I am transmitting for Council introduction a resolution that proposes an amendment to the County Charter to authorize the County to develop a hiring program for individuals with disabilities. This Charter Amendment will authorize the County to proactively address the high rates of unemployment and underemployment of disabled individuals.
Regrettably, the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission recently decided to further study this proposed Charter Amendment rather than recommend that it be placed on the ballot for voter consideration. The Charter Commission first considered this issue almost three years ago and it received both ample information and testimony to support a Charter Amendment. Yet, the Commission now wishes to further consider the issue without any immediate action. We can no longer wait. For this reason, I am urging Council to place the Charter Amendment on the November Ballot.
As County Executive, I have the unique opportunity to work in partnership with the County Council on many complex issues. The most critical issues are those that intimately impact the lives of our residents - those individuals who work, live and enjoy life in our County. However, many individuals are not afforded an opportunity to simply “work”. They cannot find meaningful employment to enable them to have medical insurance, adequate housing, transportation or rely upon their own income for their daily expenses. Many cannot live independently, as they earnestly desire to do so. In grossly disproportionate rates, individuals with disabilities cannot find “work” in Montgomery County. It is for this reason, that this Charter Amendment is critical.
One can only truly understand the magnitude of this issue by comparing employment rates of those individuals with disabilities and those without. On a national level, only 17% of individuals with disabilities are employed, as compared to 63.3% of those without disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are more often placed in part-time positions, and positions with lower wages and grades. In fact, 33% of people with disabilities only have part-time positions as compared to 19% of those without disabilities. One simply cannot live on a part time salary.
Even in governmental agencies, individuals with disabilities are not well represented in the workforce. In the Federal Government, persons with disabilities only encompass 16% of the workforce. It is for that reason that there was a dire need for the President’s Executive Order 13548, dated July 26, 2010, which mandated significantly increased
employment representation and other proactive employment measures for individuals with disabilities in Federal Government.
In Montgomery County, we currently have no similar program. We have a labor force of approximately 500,000 residents. Yet, only 14,013 individuals with disabilities are employed. Of those individuals who worked, only one-third worked full time, year-round, while two-thirds only worked part time. Individuals with disabilities often times enter the workforce only as interns, contractual employees or part time employees. They do not benefit from full time employment, merit status and the ability to participate in employer sponsored insurance plans.
Additionally, in Montgomery County, 40% of individuals with disabilities have not worked at all in the last twelve months. I do not doubt for a moment that this is not because they did not want to work. I know they do, and I know they are qualified for the types of long-term careers, not simply part-time positions, that we offer in Montgomery County. It is time to do away with misconception regarding the qualifications, expertise and incredible desire of those individuals to simply work and work hard.
We have an obligation to take bold and proactive measures, now. We can no longer wait for the right time or hope that things will simply get better. The employment issue of individuals with disabilities is not the issue for the day. Rather, our members of the Commission for People with Disabilities, our residents, and a number of agencies have advocated for this for over 20 years. Many have advocated for individuals with disabilities for most of their lives, and many for the lives of their loved ones.
I strongly support a Charter Amendment and hope it will be on the November 2012 ballot.