The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) has been working to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and its contained Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in Congress for almost a decade. Four Senators on the HELP Committee have drafted bipartisan legislation to reauthorize WIA and the Rehabilitation Act to increase employment opportunities and improve the lives of people with disabilities. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have worked diligently to create legislation which addresses issues that have concerned NCIL and disability advocates for years; we must all work together to get this bill passed. There are a number of provisions worth noting:
- The Independent Living Administration (ILA) would be created as a new organization within the Department of Education, completely separate and independent of RSA. The ILA Director would report directly to the Secretary of Education.
- CILs would now be allowed to carryover Part C funds not spent during the first year into a second year.
- Addition of a 5th Core Service for CILs to transition people with disabilities from nursing homes and other institutions to home and community-based residences.
- Clarification of the Role of SILC: Because of RSA’s interpretations of the Rehabilitation Act, several clarifications regarding SILC activities are included in the bill - providing advice and assistance to the designated state unit (DSU), facilitating the improvement and coordination of services, resource development activities, and carrying out systems advocacy functions.
- Funding Formula Change: Part C dollars would be allowed to be shared among all states and territories, states with the largest populations would receive more funding proportionally.
- The new WIA draft requires that people with disabilities serve as members of the state Workforce Investment Board (WIBs).
- The language in this bill requires that WIA One-Stop Centers be physically and programmatically accessible, regardless of disability.
- The bipartisan staff discussion draft of WIA includes numerous provisions making clear that the mission of vocational rehabilitation is competitive integrated employment.
- This reauthorization makes it a priority for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs to provide more services to transition-age youth both while they are in school and as they are leaving school. These services would be provided in a manner that will help young people with disabilities prepare for, experience and succeed in competitive, integrated employment. (Sec. 7(30); Sec. 114)
- This emphasis on transition of youth with disabilities from school to competitive, integrated employment includes a strong focus on youth with the most significant disabilities. (Sec. 7(30), Sec. 7(37), Sec. 7(42), Sec. 101, Sec. 114, Sec. 303(c))
- The bill includes a new definition of pre-employment transition services, and calls out specific services like assistance with internships, summer jobs, part-time jobs, counseling, interviewing skills, and job skills. (Sec. 7(30))
- In order to encourage greater success in youth being prepared for competitive integrated employment, the staff discussion draft requires greater coordination between local education agencies and the state VR system beginning at age 16, or earlier. (Sec. 7(30), Sec. 7(37))
- The staff discussion draft includes a definition of competitive, integrated employment for the first time, requires state VR programs to allocate at least 10 percent of their VR budget to serving transition-age youth, and creates a presumption that ALL VR clients, including those with the most significant disabilities, can achieve competitive, integrated employment. (Sec. 110(d); Sec. 102)
- The staff discussion draft requires, for the first time, that half of the funding for the provision of supported employment services be used for youth with the most significant disabilities; the draft defines supported employment as competitive integrated employment, individualized and customized consistent with the strengths, abilities, and interests of individuals with the most significant disabilities. (Sec. 621-628, Sec. 7(38))
- The staff discussion draft authorizes a national transition initiative for youth with the most significant disabilities, to promote the effective transition of youth from school to competitive integrated employment, with a particular focus on youth with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, or mental illness. (Sec. 303(c))
- Section 511 of the staff discussion draft is designed to address the current problem of special education students, primarily students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, being tracked from school to segregated employment where they can be paid less than minimum wage pursuant to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- In order to address this problem, Section 511 requires youth with disabilities, upon leaving school, to apply for services from VR and make a reasonable effort at competitive, integrated employment before they are eligible to work in a 14(c) sheltered workshop.
- The bill has other provisions that create a task force to study the whole issue of segregated employment and section 14(c) and instructs that task force to come back to Congress and the Administration with recommendations for improving competitive, integrated employment outcomes for people with disabilities moving forward. (Sec. 802)
NCIL is asking our members and advocates in the disability community to call Senators on the HELP Committee where this bill originates, and urge them to support the reauthorization of WIA and the Rehabilitation Act with all of this productive draft language included. This legislation would move us beyond the unacceptable status quo, and create a platform to push for even greater progress in the future. Here is a list of HELP Committee members::
Democrats by Rank
Republicans by Rank
If you have any questions regarding the reauthorization of WIA and the Rehabilitation Act, contact NCIL Policy Analyst Austin Walker at email@example.com. You can also contact NCIL at (202) 207-0334 or toll-free at 1 (877) 525-3400).