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CBS2 Exclusive: Families Object To Plan To Close Group Homes For Disabled

BOHEMIA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Big changes are on the way for the developmentally disabled in New York.

The federal government wants states to mainstream the disabled, but the families and supporters of those in need feel they could be left with no place to go.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports, throughout New York state, thousands of developmentally disabled citizens work in what's called sheltered workshops supervised by non-profit agencies.

Many live in group residences, but by order of the federal government, both the workshops and large residences must close within the next five years.

"They can't go home, they need to be supported, they require round the clock nursing care," said William Leonardi of the Association for Habilitation and Residential Care.

Social service providers said the new mandate was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling that sheltered workshops and larger residences for the developmentally disabled amounts to segregating them from the wider population.

It's a notion that brings 62-year-old Tom Tomasello, who works there, to tears.

"I want to stay open. I really do want to stay open. I don't want to sit at home," Tomasello said.

Advocates for the physically challenged are divided. Some argue that sheltered workshops take advantage of the disabled, because employers are allowed to pay them below the minimum wage, as a spokeswoman for the group Disability Rights explained.

"Fighting for a system which pays pennies an hour furthers the misconception that individuals with disabilities are unemployable, and undeserving of a minimum wage," she said.

But Riverhead resident Alice Summerville said her 57-year-old daughter, Suzie, feels safe in the sheltered workshops.

"She's not so much worried about how much money she makes," Summerville said. "She goes there because she just loves to work."

As for smaller group homes, Robert Barta fears his 73-year-old uncle Bill won't be able to handle being moved away from longtime friends.

"My hope is the program can be saved; that people will rally and realize," he said.

Barta and other parents said they will lobby lawmakers to reconsider the plan.

A New York State spokeswoman said agencies will consult with providers to create smaller scale housing and finding the disabled suitable, better paying jobs.


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