Bipartisan WIA Reauthorization Bill Will Improve Opportunities for People with Disabilities

From the National Disability Institute. View the original press release here.

On May 21, 2014, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), announced an agreement had been reached to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, a law that had sunset in 2003.

Now, 11 years later, this legislative compromise will make critically-needed investments in our nation’s employment services, workforce development, vocational rehabilitation and adult education programs.

Disabled Senior Enjoying GardenAmong the legislation’s provisions is language prioritizing competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. In addition, the amendment places strong emphasis on ensuring young people with disabilities have the necessary skills and training to make a successful transition to enhanced employment opportunities. Further, the bill applies a uniform set of accountability metrics for every federal workforce program and requires states to produce a strategic plan describing how they will provide services in a comprehensive manner; thereby providing more people with disabilities greater, more competitive employment opportunities outside of sheltered workshops.

National Disability Institute (NDI) supports the continuous improvement of American Job Centers (AJCs – formerly known as One-Stop Career Centers) and the required assessment of their physical and programmatic accessibility for job seekers with disabilities. All states will be required to develop a strategic comprehensive plan every four years that describes their overall strategy to help meet the need for skilled workers in emerging growth areas for business and industry. The focus will be on careers and career pathways for youth and working age adults with and without disabilities.

State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies will be required to set aside 15 percent of federal program funds to help young people transition from secondary school to postsecondary education programs and employment.

In order to better align the Independent Living program that serves individuals with significant disabilities living in the community with other similar efforts, the amendments transition the administration of the Independent Living program from the Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. The transition moves the program to an agency with a lifespan and community focus and will better allow the program to fulfill its goal to support “independent living…and the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society.”

“This bipartisan agreement is a great step in the right direction,” said NDI Executive Director Michael Morris . “We at NDI are hopeful this legislation will be acted on swiftly by both Chambers of Congress, and we will continue to do everything in our power to see that that comes to fruition.”

Formally known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act , the legislative text will be tacked on as an amendment, in the nature of a substitute, to a similarly related House bill: the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803). Although it has not yet come to the Senate Floor for a vote, it is expected to be considered in the coming weeks by both the House of Representatives and Senate.

 


NDI

The National Disability Institute was launched in 2005 by a small group of parents, family members and individuals with disabilities along with leading thinkers and practitioners in the disability and asset building community. NDI has proven experience in creative problem-solving and a focus on solutions that produce tangible impact for individuals, families, communities, states, and government.

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