Letter to the Secretary of the Department of Labor regarding WIA reauthorization

November 21, 2003

Draft Letter to Department of Labor Secretary Regarding the
Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization

Dear Secretary Chao:

On behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), we would like to thank you for your efforts to increase access to the one-stop system for individuals with disabilities. Through your leadership, the Department of Labor has increased awareness of the many barriers individuals with disabilities face when trying to enter and remain in the workforce, and has taken significant steps to remove those barriers.

As you know, the WIA one-stops could provide jobseekers with disabilities with the training, skills, and supports necessary to meet the needs of local employers, and thus help maximize employment and training opportunities. The workforce development system, however, cannot assist individuals in achieving successful employment if individuals with disabilities cannot get through the door or cannot access needed supports and services once inside.

The Department of Labor's WIA Section 188 Disability Checklist is an important tool that can help one-stop operators, and their partners, provide meaningful employment and training services to many individuals with disabilities. The checklist, however, can only go as far as the Department is willing to use it to enforce compliance with current law requirements of nondiscrimination. It is incumbent upon the Department to make sure that entities who receive Federal funds comply with Federal law, and that the one-stop facilities, technology and services are accessible to all participants.

The pending WIA reauthorization is an excellent opportunity to ensure the one-stop system is accessible to people with disabilities both physically and programmatically, as Section 188 already requires, and presents greater opportunities to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce, as both you and President Bush have promoted. The Senate-passed reauthorization, S. 1627, takes significant steps towards increasing access to, and improving, employment and training services to individuals with disabilities.

Unfortunately, provisions such as those in the House-passed version of WIA, H.R. 1261, that require partners to contribute funds from already under-funded programs to a system that overwhelmingly fails to serve the partners' populations not only thwarts your goal to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, but could cause significant harm to individuals and families with members with disabilities.

For example, H.R. 1261 would give a governor the authority to take funds from programs for individuals with disabilities at both the local and state level, including programs relating to mental health, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, Medicaid, and independent living. These funds are already very limited and essentially provide individuals with disabilities with vital, life-sustaining services such as community living supports, direct care and personal assistance services, family supports, and transportation. How can individuals with significant disabilities get to work if they no longer have the supports necessary to help them get to work, such as personal support attendants or transportation? Further, these provisions do not assure that any of these program dollars will be used for services for individuals with disabilities.

"Both S. 1627 and H.R. 1261 include language that would give Governor‚s the authority to divert funds authorized for the public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program to assist individuals with disabilities, including individuals with significant and the most significant disabilities, to enter, re-enter, maintain and advance in employment. At this time, approximately fifty percent of the State VR agencies are operating under an Order of Selection due to insufficient funding. It is our understanding that the Administration and the Department of Labor support a .75 percent fixed cap (i.e., throughout the authorization period) on the contributions that the public VR program would be asked to contribute to support the infrastructure of the one-stop service delivery system. CCD asks that you be proactive in making this position known to the Conferees who will be selected to negotiate the differences in the House and Senate bill. However, we urge you to consider that this .75 percent fixed cap be totally inclusive of all of VR‚s contributions to support the one-stop delivery system."

In addition, H.R. 1261 would utilize cost effectiveness as a performance measure. As the General Accounting Office reported, and the Senate recognized, performance measures frequently drive the workforce system, and utilizing cost effectiveness as a performance measure would create significant disincentives for serving harder-to-serve populations. This measure would raise significant barriers to participation by individuals with disabilities, as many individuals with significant disabilities may require services that often cost more and may take longer to achieve employment.

Again, on behalf of CCD, we want to thank you for your hard work and efforts to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We look forward to your continued leadership in enforcing compliance with Section 188. We encourage you to support the Senate-passed reauthorization and opposing any provisions that siphon funds from programs that are vital to individuals and families with members with disabilities and that create disincentives to serving individuals with disabilities. We look forward to continuing to work with you and your staff. If there is anything we can do to assist you, please let us know.