Major job training bill advancing in Congress
Posted on June 27th, 2014 by Maynard
Once a month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) comes calling with news on the employment picture for people with disabilities. The news is never great. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is always in the double digits and – like during the last report (May 2014) – is more than double the national average. These monthly reports are wakeup calls, for sure, yet these alarming calls mostly go unanswered. Until now… I’m happy to report.
Congress is on the verge of finalizing legislation to help address the employment struggles faced by individuals with disabilities. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate reached agreement on a bill – known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act or WIOA – to update America’s workforce development and job training system, including the programs that help people with disabilities develop relevant skills and find jobs in their communities. The U.S. Senate took the first step toward enacting this legislation by overwhelmingly approving WIOA on June 25. The bill next moves to the U.S. House of Representatives where leaders have expressed confidence that the House will promptly act on the legislation to send it to the President, who announced he plans to sign the bill into law.
The timing on final approval of this historic legislation could not be more perfect.
Currently, only two in ten individuals with disabilities are in the workforce (compared to nearly 7 in 10 individuals without disabilities) despite the fact that about 80 percent of working-age people with disabilities want to work. Earlier, I wrote about recent efforts to boost hiring demand for people with disabilities, including hiring goals for federal contractors. In addition, the retirement of scores of Baby Boomers over the next decade creates new demand for qualified individuals in the U.S. workforce. Jobseekers with disabilities can help meet the hiring demand as long as they are equipped with relevant work skills needed by those employers.
That’s where this legislation comes in.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act addresses the supply side by helping to ensure individuals with disabilities, particularly youth with disabilities who are transitioning out of high school, have early access to employment services and supports focused on acquiring marketable skills needed for jobs of today and tomorrow. In addition, the bill sets high expectations, focuses on improving employment outcomes and promotes long-term employment success through customized employment, supported employment, assistive technology and other employment strategies.
Easter Seals supports the bill and has been very active throughout the legislative process. In fact just one day before the U.S. Senate action, 200 Easter Seals advocates from across the country met on Capitol Hill to push for passage of WIOA. In addition, Easter Seals online activists sent over 2,500 emails to their Members of Congress in support of employment services for people with disabilities. We have been so focused on passage of this bill because our hope is that after it becomes law and is fully implemented the Bureau of Labor Statistics will come calling again… but this time with good news about increased hiring and improved employment picture of people with disabilities. That’s what this is all about. And while it may not happen overnight, we think this bill is the start of something big in terms of employment for people with disabilities.