Without emergency funding, a local organization that offers people with disabilities the skills to become employable and more independent will likely close its doors next month for its centers in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tunkhannock.
Officials at United Rehabilitation Services (URS) told local legislators its closing will mean not only the loss of about 110 jobs but also will wind up costing those who go through their programs that amount of missed job opportunities and more.
The organization serves more than 500 people from Luzerne, Wyoming and surrounding counties and is dedicated to offering training and employment programs such as school-to-work transitioning that will empower people with disabilities to “achieve maximum employability, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and complete community integration,” according to the agency’s website.
According to information from the URS website, the agency was formed in 1958 “as a result of the Wyoming Valley United Way’s Community Services Study Commission Report that recommended the establishment of a complete and far-reaching rehabilitation center for the Wyoming Valley to improve vocational opportunities and the quality of services for persons with disabilities.”
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, said she was dismayed to hear of the pending closure and sent letters to the governor, Department of Public Welfare and others on Monday. She also said she was reaching out to elected officials in the municipalities where URS offices are located to see what can be done.
“I am deeply upset for the employees of URS that found out this weekend that they may lose their jobs. This surprise news is especially disturbing and disruptive to these employees who have special needs and intellectual disabilities. I have alerted the Governor’s office to the situation and am requesting emergency funding and assistance for URS,” she said.
The clients are often part of work crews contracted by companies to handle tasks such as cleaning, food sales and other jobs. Companies contract with URS, which sends workers out to sites and pays them.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said that for many URS clients, the life skills and real work experience are vital to their daily routines.
“They get a sense of work and a few bucks,” Pashinski said, adding that he spoke with URS Executive Joseph Pierangeli and told him he would be contacting the state Department of Public Welfare and the House Appropriations Committee to see if additional funding can be allocated.
Pashinski said he was told a 35 percent budget cut two years ago took its toll, and when funding wasn’t restored in this current fiscal year’s budget, it only made matters worse. The annual funding loss is about $648,000. He said dipping into endowments and fundraising has been done, but the money is dwindling and without additional funds the centers will be forced to close.
A message left Monday with Pierangeli was not returned, and calls to the Wilkes-Barre center were sent to his voice mail.