The article titled “New policy limits help for farmers with disabilities” in The Country Today (Sept. 20, Page 1A) highlights a vital part of our state's agricultural workforce community: farmers with disabilities. The state of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has always been and remains committed to helping farmers with disabilities achieve their goals to continue farming. In fact, DVR has successfully helped more agricultural professionals achieve their employment goals in 2017 than in 2014, even with a reduction in DVR purchases of farm-related assistive technologies since the policy change took effect.
We welcome ongoing dialogue to support and strengthen our work with the agricultural community. To this end, we would like to offer clarification to several points made in the article. Specifically:
• Mobility devices such as wheelchairs are considered assistive technology and are allowable purchases under DVR’s policy.
• The eligibility requirements for farmers applying for DVR services have not changed and are the same for all consumers.
• DVR treated agricultural professionals differently from other DVR consumers until the policy change in 2016; now farm owners and farm workers are served the same as any business owner looking to retain their business or any employee of a business.
• Consumer groups are not required to make minimum wage at the time of application; some applicants are unemployed or have never been employed at minimum wage prior to applying for DVR services.
• The profitability assessment under the policy change does not occur until after the business owner, regardless of industry or occupation, has already applied, has been determined eligible for DVR services, and has completed an individualized plan for employment.
It is important to note that DVR worked closely with representatives from agriculture and other industries, including AgrAbility, and implemented many of their suggestions in the policy change. In particular, agricultural industry representatives requested and DVR incorporated:
• Using a three-year standard to demonstrate profitability. This was requested by industry representatives due to the seasonal fluctuations in income experienced by those in the farming community due to poor growing seasons and other factors.
• Promoting the exception process within the fee schedule that allowed DVR to make purchases greater than $10,000 if a consumer and their counselor agreed the item was necessary to helping the individual achieve their employment goal and met the criteria for allowable purchases.
• Capping hours worked at 40 hours per week instead of actual hours worked to determine if minimum wage criteria were met due to the long hours that those in the farming community work.
DVR has a proud history of serving farmers with disabilities and has success stories from all over the state. Through continued collaboration, efficient administration and constructive dialogue that centers on complete and accurate information, together we will ensure success for all job seekers with disabilities, including farmers, in achieving their employment goals.
Ray Allen is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.