Governor Whitmer Appoints New Council Members

Michigan Statewide Independent Living Council 

Glen Ashlock, of Brooklyn, is an assistive technology and information technology manager for Region 2 Area Agency on Aging and a member of the Nonprofit Network Board of Directors. He has been inducted into the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame for athletic excellence and being a positive role model to the community. Mr. Ashlock is appointed to succeed Michael Hamm whose term expired May 2, 2019, to represent individuals with disabilities for a term expiring December 31, 2022. 

  Yvonne Fleener, of Grand Ledge, is the executive director of Helping Hands Respite Care in East Lansing and a member of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. Ms. Fleener is appointed to succeed Robin L. Bennett whose term expired January 2, 2019, to represent organizations that provide services for individuals with disabilities for a term expiring December 31, 2022. 

  Charles William Harrison, Jr., of Redford, is a peer facilitator for Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, and a member of the advisory committee for Michigan Family Voices grassroots collaborative and the Many Faces of Moebius Syndrome Board. Mr. Harrison is appointed to succeed Sara E. Grivetti whose term expired January 2, 2019, to represent individuals with disabilities for a term expiring December 31, 2022. 

Theresa Metzmaker, of Lansing, is the assistant executive director of Michigan Disability Rights Coalition and founder of Her Power! Her Pride! Her Voice!, a four-day event where teen girls across Michigan challenge media stereotypes and shatter myths about what it means to be a teen girl with a disability. Ms. Metzmaker is appointed to succeed Rebecca Parten whose term expired December 31, 2018, to represent advocates of, and for, individuals with disabilities for a term expiring December 31, 2021. 

Patricia A. Sterling, of Sault Ste. Marie, is the Child Care Development Fund Program Coordinator for Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Anishnaabek Community and Family Services. Ms. Sterling is appointed to succeed Lisa A. Cook-Gordon whose term expired January 2, 2019, to represent tribal communities and parents or guardians of individuals with disabilities for a term expiring December 31, 2022. 

The Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent agency created in accordance with the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires each state to establish a SILC to be eligible for federal funding under the Act. The Council promotes a philosophy of independent living which includes the full integration and inclusion of people with disabilities into the mainstream of American society. 

 These appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Medicaid Supplemental Income

The Medicaid Supplemental Income Program is a program designed to help aged, blind and disabled people who have little to no income by providing cash to these individuals so that they can afford basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. Contrary to popular belief, the Supplemental Security Income program is funded by general tax revenues, not social security taxes.

The Supplemental Security Income program is important as it provides a safety net for individuals who would not otherwise be able to afford or pay for food, clothing or even housing. An individual must meet certain requirements to even be considered for this program and one of the most outdated requirements is the asset limit. Not including a car and house, an individual receiving assistance through the Supplemental Security Income program cannot have assets exceeding $2,000.

This asset limit has not been changed or raised since 1972, when it was first established. However, the amount an individual can receive was raised from $695 per month to $735 in 2015. Even as the maximum benefits have increased, I still do not believe that this is enough to live off of. Benefit recipients are allowed to work, but if we make more than $65 a month, there will be a drastic cut in benefits. The incentive to work is unappealing, to say the least and proves to be a problem for those that want to and need to work. I believe they should at least raise the asset limit to something more substantial and link it to inflation, so at least it increases with the change in the cost of living adjustment.

I want to write a proposal for a graduate school project to start a pilot program to allow individuals to maintain the benefits while working so that they can gain assets to gradually reduce the amount of assistance that is provided by the federal government to the point where an individual no longer needs government assistance. With a program like this, we can start being taxpayers instead of using the benefits and not replenishing them. A program like this would allow for people with disabilities to feel better about themselves while simultaneously improving the economy.

Meet SILC Council Member Aaron Andres

Aaron Andres

A move from Indiana to Marquette, Michigan proved the change that Council member Aaron Andres needed to jump-start his activism. In 2012, Aaron, then 24 years old, didn’t see enough opportunities for people living with disabilities. So he packed up and move north. Said Andres, “In Indiana there were not a lot of opportunities for disabled individuals, so I need a change of pace.” One of his first stops once he arrived was to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL), since, he said, “the people in that club were instrumental in getting me to move to Marquette.”

Once established in Marquette, Andres set out to find winter occupation since, he laughed, “you always want to find something to do in the winters up here since they last 6 months.” And although, he said, “At first, I just Intended to see which programs they had available,” he soon found more than enough to fill his time through the winter and beyond. “I was telling them how I moved up here and how I was dealing with the switchover from Indiana Medicaid to Michigan Medicaid. I asked, ‘what do you do, how do you do it, and how do you pay?’ Apparently those were really good questions, since I walked out with a position and a board application.”

Andres’s first board position was at the very same center, SAIL. Soon after, he was asked to join the statewide Barrier Free Design Board, which makes decisions on building design codes, zoning exemptions and ADA compliance. Andres served on that board from June 2013 to October 2015. Somewhere in there, he managed to find time to return to school. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from Northern Michigan University in December 2016, and is currently working on a Master’s in the same field.

When he took the SILC appointment in November 2016, Andres knew what areas of disability advocacy he wanted to focus on already. He’s glad to be in the room with lawmakers, he said, because “most of the disabled community doesn’t have the voice that it should. It’s ironic,” he explained, “that if you include seniors, we are the largest community in Michigan, the people with disabilities. But despite that, we have the lowest representation.”

He is also committed to raising the asset limit for the Medicaid Supplemental Income program. The limit, Andres explained, hasn’t been raised since 1974. As it is now, the maximum assets allowable for people on Medicaid is $2,000; if that number were adjusted for inflation from 1974, it would now be more than $8,500.

It’s an uphill battle. Said Andres, “I know we have made several passes to help those with disabilities attempt to work, but with the same statutes in place, there’s no incentive to work. We work and lose our benefits, but we don’t work and keep our benefits. People then see us as second class citizens because they say we’re not working. We shouldn’t have to make that decision. It’s really hard to keep working when you’re having to sacrifice your benefits to do so.”

Despite the setbacks, Andres remains optimist about his prospects, and about his work with the council. “My biggest thing,” he said, “is I can do anything anybody else can do, I just need a little more help. Give me the opportunity and I can do it.”

SILC Council Member provides testimony to Michigan Education Committee

SILC Council Member Dawn Reamer provided testimony to the Michigan Education Committee on  restraint and seclusion bills currently before the legislature.

The testimony was as follows:

A word document of the testimony is available here:  SILC Member testimony to Education Committee

I would like to thank Representative Price and the Education Committee for taking testimony on the restraint and seclusion bills.  I would also like to thank Representative Somerville, as my story relates to his district.

My name is Dawn Reamer and I am a parent of a child that was restrained by his special education teacher.  My son is a great kid.  He is a Boy Scout, a gymnast, a springboard diver, a swimmer, and an honor roll student.  He is also on the autism spectrum.  My son was in second grade when he was tied to the chair by his special education teacher.  He was just 7 years old.  He was not tied to a chair because he was acting out or a safety risk to other students.  He was tied to a chair simply because he was in the classroom.  There was a paraprofessional in the room along with the teacher and the other adult.  They abused my child.  By the end of second grade my child was saying that he “didn’t want to be a person anymore”, that he didn’t want to be alive.  I didn’t know where his anxiety was coming from.  He couldn’t verbalize it like other seven year olds.  A parent went to the school principal after observing the incident, but no one told me.  I did not find out that this had happened until 2 ½ years later when he was finally able to find the words to tell me what the teacher had done to him.  At this time, the parent verified that she had witnessed him being tied to the chair.  My son told me it happened at least 10 times.  He was in this teacher’s classroom for 3 years.  The district has admitted it happened at least once and the school does not think it was a big deal.  It was a big deal for my child.

I wish that I could say that I went to the superintendent of the district and that it was handled appropriately.  I wish that I could say that somebody cared and was willing to address my concern.  Instead, I received confirmation that the incident had happened and that my son never had behaviors that would have justified restraint.  I also learned that at least one device used to restrain my son remained in the classroom until last year.  This means that other students were likely being restrained.  When I asked for the district to take corrective action, none came.  They refused to document this incident in the teacher’s file or implement any sort of policy that would prevent such incident from happening again.  The District has not even had the decency to apologize to me or my child.  Instead, when I appeared before the school board, a member was quick to point out that special education had improved considerably during the last 30 years and completely dismissed the concern.

I reported the concern to the Michigan Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights.  They refused to even look at the concern because I did not report it within a short time period after the incident, which I did not know about, occurred.  When I approached Lt. Governor Calley, who I view as a friend to special education students, I was told that what happened to my son was not illegal.

The school district was permitted to abuse my child.  When I tried to address my concern at the Individual Education Plan meeting for my child, instead of demonstrating any accountability the director of special education verbally attacked me and accused me of slander in front of the educational team.  This was the worst meeting on an Individual Education Plan I have ever experienced.  Parents should not have hostility directed at them for trying to address serious concerns involving their child.  Following the team meeting, I made a hard decision.  My son and I have been living in an apartment in a new district while we prepare our house for sale.  Following the team meeting, it was clear that my son has experienced retaliation and that it would continue.  I had to move him out of the district or any school that is a part of the special education cooperative for my region.

I would like to call your attention to one more point.  In their letter acknowledging the incident, the superintendent says that the device in the room was not used as a restraint.  The device in question secured my child to a chair.  There was not a prescription issued for the device, it was not ordered for my child, and it was used without my knowledge or consent.  He was restrained, regardless of how the superintendent chooses to characterize it.  Use of any mechanical restraint, regardless of alleged purpose, should be viewed with disapproval.  The district made excuses, but in the end the district admitted that my son was restrained with no remorse, apology, or guarantee that it would never happen again.

I don’t know what is worse.  The fact that my child was restrained, the fact that the district refused to recognize what it did as wrong, or the fact that there are likely other things that happened to my child that I still don’t know about.

I am here today because the law needs to change.  It is not okay to abuse children simply because they have an Individual Education Plan.  The Supreme Court has said that children don’t leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.  The right to life and liberty is the most fundamental of these rights.  Laws against assault, battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and child abuse should apply to all students.  The current situation is dehumanizing to persons with disabilities.  Please don’t let any other family have the same experience.  Don’t let any school in Michigan continue to harm students.

Thank you for allowing me to testify and for your support of the bills regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in the State of Michigan.