Feet on the Street to Save Rehab

In recent months Department of Education (DOE) officials have signaled more and more clearly that the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) was in the crosshairs as they made plans to divert funding from rehabilitation to other DOE programs. Throughout the spring we have reported on initiatives being planned that will undermine whatever positive steps RSA has made in recent years. During the months since RSA Commissioner Joanne Wilson resigned in protest, the disability community has debated what actions it should take to bring this crisis to the notice of Congress and the public…Hundreds of people had arrived on Capitol Hill to talk with members of Congress and their staffs about the emergency. Here is one of the documents that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) members circulated:

Statement of Support for Vocational Rehabilitation: DON’T LEAVE BLIND ADULTS BEHIND

Background

The program known as “Vocational Rehabilitation,” authorized in Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as last amended in 1998, provide almost 80% of the funds used by states to pay for training and adjustment services provided to persons with disabilities. These services are essential for blind people and others with disabilities to achieve productive employment and self-support goals and are planned to meet individual needs. This is why vocational rehabilitation has enjoyed consistently strong bipartisan support in Congress throughout its eighty-five-year history.

The federal funds are paid to states through formula grants as long as certain requirements are met. Having a specific agency with full-time personnel dedicated to delivering vocational rehabilitation services is one of the most essential federal requirements, except states may have two such agencies if one of them is devoted to serving the blind. States receive technical assistance and monitoring through the (RSA), located in the U.S. Department of Education.

The Problem

Without announcing a plan to redesign the vocational rehabilitation program, the Bush administration has initiated several actions to reduce emphasis on specialized services for the blind and others with disabilities. These include:

• Seeking Congressional authorization for states to consolidate vocational rehabilitation with job training and employment programs for youth, dislocated workers, and other unemployed adults under a proposal known as the “Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Plus Consolidation;”

• Closing all of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) regional offices used to monitor and assist states with implementation of Rehabilitation Act programs;

• Reducing the RSA professional and support staff by approximately 50%, with a disproportionate impact on jobs held by disabled employees;

• Possible elimination of the RSA Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which supports nationwide implementation of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, provides essential guidance to states for specialized services to working-age blind adults, and coordinates independent living services for seniors losing sight; and,

• Changing the head of RSA from a presidentially-appointed position requiring Senate confirmation to a Department of Education staff position not appointed by the president and not subject to Senate confirmation.

Actions Requested

All members of Congress are urged to express a strong commitment to effective vocational rehabilitation programs by taking the following actions:

• Advise the chairmen and ranking minority members of the authorizing and appropriations committees that the administration’s vocational rehabilitation initiatives are unacceptable;

• Send or sign on to a letter access@testing.accesspress.org to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings supporting vocational rehabilitation as an identifiable, state-administered program with continued strong federal leadership.