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Better Off Working is Michigan's new mantra for those with disabilities

Monday, August 11, 2014
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley recognizes Meijer, Peckham Industries with the inaugural Better Off Working Award


LANSING, Mich.—Lt. Gov. Brian Calley today presented the inaugural Better Off Working awards to Meijer and Peckham Industries for their leadership in training, employing and retaining workers with disabilities. The award presentation was part of the release of the innovative Better Off Working report, which details programs that help more people with disabilities tap their potential and connect to work and provides needed changes in the disability system to encourage employment.


Calley was joined at the event by Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan and members of the Better Off Working workgroup at the Meijer Distribution Center on South Creyts Road in Lansing. The workgroup was created last year by Director Corrigan after discussions with fellow secretaries, members of the disability community and employers on workplace challenges faced by those with disabilities.

"I commend the work of DHS Director Corrigan and the Better Off Working workgroup. This is a critical issue and we need to continue aggressively looking for employment opportunities for those with disabilities,” Calley said. “It is important that we encourage self-determined pathways where all people have the chance to chase their dreams rather than being steered into predetermined outcomes based on labels and diagnosis. I'm proud of our partners, Meijer and Peckham, and their commitment to helping those with disabilities become valuable members of their workforces."

Meijer Vice President of Distribution Rick Keyes and Peckham Industries President Mitch Tomlinson, along with Peckham-trained Meijer employees, accepted the awards on behalf of their companies.

"We are proud of receiving the inaugural Better Off Working Award,” Keyes said. “By focusing on what persons with disabilities can do, rather than what they cannot, we are seeing incredible results at matching team members with the right jobs. We’re finding that refining our job matching techniques for persons with disabilities improves morale and can have tremendous impact on the overall effectiveness of our supply chain operations."

The Better Off Working report was developed by workgroup members representing the Michigan Department of Human Services, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Disability Determination Service, The Disability Network and Michigan employers. It focuses on steps to improve the likelihood of success for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Director Corrigan chaired the effort. After finishing the report, the workgroup believes more strongly than ever that all people, including those with disabilities, are better off working.

“Too few Michiganders with disabilities are working because too often the system gets in the way. This report outlines specific ways we can change that, including removing barriers and deterrents,” said Corrigan. “The goal of disability benefits should be to advance employment and entrepreneurial opportunities and help those with disabilities to enter or return to the workforce.”

The Better Off Working plan identifies a number of administrative and legislative changes that can be made at the local, state and federal levels to remove barriers, change incentives, improve services and connect more individuals with disabilities to work. These include:

State Changes:

  • Assisting individuals to find jobs by providing additional support and accommodations.
  • Helping businesses hire and retain workers by providing employer navigation programs to help them locate, accommodate and retain employees.
  • Educating individuals with disabilities on the programs available to help them earn and save more income and assets.

Federal Changes:

  • Making work pay by increasing the income and assets individuals can earn without losing essential benefits.
  • Improving the quality and uniformity of administrative law judges’ decisions so the system is serving those who truly have disabilities.
  • Eliminating double dipping by offsetting unemployment benefits if an individual is receiving unemployment benefits in addition to disability payments. While there are several ways to accomplish this, the workgroup strongly endorses the withholding of Social Security Disability Income benefits for any month in which a disabled worker receives unemployment benefits.
  • The workgroup is now turning its attention to implementation of these proposed changes including a six-month action plan that includes reviews of organizational structure, outreach and outcomes and the formation of new public-private partnerships. 

The full Better Off Working report can be downloaded here.

Better Off Working Workgroup members include:

  • Maura Corrigan, director, Department of Human Services;
  • Duane Berger, chief deputy director, Department of Human Services;
  • Rick Keyes, vice president of Distribution, Meijer;
  • Mike Zelley, president, the Disability Network;
  • Jenny Piatt, vocational rehabilitation manager, Michigan Rehabilitation Services;
  • Jerry Marcinkoski, attorney, Lacy and Jones, LLP;
  • Tammy Jakus, administrative assistant for Charles Jones, Disability Determination Services;
  • Charles Jones, director, Disability Determination Services;
  • Terry Beurer, director, Field Operations Administration, Department of Human Services;
  • Suzanne Howell, director, Michigan Rehabilitation Services;
  • Deborah Wieber, director, Human Resources, Department of Human Services;
  • Denise Stork-Phillips, assistant Administrator to Director Corrigan;
  • Mark Meyer, acting director, Office of Legal Services & Policy, Department of Human Services;
  • Sandra Koppinger, departmental specialist, Department of Human Services.
  • Calley Green, Meijer;
  • Joe Longcor, Department of Community Health;
  • Bureau of Services for Blind Persons – reviewed and provided comments;
  • Advisory Council on Deaf and Hard of Hearing – reviewed and provided comments;
  • Michigan Department of Education – Special Education staff reviewed and provided comments;
  • Lt. Governor’s Office – reviewed and provided comments.