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Virus job losses hit Michigan developmentally disabled hard

Unemployment benefits claims continue to skyrocket in Michigan
Posted at 12:39 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 13:21:48-04

DETROIT (AP) — People with developmental disabilities in Michigan have been struggling to get and keep jobs after losing them during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brent Mikulski, who heads Dearborn Heights-based Services To Enhance Potential, or STEP, said only 20 of the 200 people that the nonprofit placed in jobs last year were able to keep their jobs when businesses were forced to close because of the pandemic.

“We had businesses that were sincere in their interest in working to hire individuals. We were in the process of placing somebody there. They were forced to shut and lay off staff, shutter staff that used to be working. Our folks were part of that layoff,” Mikulski said.

Despite that, the nonprofit said it has been able to secure jobs for its clients at 14 different companies since March, The Detroit News reported.

“We’ve shifted what they’re interested in, qualified for,” Mikulski said. “It’s picking up. As businesses continue to look for staff I think we’re going to be in a good position to help those folks.”

Before the pandemic, 81% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were unemployed in Michigan, compared to 9% of individuals without disabilities, according to figures by Michigan Developmental Disabilities Network in 2014.

Laquita Parker, 46, is a STEP client who has been able to keep working during the pandemic. She was part of an internship program with StoneCrest Center in Detroit until she took a permanent job there as a dietary aid.

“I like the atmosphere,” Parker said. “I like the people there. I like the work that I do at StoneCrest.”

There are four other STEP clients working as dietary aides at StoneCrest.

“It’s working well with them,” said Bryan Henderson, food service director at StoneCrest. “There was a time when we lost a lot of people during COVID, and before that we were working shorthand. Our STEP people really were the backbone for us and kept us in the game.”

Peter Yezback, another STEP client, lost his job when the pandemic hit. The 65-year-old had a job collecting trash at Fox Run retirement community.

Yezback hopes to return to work. He said he feels good when he works and he likes to “keep my hands going.”