By Jan Pudlow
When Dorohn Frazier begins his day as a public information coordinator for The Florida Bar, he’s thankful not only for his first paying job that accommodates his disability, he’s grateful to five state attorneys who make it all possible.
State attorneys in the Fourth, 11th, 13th, 15th, and 17th judicial circuits all participate in the Tax Collection Enforcement Diversion Program that collects unremitted sales tax from delinquent business owners.
Half of what those state attorneys collect goes to the James Patrick Memorial Work Incentive Personal Attendant Services Program, and the other half goes into the state’s general revenue fund.
Some of those dollars pay for Frazier’s personal attendant who helps transfer him out of bed, bathe and dress him, get him in and out of his power wheelchair, and get him out the door and on his way to his Bar office in Tallahassee, where he has worked since April 2008.
Without those dollars, Frazier couldn’t work, because he could never afford to pay out of pocket for personal care attendant expenses that range from $500 to $2,000 a month.
“As a professional in the early stages of my working career, the cost of receiving adequate and reliable attendant care assistance is very expensive and difficult, yet very vital,” said 36-year-old Frazier, who became disabled from an accident when he was 18, during his first year in college.
“Working full-time with quadriplegia and trying to pay rent, bills, bus fare, and attendant care totally by myself would be virtually impossible. I think this program is really beneficial to young professionals with disabilities, who are hardworking and desire to be productive in the workplace. The program reduces the size of a large barrier and gives us hope that we can achieve meaningful employment and improve the quality of our lives, just like anyone else.”
Frazier, who has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance, and a master’s in business administration from Florida State University, wasn’t about to just sit home and collect Social Security disability benefits.
He thrives on putting his brain to good use as he coordinates the annual pro bono awards ceremony and reporters’ workshop, as well as keeping the Bar’s disability and diversity website current, and helping with disciplinary reports news
His desk is raised to accommodate his power wheelchair. He uses voice-activated computer software, and wears a writing brace on his hand and a headset to talk on the phone.
That first paycheck “felt great, tremendous,” Frazier recalls with a broad grin. “My hard work is paying off. I can be an independent young man, not sitting around waiting for a handout from the government.”
At the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living that administers this work incentive program, Program Manager Cyndi Mundell describes Frazier as “very positive, with a beautiful personality. He is the type of person that has goals in life and will do what it takes to achieve them regardless of the roadblocks.”
FACIL’s Executive Director Martina Schmid can’t say enough to thank the state attorneys who help people with disabilities reach their goals.
“The state attorneys, they are the sun, the moon, the beginning, and the end. If we didn’t have them, we don’t have anything,” Schmid said.
“They do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Those state attorneys who participate run very good, civic-minded, and community-based offices. And it all started with Harry Shorstein in Jacksonville.”
When Shorstein was the Fourth Circuit state attorney, he had an employee, Jimmy Patrick, who as a baby was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a tumor wrapped around his spinal cord. After many surgeries and treatments, relearning to walk three times, and then learning to use a wheelchair when his muscles atrophied, Patrick graduated from the University of North Florida in 1981 and began his long career at the state attorney’s office. Eventually, he headed the Restitution Enforcement Program and became passionate about the Tax Collection Enforcement Diversion Program because he believed it was wrong for millions of dollars of state sales tax to go uncollected. He convinced his longtime friend, Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, to develop legislation that would allow the state attorneys’ offices to go after those uncollected tax dollars and fund the Personal Care Attendant Program. At first, the program was limited to persons with quadriplegia as a result of spinal cord injuries, but it has been expanded to other persons with severe and chronic disabilities who want to work.
As Schmid explains, usually it’s the Department of Revenue’s responsibility to collect delinquent sales tax, but the agency doesn’t have the “threat level” of a prosecutor. The participating state attorneys put delinquent business owners on a diversion program that allows them to pay what they owe in manageable monthly payments. If they don’t pay, they are prosecuted.
“We were excited when we were asked to participate in the pilot tax diversion program in 2003,” said 13th Circuit State Attorney Mark Ober, in Hillsborough County.
“That excitement has grown each year, knowing that our tax revenue collection successes provide needed support for the Personal Care Attendant programs that help people with disabilities lead productive and meaningful lives.”