Inauguration Celebration Hogan sworn in, promises bipartisanship

Larry Hogan inaugurationThe hundreds of Marylanders who braved cold temperatures and heavy snow on Wednesday to witness the swearing-in of the second Republican governor in more than four decades were treated to a snapshot of the new governor’s plan for the next four years.

“Today is the beginning of a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation in Annapolis,” declared Gov. Larry Hogan from the steps of the statehouse after being sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor. The ceremony was attended by Hogan’s father, former congressman Lawrence Hogan; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned heavily for Hogan ahead of the November election; outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley; former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich; Attorney General Brian Frosh and delegates and state senators from both parties, along with numerous family members, friends and citizens.

Hogan told attendees that he and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford’s administration will focus on four key objectives in his tenure. First, he will set a standard of fiscal responsibility in all aspects of governing. Second, he said, he will utilize the resources available in the state Maryland, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the wealth of top-notch colleges and universities, to spur economic growth in the state. Third, he promised to work to ensure that the state government is maximally responsive to and representative of the citizens of Maryland. And fourth, he said, he will restore fairness and balance for taxpayers.

“This is our chance to build a state that works for the people, and not the other way around” he told an energetic crowd as the snow began to collect.

Hogan’s speech centered on creating an environment of bipartisanship in Annapolis, where he will have to work with the heavily Democratic state legislature. He assured the crowd that the next four years would be marked by unprecedented cooperation rather than gridlock and stalemate. With his first budget due Friday, Marylanders will soon find out what kind of atmosphere the next four years will carry.

“In the end,” he said, “it isn’t about politics, it’s about citizenship.”

Inauguration day began at 8 a.m. for the new Hogan administration with an interfaith service held at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis and ended with a gala at the Baltimore Convention Center. At the gala, a visibly tired Rutherford and Hogan addressed the crowd of party-goers, thanking them for their support.

When Hogan launched his campaign almost a year ago, said Alfred Redmer Jr., Hogan’s new insurance commissioner who emceed the team’s election night party and introduced the governor and lieutenant governor at the gala, the pundits said “Larry who?” By the springtime, he said to a cheering crowd, “you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing his bus.”

For Marylanders Dave and Mary Manley, who enjoyed the food and cocktails at the packed gala, the party was a long time coming.

“We’ve only ever been on the other side of [elections],” said Dave Manley. He and his wife were not living in Maryland during Ehrlich’s time in office and jumped at the opportunity to attend Hogan’s Inauguration gala to celebrate the rare Republican victory. The pair was looking forward to the lower taxes and more business-friendly climate the Hogan campaign championed during the election.

“It’s always good to get some change in [the governor’s seat],” said Dave.

City Council Conflict Differing messages about councilwoman’s removal from committees

newWhen Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector was removed from all but one of her committee assignments last month, the official message from the City Council was that Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young wanted to get some fresh blood into the city’s 12 committees. Last week, that message changed.

“What Rikki did, she crossed a line of decorum with the Council,” Young, a Democrat, said in a Jan. 15 phone interview. “Rikki has been disrespectful to me as Council president.”

In early December, Spector, a Democrat who represents Upper Park Heights, parts of Fallstaff, Mount Washington and other neighborhoods in the far Northwest 5th District, was removed from two of her three committee positions. The loss of her seats on the Urban Affairs and Aging committee and Land Use and Transportation committee left her with only the Executive Appointments committee, a relatively thankless position compared with the other legislative bodies, responsible solely for vetting candidates the mayor recommends for heads of city departments. Every other Council member is assigned to at least three committees. Most sit on four or five.

“Rikki has not been supportive of me, I’m telling you, and I can’t have people in my leadership, on my important committees in the City of Baltimore, who are not supportive of anything that I’ve done,” said Young, who accused Spector of not supporting him until the last minute when he ran for president of the Council in 2010.

Young added that he would not be reinstating her onto any of the committees for the remainder of the current Council term, which expires in 2016.

“As long as I am president Rikki will never get those committees back. No way,” he said. “You can’t disrespect me. … No, because if she was in Annapolis and she’d done what she’d done, she would have been stripped of everything and put in the corner.”

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Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (left) and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake found themselves on the same side of bills outfitting police with body cameras and banning the sale of plastic bags. (Photos provided)

Spector, the longest-serving councilmember and only Jewish representative, gained notoriety late last year when she was the only member to vote against body cameras for all members of Baltimore’s police force and a ban on plastic bags at city stores. The bills were both fiercely advocated for by Young and eventually vetoed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

In his interview with the Jewish Times, Young accused Spector of having a history of not supporting him and being a mouthpiece for the Rawlings-Blake administration. The mayor’s office had no comment.

“Anything that the administration is against, whether it’s right or wrong, Rikki is with the administration,” said Young. “And it’s just total disrespect.”

To those in the Jewish community who may be worried about adequate representation on the Council, Young said he represents the Northwest community just as much as Spector does.

Since his election, Young has worked closely with Baltimore’s Jewish community, hosting black-Jewish dialogues and, most recently, representing the City Council in a meeting with local rabbis and police representatives about security in light of the Paris attacks, a meeting held in Northwest Baltimore to which Spector was not extended an invitation.

For Sandy Johnson, president of the Fallstaff Improvement Association, that is little consolation.

“I think it’s very, very, very unfortunate,” said Johnson, who said that Spector has worked hard on behalf of the association in the past. She is concerned by the effect the move will have on respresentation for the area.

“I don’t think it will go over well in this community,” she said.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41), whose district covers Spector’s, echoed Johnson’s dissatisfaction.

“It’s wrong,” said Rosenberg. “Every member of a legislative body has the right and should be serving on committees.”

He added that elected officials are not bound to vote with their presiding officer and should not be punished for having their own opinion.

To those in the Jewish community who may be worried about adequate representation on the Council, Young said he represents the Northwest community just as much as Spector does.

Rumors have swirled since as early as 2010 that Spector does not live in her district. A number of political blogs have traced her real residence to an Inner Harbor condominium more than five miles outside the boundaries of her district.

In his interview with the JT, Young referenced doubt about Spector’s residency.

Spector dismissed the notion, offered by Young staffers, that the Council president was simply working to get new councilmembers committee experience.

“Well everybody knows the best way to give experience to someone who doesn’t have it is have them sit along with someone who does have the experience,” she said. “I can understand giving everybody experience, but don’t take the experienced people away from benefiting the ones who don’t have the experience.”

Stripping officials of duties and committee assignments is not rare, but it’s usually reserved for elected officials who have run into legal troubles involving impropriety. Last year, Anne Arundel County Del. Don Dwyer (R-District 31) was stripped of his committee assignments in the state General Assembly after two DUI convictions in as many years. (Dwyer lost in the June 2014 Republican primary election.)

In 2011, a state representative in Oregon was stripped of several of his committee assignments after accusations were made public that he groped a state employee. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford earned international notoriety last year when he was stripped of his duties as mayor after video surfaced of him smoking what was believed to be crack cocaine.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (right), with the City Council’s Jewish liaison, Betsy Gardner, Rabbis Chesky Tenenbaum and Shmuel Kaplan pose alongside the City Hall menorah.  (Provided)

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (right), with the City Council’s Jewish liaison, Betsy Gardner, Rabbis Chesky Tenenbaum and Shmuel Kaplan pose alongside the City Hall menorah. (Provided)

John Bullock, a professor of political science and metropolitan studies at Towson University, said the practice of removing City Council members from committee assignments is fully with-in the power of the Council president, but it’s relatively rare to see a president do so.

“It happens not very often. There are a couple cases: one, if there’s an election. For example, if there’s a new crop of councilmembers who come in and there’s a reshuffling of the deck. That can happen,” he explained. “In other instances, it may be when someone has either been accused of or convicted of some sort of violation.”

With the most recent Council election having been held in 2011 and Spector the subject of no current crime investigation, Bullock said Young is flexing the muscle of his office.

“It does speak to the power of the Council president,” said Bullock. “I think people understand that it’s the prerogative of the Council president to do so, but at the same time that doesn’t prevent community groups or anyone else who’s represented by that particular Council person to have something to say about that.”

Spector said it’s not the first time that Young has threatened her with removal from committees. Past disagreements over legislation, she said, have resulted in him warning her he possessed the power to strip her of assignments.

Though she is no longer required to attend a vast majority of the meetings attended by other councilmembers, Spector plans to be as involved as ever in the meetings that are open to the public, taking advantage of the open meetings to voice her opinion on topics that she said affect her community.

On Tuesday, Spector sat in on the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations committee’s hearing on a proposed amendment to the city charter that would make it easier for the council to override a mayoral veto. Despite warnings from committee chair James Kraft that the hearing was solely for the purpose of discussing the veto amendment, Spector used the opportunity to draw some attention to her own proposal to restructure aspects of city government.

Early last week, she proposed that instead of the 14 single-representative districts the Council now comprises, a charter amendment should delineate four districts with three representatives each. The four-district structure, she argued, would ensure that the people of any one district have representation at all times; if one councilmember is stripped of their assignments or falls ill, she contended, there would still be two members representing the district in their full capacity.

The Council has not yet decided whether to take the proposal to a vote.

“It’s about time she start introducing bills,” said Young of Spector’s proposal. “It’s about time she start working, because she hasn’t been.”

Any change to the city charter must be approved by voters in a referendum. “You earn respect and you work for it,” Spector said in response to Young’s accusations about her lack of esteem for him.

If she disagrees with the behavior of a member of the Council, she contended, she will not respect that member.

“I don’t work for anybody but the people who elect me,” she said. “I get myself elected.”

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Watchful Eyes London Jewish community heightens already tight security after Paris attacks

Kosher Kingdom is one of the largest kosher supermarkets in the United Kingdom. (Rachel Stafler)

Kosher Kingdom is one of the largest kosher supermarkets in the United Kingdom. (Rachel Stafler)

LONDON — Guards, CCTV, locked gates, 24-hour surveillance: These are some of the security measures that Jewish schools, community centers and synagogues in the United Kingdom and Europe have in place. The protections are especially striking compared to what can seem like little or no security at Jewish communal buildings in the United States.

Still, since the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket, Jewish organizations and institutions in London are reviewing their safety protocols and putting even tighter arrangements into place.

The U.K. has the second largest population of Jews in Europe, after France, with the total population reaching just under 300,000, around the size of the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Jewish populations combined. More than 200,000 Jews live in the greater London area, mostly in the Northwest section of the city, home to scores of schools, synagogues and community organizations.

But the U.K. isn’t the only country in Europe to take stock in the wake of recent events. In continental Europe, where security at Jewish buildings can include bulletproof doors and concrete barriers, scores of community leaders gathered in the Belgian capital of Brussels just three days after the Paris attacks to simulate and train for the next crisis. The program was organized by the European Jewish Congress’ Security and Crisis Centre.

“Although the threat level hasn’t changed, when something happens like the events in Paris it unnerves people and causes an increase in concern and anxiety,” said Dave Rich, spokesman for the Community Service Trust, the organization that provides physical security, training and advice for British Jewry. “In terms of communal anxiety, there is still a hangover from the summer when we had a big rise in anti-Semitic incidents during the Gaza conflict. The police and CST have put on extra security to reassure people that they can go about their normal lives and know that they are protected.”

In a measure of the community’s anxiety, Rich said that the organization has never had such a high volume of calls, and it added staff to deal with the many inquiries coming in. It also saw about 40 volunteers coming forward to patroll Jewish areas. This comes after a year when anti-Semitic incidents were at a record high: In excess of 1,000 events were recorded, according to the CST, the vast majority not severe.

Last Friday, police said there’s “heightened concern about the risk to the Jewish community,” according to a statement issued by Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner at the National Policing Lead for Counter Terrorism.

On Sunday, Home Secretary Theresa May said that Britain must do more to tackle anti-Semitism.

“I never thought I would see the day when members of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom would say they were fearful of remaining here,” she said at an event commemorating the Jews killed in the Paris attacks. “And that means we must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here.”

Despite reassurances, there is still widespread insecurity in the Jewish community given the attacks in Paris.

“We are a lot more alert now,” said Shana Leitner, 30, who lives in the London neighborhood of Golders Green. “When we leave the house, we don’t just walk out. We first look around. At the supermarket, no one is standing around and chatting. … And it’s the same at my children’s school.”

Police are quick to dismiss any parallels between the threats to the Jews of London and Paris. At a community meeting for the Northwest London Jewish community, the local police commander emphasized the strength of the counter-terror intelligence system and detailed the difficulty terrorists would have acquiring automatic weapons in the country, where firearms legislation is notoriously strict. Even so, the police and the CST have increased foot patrols in Jewish areas, especially during busy shopping times.

The owners of Jewish shops in London, such as bakeries, supermarkets and butchers, are also taking no chances. The Kosher Deli, a chain of five butcher stores in northwest London, has altered its security plan to include 24-hour CCTV surveillance.

Kosher Kingdom, one of the largest kosher supermarkets in the U.K., sent out an email to customers describing steps it is taking to enhance customer safety, including staff training, a new CCTV network and walky-talkies for workers.

“As soon as it happened we had to make sure that all the right systems were in place,” said Chuny Rokach, the owner of Kosher Kingdom. “We thought we had to take steps to reassure our customers and staff. Footfall hasn’t been affected, but people are … definitely concerned.”

Many Jewish schools have also reviewed their security procedures, with some briefing parents on revised protocols. In addition to high gates and permanent security guards, many also assign parents to stand guard during pick-up and drop-off times.

“We are definitely more alert and the police are also more visible,” said the spokesman for one Jewish school in London, who asked not to be named on security concerns. “Security at most of the Jewish schools was already at a high level after the events last summer. … We have to be on point 100 percent of the time, but they only need to get lucky once.”

A native of Baltimore, Rachel Elbaum is a freelance writer in London.

Obama Talks Paid Sick Leave The president was in town for the Senate Democrats’ conference

President Barack Obama poses for a selfie with the staff at Charmington’s in Baltimore City. The cafe and coffee shop's managing partner spoke with the president about paid sick leave and family leave. (Provided)

President Barack Obama poses for a selfie with the staff at Charmington’s in Baltimore City. The cafe and coffee shop’s managing partner spoke with the president about paid sick leave and family leave. (Provided)

Amanda Rothschild found out she’d be hosting the president at her coffee shop and café on Thursday, Jan. 15, about 90 minutes before his arrival. While there was a rush of emotions when White House staff told her President Barack Obama would be coming to Charmington’s in Baltimore City, where she is managing partner, Rothschild was mostly prepared.

Knowing the president was in town to speak at the Senate Democratic Issues Conference and that she was set to meet with senior White House staff, finding out it would be the president himself wasn’t a shocker.

“I kind of screamed and said to the coordinator, ‘Can I just go ask them to clean the store?’ That was my very first reaction,” she said.

Obama met with Rothschild, school nurse Mary Stein, businesswoman Vika Jordan and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski at the Remington business to discuss paid sick leave and family leave.

“Now, one of our biggest problems that we have is that there are 43 million Americans who don’t get paid sick leave, which when you think about it, is a pretty astonishing statistic,” Obama told the group, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House press office.

Charmington’s was the backdrop for the meeting, not only because of Rothschild’s advocacy on minimum wage and sick leave, but because the business is an example of what the president hopes to see across the country.

“We started paying sick leave from the time we opened,” said Rothschild. “We were paying above minimum wage from the time we opened and we have incrementally increased our wages over time, added health insurance after we had opened and stabilized our business.”

For about two years now, Rothschild has been attending Senate hearings and other discussions at the federal level on issues of minimum wage and paid sick and family leave. She’s most recently been working with the Working Matters coalition, which advocates for paid sick leave in Maryland.

On the day of his Baltimore meeting, the president unveiled a new policy allowing federal workers up to six weeks of sick leave, and is pressing Congress to make sick leave mandatory in the United States. He told the women at Charmington’s he would advocate for a seven-day sick leave policy and urge employers to start adopting policies. He also told them the White House plans to help cities and states study the feasibility of paid family leave.

“That kind of flexibility ultimately is going to make our economy stronger and is just one piece of what needs to be a really aggressive push to ensure that if you work hard in this country then you can make it,” Obama said.

Rothschild said the president was casual, friendly and interested in hearing the women’s stories. She told him about Charmington’s policies and how sick leave benefits its employees. He asked her what the government could do to help small businesses make sick leave a priority, to which she suggested flexible policies that can be adapted to different industries’ and companies’ needs.

She also countered the argument that paid sick leave policies would strain small businesses, saying that view looks at employees as raw costs when they should be seen as assets.

“Because of the way we run our business, we have such low turnover that we really get investment out of our employees,” she said, something the president noted in his talk.

Obama headed from Charmington’s to downtown Baltimore, where he met with Senate Democrats. While it was a closed-door session, reports said
the president vowed to fight Republican efforts to roll back some of his efforts and to veto further Iran sanctions, something with which several high-powered Democrats disagree.

Maryland Sens. Mikulski and Ben Cardin said the conference’s focus was strategy in two areas: how legislators can help job and income growth and what they’re going to do now that they are not in the majority.

“We’re not going to be the party of ‘no,’” Mikulski, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said via email. “We’re going to work with Republicans where we can. But where we can’t, we’re going to fight for our families, for our country and for national security.”

Cardin agreed.

“I’ve reached out to my Republican colleagues. We’ll find, I hope, opportunities where we can advance issues,” he said. “We’ll start with the budget issues, issues on transportation, maybe energy even.”

In addition to strategy, Cardin, who sits on the environment and public works and foreign relations committees, said the Senators role play to anticipate how they think some debates will go. The conference also gives the legislators a chance for casual interaction, and spouses attend as well.

As for the location, both Maryland senators said Baltimore was deliberately chosen.

“This is a city with a lot of immigrant neighborhoods,” said Cardin, who talked about his grandparents immigrating to America.

Added Mikulski, “We thought we should hold it in a place that reflects our party’s strong commitment to cities. We felt it should be where there’s a Democratic stronghold and where the chief executive is a Democrat. Baltimore is all of those and is a city with a lot to offer.”


mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

A Place to Call Home As U.S. population ages, the need for senior housing increases and requirements evolve

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

The often-described “graying of America” or “age quake” has influenced developments in the senior housing market, creating a growing concern for availability as well as a growing business.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, by the year 2030, 19 percent of the population — 72 million people — will be age 65 or older in the U.S., more than twice the amount of just 15 years ago. The American Association of Retired Persons asserts, even more specifically, that approximately 8,000 baby boomers will turn age 65 each day for the next decade.

Case in point, Weinberg Manor South, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.’s (CHAI) newest senior housing location on Fords Lane in Baltimore City, has already rented out about 90 percent of its 90 units. It opened at the end of December.

At the facility, whose completion took just over a year from funding to finish, residents can enjoy a community dining area, a hair salon, a wellness suite (with a doctor, nurse and therapist staffed as needed), a crafts room, a game and computer room, library and a volunteer-run convenience store, all located on the premises. There is also a shuttle service to take residents on errands and on other excursions.

These services are directly in line with what Alexis Denton, a gerontologist and architect with SmithGroup JJR, claims are big trends in senior housing.

“I think the biggest trend is incorporating wellness into senior housing, I mean more than just the typical fitness area,” she said, noting that new senior living communities now tend to feature spas, massage rooms and, as evidenced at Weinberg Manor South, an on-site clinic where visiting doctors and nurses can see patients.

Denton is a member of the American Institute of Architects Design for Aging Knowledge Community, an organization that, according to its website, strives to “foster design innovation and disseminate knowledge necessary to enhance the built environment and quality of life for an aging society.”

Citing the increasingly common addition of game rooms, mixed-use social halls and multiple dining room settings in senior housing, Denton said, “It’s really designing to be social. That’s why senior living is a great answer for so many seniors; otherwise they’d be aging at home, and that can be very isolating.”

“I’m excited, I’m on the first floor, and everything is right here,” said Celina Chakarov, who moved from the Rockland Run condominium development after she began to feel isolated from family and friends. “I want to do everything, that’s why I moved to a place like this.”

Weinberg Manor South also offers a full-time Russian-speaking Jewish Community Services support service coordinator and a JCC activity coordinator. Students from the neighboring Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore will also work with residents on computer skills, said Cindy Zonies, the director of resident services at Weinberg Senior Living.

“We encourage socialization,” she added.

“A strong community is one that does acts of charitable kindness for people in need,” said Mitch Posner, executive director of CHAI. “And vulnerable older adults are near the top of that list,” so providing safe, clean, service-enriched, state-of the-art homes for older adults is a community’s responsibility.

Ellen Jarrett, director of housing and planning development at CHAI, has witnessed many trends and influences in affordable senior housing during her 23 years with the organization.

Most recently, she said, “technology has changed a lot of what you can do in a building.”

For instance, at the senior buildings managed by CHAI, medical pendants are issued to all residents that allow them to make contact with someone outside the building in case of an emergency; such emergency call units used to be hard-wired and stationary, like pull-cords. Also, 24-hour monitoring and secure entry systems are a regular expectation by residents at the 15 facilities that bear the Weinberg name, she said.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

Jarrett also noted that requirements for environmentally safer building construction has affected development costs that can sometimes translate to higher rental fees, but the trend that really concerns her is that over the last 20 years, federal dollars available for affordable senior housing have decreased significantly.

“When I started, there was the [Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly] program through the federal government, which allowed us to do our first five projects, [each with] 100-plus units,” recalled Jarrett. “So we could reach the lowest income resident and still have a good product. That [funding] has pretty much gone away.”

In addition to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc. and city funds, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program — a state-run disbursement funded with federal dollars — provided the bulk of the funding for Weinberg Manor South.

“It’s extremely competitive, and there is not enough money to give to everyone who applies,” Jarrett said of LIHTC, adding that 25 applications were submitted, but only 11 received funding.

“When Manor South got funded, in 2013, we were the only senior project that received funding in the whole state” and most of the remaining funding fell to affordable family housing, she explained. “It is increasingly more and more difficult to find [affordable] senior housing, and the need and demand is increasing right now, but there is less and less money to do it.”

In the past 15 years, CHAI has developed 1,500 senior units in its area, which lies between Northern Parkway up to Owings Mills and from Falls Road to Reisterstown Road, and includes some adjacent areas as well. Manor South cost approximately $150,000 to $165,000 per unit, said Jarrett, including the land purchase, construction, attorney and architectural fees, outfitting each apartment with appliances and everything else needed to get the building up and running.

Property-wise, Baltimore City and County offer more affordable senior housing than many areas across Maryland, she said. But even in light of those numbers, all of CHAI’s buildings have waiting lists for available units. She forecasts those numbers will double due to the exponential increase of senior-aged adults. Jarrett, who works on both affordable family and senior housing projects, said the competition for federal funding dollars often favors family projects. But she’s hopeful that government priorities might shift in favor of seniors, given the expected sharp increase in that population.

Options Abound

The private sector has responded to the growth in the senior population with the development of various properties and services such as A Place for Mom, which advises about 200,000 families per year across the United States to help navigate the growing number of housing and care options available to seniors.

Maryland-based Jennifer Fenton, A Place for Mom senior living adviser for two years, works with clients to determine their potential medical care needs, housing desires and available financial resources, then connects them with the best match for their list of requirements.

“Something I’m seeing a lot of people request and look for are communities that offer a continuum of care,” said Fenton, “where they can age in place as their [physical or medical] needs increase. … They want to be able to stay [at a residence] through end of life.”

These clients look for places that “provide an independent living atmosphere but can increase care needs if necessary,” she said. But most seniors she works with want to avoid large campus continuing care retirement communities, where there are often 10 to 15 buildings to navigate. People are concerned they are “going to get lost, that it’s too overwhelming” and that they may need “to get into a golf cart to get to dining area.”

The approximately 30 independent living housing properties in Baltimore City and County Fenton works with are 100 percent private pay, she said, and costs can range from $2,500 per month for an independent living facility up to $8,000 per month on the high end for a facility that provides care to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases.

Independent living costs cover rent in a senior-friendly constructed building, all utilities, one to two meals per day — restaurant-style, where residents are served their food and drinks — general housekeeping such as trash removal and laundry services and even some activities and entertainment.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

“The other huge part, probably the most important part,” added Fenton, “means access to care 24 hours per day.” If a resident pulls an emergency cord or makes an alert with a medical pendant, “someone will be there within minutes to help them.”

There is also a system of checks and balances such as, if someone doesn’t show up to a meal, a staff person will go and check on them, which, said Fenton, “gives families a lot of peace of mind.”

The gist of it is that there are “lots of support systems in place to allow residents to live independently for much longer,” Fenton said.

At the other end of the cost and care spectrum is assisted living which, she explained, “is a totally different beast. Those residents have specific needs and a care plan in place. They’re also getting meals and medication management” among many other services. There are approximately 300 such facilities in the greater Baltimore area, according to Fenton.

Another private sector response to senior housing needs is the development of Leisure World in Silver Spring, home to 8,000 residents, who qualify for entry at age 55. With the opening of Villa Cortese in October 2012, the 610-acre community, founded in 1966, has been developed to maximum capacity.

Developer Ken Woodring, in partnership with Della Ratta Inc., broke ground on the newest 46-unit condominium building nearly three years ago when for-sale housing stock in the community dropped off from 268 units in the late 1980s to around 80 units, he told Montgomery Newsletter, a real estate development publication.

The four-story construction stands out against the community’s older buildings — a mixture of single family homes, low- and high-rise apartments — with its modern façade and added amenities such as a hospitality suite for visiting guests. It balances what active seniors are looking for in terms of private housing with access to the larger community’s longstanding amenities, including a golf course, swimming pools and a shopping center.

Residents of the newest building expect to age in place for quite some time, and though many downsize from single family homes, they are settling into units that have as many as three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

“It’s a big decision when people decide to move into a retirement community. It’s kind of an emotional decision, it’s not a snap decision,” said Woodring, adding that clients have taken six months to decide whether to let go of their family homes in favor of senior living.

Regarding predictions for future trends, Fenton said five or 10 years ago, seniors most often moved based on a physical-care need or family relocation. Now the trend seems to be that older adults want to get out of their three- and four-story homes and avoid all the maintenance that goes with it.

“Seniors are making moves based on their wants,” she said, like someone to do their laundry, take out the trash and cook their meals, and they want to enjoy activities and entertainment. “It’s like living on a cruise ship.”

More and more, Fenton sees people in their 70s and 80s who have saved up and want to enjoy their retirement, so they make the move sooner and also avoid forcing those decisions on their adult children. Jarrett similarly has begun to see an uptick in the request for two-bedroom housing units.

“We’ve found there’s a need for people to share a unit — maybe sisters, or a husband and wife who have been married for 50 years, but now they want their own [sleeping] space, or other caretaker,” she said. “Also relatives; someone can live independently but might need someone to help with service needs.”

She has also noticed that similar to the general population, senior housing requests have begun to favor more open living space design.

“When you first started [designing senior housing] you had a separate dining, kitchen, small spaces,” she said. “Now there’s been a trend to have more open spaces.”

The breakthrough in technology use is another area that is seeing expansion and that Jarrett is excited about. The Internet allows residents to have potentially more connection outside of a building, she said, and there is exploration into bringing services to people via the Internet. For instance, it would be possible to meet with a counselor online weekly in addition to face-to-face to increase human contact.

“A lot of our seniors, they need that social connection with someone, to make sure they’re OK,” said Jarrett. “They might be happier and able to stay in their unit longer if they have [added] contact with the outside. This group [of incoming seniors] is more Internet friendly, they’ll be more open to those types of things.”

Denton hopes senior living residences might eventually integrate into the wider community, with mixed-use spaces being opened up to the public. Traditionally, senior communities have been tucked away, but urban development or redevelopment could encourage free-flow between seniors and the wider community, she said.

Jarrett said that CHAI, in an effort to proactively address seniors’ evolving housing desires, elicits feedback from their current residents before designing a new building.

“Every building is not cookie cutter,” said Jarret. “There’s always an evolution. … We feel it’s really important to make a home that someone wants to live in.”

mapter@jewishtimes.com; mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Singer-Songwriter Finds His Voice Jesse Macht gained inspiration from tribulation

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

For singer-songwriters, tragedy can become fertile ground for creative inspiration. In Jesse Macht’s case, a brush with mortality and the end of long-term relationship was all he needed to jumpstart his career.

After discovering that he had a heart condition that gave him an extra electric impulse that caused his heart to beat at 260 beats per minute, he had to have his heart electro-shocked to essentially short out the extra impulse.

“That experience sort of tripped me up, and I said, ‘OK, if this is what you’re going to do, you have to dive in,’” he said.

Weeks later, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him.

“Two intense punches,” Macht, 31, said. “That was a broken literal heart and a broken figurative heart all in a matter of a month.”

The band he was playing with had recently broken up, and although he was feeling a bit lost in his career, he went back to the drawing board to write songs, wrote with others and attended songwriting workshops to get back on track.

Armed with new material and a producer he met at a showcase, he made the album “Suitcase Heart,” released this past fall, a poignant, emotional album with a big sound. He plays an invitation-only house concert in Baltimore on Saturday, Jan. 24.

011615_rocker2“His voice is beautiful to start with, but his music is really capturing,” said Susan Macht, a distant cousin, who is hosting the house concert. “He doesn’t just play music, he talks; he tells you why he wrote this song.”

For Macht, who grew up in Los Angeles, entertaining runs in the family. His father, Stephen Macht, has been acting since the late 1960s and has been on “General Hospital” and numerous other TV shows and in movies. Jesse’s brother, Gabriel, who is 11 years older than Jesse, stars on the USA series “Suits.” So from a young age, Macht knew his family was in the show biz.

While he has done some acting and still goes to acting auditions, Macht gravitated toward music.

“The guitar gave me an opportunity to express myself at any moment,” he said.

Macht can somewhat trace his singing back to synagogue. He attended a day school from pre-K through eighth grade, and he wasn’t much of a fan of having to attend services three times a week.

“I would harmonize with all the prayers, and that was my way of having fun, I think,” he said. “I was sort of learning that innate way of harmonizing with the ear.”

He played piano growing up and, later, guitar. Although his parents didn’t listen to any pop music, Macht would later discover some of his biggest influences including Billy Joel, Tom Petty and more recent songwriters such as Ryan Adams and Dawes.

011615_rocker3“I really try to be as genuine as possible, trying my patience, my confidence, my creativity,” he said. “I’m looking for things in my life that really do make me feel emotional, do make me feel human. I try to give in to that sensitivity, step on the wound and see what comes out.”

His show at his cousin’s house comes in the middle of an East Coast run that includes shows in New York, Philadelphia, Columbia and York, Pa.

Later this year, Macht will release a Valentine’s Day song with a music video and another single, both of which will be paired with a holiday song he released this past year, “This Light,” on a forthcoming EP.

From there, he is looking to book a European tour since he has some fans there who have only seen him in live streamed performances.

“I’m trying to organize house concerts and venues,” he said. “Whatever comes next.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

Helping Hands

Sam Seliger, Eli Kuperman and Amelia Oliver present their finished prosthetic hand. (Provided)

Sam Seliger, Eli Kuperman and Amelia Oliver present their finished prosthetic hand. (Provided)

In keeping with Sam Seliger’s sentiment that “ helping people is really important to me,”  he invited his bar mitzvah guests to participate in a service project as part of his celebration. The prosthetic hands Seliger and his friends assembled will be sent to help land-mine victims and others in countries around the world.

On the Sunday after his bar mitzvah, Seliger and 50 friends in teams of two and three made 19 hands in about two hours at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. He explained that the design of the hand is intentionally easy to assemble, easy to use and cost efficient and that each piece does specific things so it’s important to assemble it exactly right. There is a video and written instructions of the 13 steps for assembly.

“Then there’s a bag the hand goes into, and we decorate the bag,”  said Seliger, whose parents are Andrea LeWinter and Stephen Seliger, “and we take a picture of the group [that made each hand], and that goes into the bag as well. So it looks nice, and [the recipients] see this picture of who made it.”

The idea came from a family friend, Judy Saunders, who suggested the project after her husband, Josh, participated in a similar event as a team-building exercise at his work facilitated by Odyssey Teams, Inc. The company provides service-based leadership development training to corporations, organizations and other groups, and Helping Hands is one of several team-building projects they offer.

Seliger, who attends Ellicott Mills Middle School, had been considering a few different service project ideas, but he liked Helping Hands best. But the cost, at $1,500 for 10 hand construction kits, was a challenge he would have to address. That’s when the project became a real family affair.

Seliger researched Helping Hands and found out that at its origin was industrial designer Ernie Meadows. He and his wife, Marj, lost their daughter, Ellen, in a car accident when she was 18 years old, and Ernie wanted to create a legacy to their daughter’s memory; he designed the LN-4, a low-cost, light, durable and functional prosthetic hand.

The parents started the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, dedicated to provide a “prosthetic hand to every person who wants one and can benefit from it, and do so at no charge,”  according to its website, and that “no one will profit from the production or distribution” of the hands. To date, more than 17,000 prosthetic hands have been distributed to 75 countries.

Hannah Treger (left) and Isabella Kushner work on completing another one. (Provided)

Hannah Treger (left) and Isabella Kushner work on completing another one. (Provided)

Seliger discovered that Rotary clubs were instrumental in securing initial funding for production of the hands. Even though Odyssey Teams is now the major corporate partner with the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, Rotary International still provides considerable funding and assemblage of the prosthetic hands.

Here begins the family connection: Seliger’s grandmother, Barbara LeWinter, is a Rotarian. She encouraged her grandson to reach out to local Rotary clubs to secure funding in order to make his bar mitzvah project happen.

“He put together a presentation and went to Rotary clubs since they were a primary funder,”  said Seliger’s mother. She added, “I was a proud mama that he wanted to do a service project instead of a standard bar mitzvah bash.”

Ultimately, the Ellicott City Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Columbia, the Rotary Club of Williston-Richmond, the Rotary Club of Howard West and the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent donated funds. In total, Seliger raised $3,300 but not without the creative help of yet another family member, his cousin, Dana Janik.

Janik’s jewelry is inspired by American Sign Language, so her designs are fashioned after tiny hands in different meaningful sign language shapes. Seliger thought that selling the jewelry could also help raise money, and the connection of hand signs had resonance for him. Seliger sold jewelry at school, community events and was also invited to sell at a rotary club function.

Even at 13 years old, Seliger is no stranger to philanthropy. He regularly participates in raising money for the Ronald McDonald House by swimming laps through a single night with his swim team — last year, he completed 444 — and this month will mark his fourth year participating on the Owen United team for the Polar Bear Plunge, which raises money for the Special Olympics.

Seliger said that while he was building the hands with his friends, “I was thinking it’s going to really help people, and I hope to inspire other people to build them.”  He added that afterward a Hebrew school friend said she wanted to do a service project as part of her bat mitzvah party too.

“That’s what I wanted to hear,”  he said. “It got the message across.”

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

For the Love of Books

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Jacob Benesch, 9, shows off “Quake,” which he will review as a member of the PJ Our Way Design Team. ( Randi Benesch)

Jacob Benesch loves books. The Ilchester Elemenary school fourth-grader can quickly rattle off a few of his favorite titles — “Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson,” “Ungifted” — and has difficulty narrowing down his favorite genre.

It is no surprise then that Jacob, an outgoing 9-year-old from Ellicott City, was chosen to represent Baltimore on the 2014-2015 PJ Our Way Design Team.

PJ Our Way continues the legacy of the PJ Library, which has gifted more than 5 million Jewish books to children ages 6 months to 8 years over the course of nine years. As part of the effort, each month children ages 9 to 11 who live in pilot communities are invited to choose a book and connect with others online through pjourway.org.

Jacob and nine of his peers, plus a teen adviser and PJ Our Way director Catriella Freedman, meet via Google hangouts once a month — “After Sunday school,” said the boy — to discuss the titles to which they have early access. Jacob is the only Maryland representative; the next closest Design Team member lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., he pointed out. Each team member is responsible for spurring online dialogue by creating and sharing videos, reviews and author interviews.

Said Freedman, “We’ve thought a great deal about how to engage older readers by giving them more say in what they read and then giving them creative platforms to talk to their peers about the books.”

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, in conjunction with the Louise D. & Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, selected Jacob this past fall based on his responses to an application that posed questions such as, “What do you think it means to be Jewish?”

For Jacob, part of being Jewish is attending Hebrew school four hours a week at the Columbia Jewish Congregation in Howard County and spending time at the JCC, where his mother, Randi Benesch, is the managing director of arts and culture.

He also submitted a video review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” to wow the selection committee.

“I described the beginning, middle and end, and offered suggestions, like if you like ‘The Hobbit,’ then you’ll like this book,” said Jacob. He layered in special effects “to make it look cool” and included the “Harry Potter” theme song, all on his own, a feat his mother verified.

He intends to create a video review of “Quake” as his first Design Team project. The story — no spoilers — takes place in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 where a young Jewish boy searches for his family in the rubble.

“I’m so proud of him, for him to be a part of a national program and connect with Jewish kids who have a passion for reading,” said Benesch’s mother, noting that Jacob and his younger sister have a collection of Jewish books through the PJ Library that they might not have had otherwise.

Jacob is far from the stereotypical bookworm. He comes across as a well-rounded young man: a musician who plays cello, recorder, guitar and hand bells and sings in the school choir; an athlete who holds a blue belt in karate, plays baseball and participates in a fall hitting league; and a bit of a gamer who is “really into Minecraft.”

Overall, he thinks PJ Our Way is “kind of cool, because a lot of kids my age don’t like reading. … But through the [Design Team] I get to talk to kids who have the same passion for books.”

This is an “amazing gift [that] the Harold Grinspoon Foundation has given to Jewish kids. We are so grateful for it,” said Randi Benesch.

mapter@jewishtimes.com

The Buzz on Drones

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Like small buzzing, flying pests, drones seem to be everywhere these days: a technology waiting for mass acceptance by filling newspaper columns, YouTube videos and the nightmares of those Americans who see them as a privacy and safety disaster waiting to happen.

They’ve been touted as the answer for jobs that are too dirty and dangerous for people. They’ll deliver our online orders to us.

But what if one cuts up your face, as a drone carrying mistletoe inside a TGIFridays did earlier this month, slicing a photographer’s nose and lip? Or if a police department drone photographs through your window inside your house? Or if you look up from your backyard barbecue and see a drone hovering overhead?

Welcome to the brave new world of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as drones are also called. Government regulators are playing catch-up on writing rules, as businesses line up to be licensed to fly drones commercially. Meanwhile, sales of drones for hobbyists are taking off this holiday season. Amazon is selling more than 10,000 drones a month, Bloomberg reported.

One Jewish organization that embraces drones is Chabad-Lubavitch.

On its Facebook page, Chabad of the Space & Treasure Coasts in Florida, posted a video interspersed with aerial drone footage of its Chanukah car parade and snow festival on Dec. 18. A drone also made an appearance at the 31st annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries this past November, flying high over the movement’s headquarters in Crown Heights to capture video of the thousands of black-hatted shluchim assembling for a group photograph.

Yosef Shidler, owner of CJ Studios, who shot the Chabad conference, began using drones a year-and-a-half ago.

“You can get incredible footage with them, incredible shots you can’t get any other way,” he said.

“Five years ago the technology didn’t exist, and now we’re pioneering it,” said Shidler, noting that his Brooklyn-based business is one of the few offering aerial drone shots as part of wedding and bar mitzvah packages. Even if only a snippet of the drone-caught footage makes it into the final cut, it can make all the difference, he added. But there is a learning curve. Shidler and his employees are continually experimenting with different shots and flying the drones higher so as not to distract from ceremonies.

But for now, the skies largely belong to hobbyists, who are allowed to fly drones without a license. The pilot must always be in eye contact with the drone, which must not climb higher than 400 feet — about 40 stories. To avoid accidents, drones cannot be flown within a five-mile radius of airports.

But the FAA has limited policing power, and the agency recently reported that since June, there have been 175 incidents of drones flying into restricted airspace. Of these, 25 almost collided with an airplane or helicopter.

New FAA rules are not expected for a couple of years. This puts the United States behind countries such as Canada and Japan, which have regulations in place for the use of drones in national airspace.

What if, in the absence of laws and regulations, a drone hits and injures someone. Who is responsible and who can sue?

Roger Schechter, professor of law at George Washington University, said the legal system has experience dealing with new technologies. What liability law does is create an analogy with an older technology to cover the new one.

“The analogy here is easy,” he said. “It’s aircraft.”

A bigger question, one for the courts to decide, is whether the rules of negligence or strict liability should be applied to damages caused by drones.

“In American accident law, you have to prove the other party committed a careless act,” or was negligent, in other words. With drones, which are controlled remotely by a pilot or preprogrammed to fly, “you can imagine an operator who’s done something wrong.”

Strict liability covers things that are inherently hazardous and cannot be made safe — like the use of explosives. “Some have suggested that [because] drones are dangerous that they should be held strictly liable,” Schechter said.

In a yearlong study, The Washington Post found that 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, “a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic.”

The practical effect of strict liability is that it would be more expensive to operate a drone, Schechter said. “Amazon would take on insurance and pass the cost onto consumers.”

Would the photographer have a case against TGIFridays for the drone that attacked her face?

It depends on whether the accident was foreseeable, Schechter said. “You are not required to compensate for unforeseeable consequences.”

In an era when our phone meta-data is accessible to the government, where cities bristle with security cameras, is that old American right, the reasonable expectation of privacy, outdated?

Schechter sounds pessimistic. “The first week the drones are out there, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Once drones become commonplace, the expectation changes.”

It is “tempting,” Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at University of Washington School of Law, wrote onconcurringopinions.com, “to conclude that drones will constitute one more nail in the heavy coffin of privacy.”

But Calo wrote that “the proliferation of drones in our skies” could lead to just the opposite — a time when “all of our amorphous fears about new technology watching us are suddenly reified and immediate.”

He continued, “It is for this reason that I believe drones could end up being good for privacy law.”

Howard Melamed is in the business of detecting illegal cellphones in prisons. With his engineering background and expertise in cellphones, antennas and signal enhancement, the South Florida resident founded OpenSky Drones in July.

Drone cameras can inspect buildings for structural integrity and check energy levels of cellular towers, work that is dangerous for people to do, he said. “This is an industry that’s going to be huge,” he said. “We can remove risk from humans. This is what drones are good for.”

The smallest drones in his squadron are 12-inches wide and have four blades. The largest are 3 feet in diameter with eight blades.

It irks him that he’s prevented from sending up his drones while he waits for the FAA to rule on his application for a commercial operation. Meanwhile, any hobbyist can buy a drone and fly it.

“How can we have a society where we have hobbyists who have no license, no insurance, but they limit the commercial guys?”

Melamed argues that this is a violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizens equal protection under the law.

If Melamed ran the FAA, all drone flyers would be required to have insurance and have ground-school pilot training. Law enforcement would shift from a federal to a local responsibility.

“We want hobbyists taken out of the equation,” he said. “In Canada, I can apply for a license and fly a drone. We can just copy Canada.”

Instead, the FAA approves commercial drone use on a case-by-case basis. Five companies were approved this month. Melamed said “there are 100 other applications out there.”

Melamed built on his work of cellphone detection and developed what he called “DDD technology — drone detection and defeat. It can detect a drone coming into a prison and electronically take it out of the sky.”

He dismissed fears that drones will lead to the loss of privacy (“there are privacy laws for that”) and that they present a danger to the public (“what are the chances of a baseball being hit out of a park and hitting a car?”).

He suggests drone parks be created for hobbyists, the way skateboard parks and firing ranges allow dangerous activities to be practiced safely and away from the public.

How easily will drones make the transition from delivering missiles in war zones to delivering espresso machines from Amazon in suburbia?

The answer is up in the air.

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com
mapter@jewishtimes.com

Opinions Divided on Subminimum Wage

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Donte Harris at Miller’s Minuteman Press

Advocates and employers of disabled individuals are divided on a section of federal law that allows certified agencies to employ those with disabilities below minimum wage. Some want the program phased out, some would like to see increased oversight and program improvements, while others simply want the issue studied further.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which Congress passed in 1938, included section 14(c), which allows employers to pay wages that may be below the federal minimum to those who have disabilities that impair their productive capacity. Employers must hold 14(c) certificates to take part in this program, and there are 47 such employers in Maryland, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

At a December meeting, the Baltimore Jewish Council passed a policy statement calling for a task force to study the issue.

“The Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) urges renewed consideration of Maryland policies, practices and implementation of section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), also known as the subminimum wage. BJC recognizes that there may be unintended consequences that may be involved in any changes to the current law,” the statement says. “We recommend formulation of a comprehensive solution that ensures the best outcomes for those who would be affected by the law’s application in Maryland. We call for the establishment of a broadly represented statewide task force to study the issue in a timely fashion.”

In October, the BJC held a forum on the issue that included representatives of the National Federation of the Blind, the Maryland Disability Law Center, Arc of Maryland as well as 14(c) certificate holders Arc of Baltimore and Chimes.

Cailey Locklair Tolle, deputy executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the BJC wanted to hear all sides of the issue, and especially hear from someone who uses a 14(c) certificate and could explain possible complications from completely eliminating subminimum wage.

“Although we certainly advocate on behalf of the community that has disabilities … we aren’t experts on the issue, and they have eliminated subminimum wage in some states and there were a lot of concerns around that,” Tolle said. “We want to see all the stakeholders on the issue come together and then collectively make a decision.”

14(c) doesn’t specifically authorize subminimum wages, it authorizes commensurate wages, which are calculated based on the prevailing wage in a particular job in a geographic area and a “productivity percentage,” the percentage of work a disabled worker gets done compared to that of a non-disabled worker. While commensurate wages can be above minimum wage, they can also be below.

In early 2015, advocates expect the TIME Act — Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act — to be introduced in Congress. It will be a reintroduction of H.R. 831, formally known as the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities, under a new name. It is sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, whose son suffers from Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition involving changes of the X-chromosome that result in intellectual disabilities in males.

Rose Sloan, a government affairs specialist at the National Federation of the Blind, advocates for the bill, which she said would phase out the 14(c) certificates over a period of three years. After one year, for-profit entities would no longer be able to use their certificates, public and governmental organizations after two years and nonprofits after three years. She said about 95 percent of the roughly 3,000 certificates belong to nonprofits.

She and her organization would like to see more real-world job training for disabled people, something she feels a lot of nonprofits have a moral responsibility to do with or without at 14(c) certificate.

010215_wages3

Kelly Hughes at Cardinal Health

“The National Federation of the Blind feels that the payment of subminimum wages is an antiquated, discriminatory and immoral practice,” Sloan said. “You cannot pay them less because they are not less; they are not second class or third class.”

But a study conducted by The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services said “no action should be taken toward the program’s elimination” and said “14(c) is a necessary, although less than optimal, component in the employment of individuals with disabilities.” The study, published in June 2013, concluded that further data needed to be gathered by relevant agencies to judge whether or not to eliminate 14(c).

“Undoubtedly, there are workers with disabilities in the 14(c) program who receive benefits that allow them to be productive and achieve economic self-sufficiency, both in integrated and sheltered settings,” the study said. “However, the lack of accountability and oversight from the Department of Labor makes it difficult to demonstrate the true effectiveness of the program. At minimum, [DOL] should improve oversight of section 14(c).”

Nancy Pineles, a managing attorney in the Maryland Disability Law Center’s developmental disabilities unit, said her organization has not taken a position on 14(c) action, but would like to see improvements, particularly in the area of “sheltered workshops” and non-integrated programs. These workshops are where many advocates say the lowest wages can be found, where disabled workers are sometimes not integrated with non-disabled workers and spend their time working on menial tasks.

“We’d like to see people … with disabilities out of facility-based programs,” Pineles said. “We want people to get out and find real jobs.” Part of that is changing the employment community, she said.

“The employment community needs to be more receptive to hiring people with disabilities, and the employers may need some kind of support as well in understanding how to work with people with disabilities,” she said, noting that there is some support at the state level that could be stepped up.

Stephen Morgan, executive director at Arc of Baltimore, co-chairs the Arc of Maryland’s Fair Wages Work Group, which is studying 14(c), in particular the eight of Maryland’s 10 Arc chapters that hold certificates as well as what has happened in states that have eliminated 14(c) programs. The group has yet to make recommendations, but wants to avoid any precipitous federal action and doesn’t think there needs to be any state-level action at this point, something a lot of advocates agree with.

“We don’t want any action — executive order or legislation — that would serve to reduce any individual’s participation in employment,” Morgan said. “What we’d rather do is [find if] there is some action that can in fact increase their wages, increase their participation in employment so we can accomplish the end result of reducing subminimum wage payments while not taking opportunities away from people.”

About 12 percent of the Arc of Baltimore’s 1,000 adult participants in its day employment program are in “individual competitive jobs” which include filing and document management at law firms and general office work, jobs at the University of Maryland Medical Center, library jobs, shipping and receiving, grocery baggers, car prep at dealerships, landscaping and janitorial work. There are two other programs the Arc runs, Project Search and Career Catalyst, that work with the disabled population that is almost done with school and those who have been out of school for a number of years with career preparation and job placement.

Chimes Maryland, the state’s largest not-for-profit provider of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, employs 1,200 people with disabilities in Maryland, according to Martin Lampner, president/CEO of Chimes International. Of those, less than 250 people are in workshops earning $.32 or more, about 300 earn $3 to $7.24 and about 650 earn up to $11 an hour. Some work includes janitorial work at BWI Airport as well as work at Chimes-run food carryout services, the mission of which, Lampner said, is to get people experience that will transfer to jobs at Baltimore-area restaurants.

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Aimee Eliason, at Miller’s Minuteman Press

Because Chimes works with a population that can be severely disabled, the organization would like to see better enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which would ensure “reasonable accommodations” for those with disabilities in the job market, as well as further study of the 14(c) program. Lampner’s concern with eliminating 14(c) is that those with disabilities, particularly severe and cognitive disabilities, would lose access to employment.

“When reasonable accommodation is not feasible, the best alternatives are either a better-enforced 14(c) or adoption of new regulations and initiatives to ensure that people with the most significant disabilities — who still want to work — have the right to work and an environment wherein they can gain the dignity that comes from the work,” Lampner said via email.

Morgan reiterated that this long-contested issue does not have an easy solution.

“If there’s any preliminary recommendation from the work group, it’s almost that we’re drawing a line in the sand,” he said. “We don’t want anybody to go backwards, we want to go forwards.”

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com