Wednesday, October 26

Job Programs for People With Disabilities Attacked by Senate Panel

Here's a follow up post to my earlier legislative message. This will provide more background on the Randolph-Shepperd program and why it should continue.

Job Programs for People With Disabilities Attacked by Senate Panel

Compiled by the DiversityInc staff © 2005® October 20, 2005

Blind vendors who win government contracts rarely share that success by
employing blind workers. Enormous salaries and lavish perks are being paid
to executives of nonprofit organizations that hire people with disabilities.

Those findings are from an investigation by the Senate Health Committee,
which looked into two work programs and said they inadequately serve
individuals they were designed to help. The findings are contained in a
15-page memorandum obtained by The Associated Press.

"In my opinion, they're performing dismally," committee Chairman Sen. Mike
Enzi, R-Wyo., said of the two federal programs.

The committee scheduled a hearing Thursday to discuss the findings by the
panel's staff, which spent about our months reviewing the Randolph-Sheppard
program for the blind and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day program for people with
physical or intellectual disabilities. The review began after backers of the
programs complained to lawmakers.

In the Randolph-Sheppard program, blind individuals operate snack shops and
cafeterias on government properties. Last year, about 2,500 blind
entrepreneurs participated. It generated $488.5 million in sales, and the
average vendor's earnings amounted to $39,880, government statistics show.

The committee's staff focused on the vendors with contracts to serve 38
military cafeterias, which hire the great majority of workers employed
through the program. Of the 7,122 employees, less than 9 percent had a

"This is cause for concern in a program designed to create jobs for persons
who are blind," the staff memo states.

But James Gashel, the National Federation of the Blind's executive director
for strategic initiatives, said the concern is misplaced.

"Blind people who have those businesses do employ blind and disabled
people," Gashel said. "Could they do better? Yeah." He said any corporation
could do better.

Gashel said the biggest problem is that the federal government barely does
more than "keep the lights on for it." He said it's almost a
$500-million-a-year business, and the federal government has only four
full-time workers for it.

Enzi said he was "shocked and appalled" by some of the salaries. He said the
nonprofits are supposed to take their profits and put them back into
improving the jobs programs.

"Instead, they're lining the pockets of their executive directors and CEOs,"
he said.

Still, it's the lack of incentives to move people into the mainstream that
has advocates for people with disabilities most concerned.

Robert Lawhead, executive director of a job-placement program in Boulder,
Colo., said he helps place about 200 of them annually into private-sector

"People don't want to be segregated because of a particular individual
characteristic," Lawhead said. "They want to be a part of the community."

Each year, only about 2,500 workers in the Javits-Wagner-O'Day program, or
about 6 percent, are "outplaced" to jobs where, for example, they might work
as greeters at Wal-Mart or grocery baggers at Safeway.

"Those sheltered workshops don't help people learn the skills they need to
move out into the community," said Lawhead, who will testify at Thursday's

The federal government designates two nonprofits to implement the jobs
program. They in essence broker agreements in which federal agencies agree
to buy goods and services from the nonprofits.

Tony Young, senior policy planner for one of those nonprofits, NISH-Creating
Employment Opportunities for People with Severe Disabilities, said it's
important to understand that people in the program have not been able to get
jobs in the private sector.

"This program is often the only way these folks with very significant
disabilities can get into the work force at all," he said, adding that it
focuses on trying to give workers the skills and confidence needed to work
on their own.

"One of the major factors - is that private employers are not willing to
hire people with severe disabilities into their work force," he said.

Young said the government agency that oversees the jobs program is preparing
to issue proposed rules on executive compensation. He cited a letter to
nonprofits, dated Aug. 15, that said the agency "must ensure that we are
both maintaining and strengthening our accountability and transparency to
Congress and to the American taxpayers." (AP)

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