By Fausto Giovanny Pinto
PROVIDENCE (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department and Rhode Island on Tuesday agreed that federal officials will ensure that developmentally disabled residents of the New England state have the opportunity to work at real jobs where they earn at least minimum wage.
The deal, which federal officials said was the first of its kind in the nation, will help roughly 2,700 residents of the state who have intellectual and developmental disabilities to progress out of sheltered state-run workshops, where they earned as little as $0.50 per hour performing menial labor such as packaging jewelry and sorting buttons.
A federal review conducted over the past year found that few people who entered workshop jobs moved on, with nearly half remaining in the same position for at least a decade. Under the settlement terms, Rhode Island will fund a program to move some workshop employees into regular jobs in the state that pay minimum wage and provide services to help them transition into private-sector employment.
"Today's agreement will make Rhode Island a national leader in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at competitive pay," said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.
About 450,000 people with developmental disabilities nationwide work in segregated sheltered workshops or segregated day programs, federal officials said.
Tuesday's settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, follows an investigation begun in January 2013 on whether Rhode Island's workshop program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Governor Lincoln Chafee said the deal would help disabled residents of the state improve their quality of life.
"Today Rhode Island commits to life service, not lip service," Chafee said.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)