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Senator Looks To Enhance Transition Services Nationwide


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A key U.S. senator is pushing for expanded on-the-job opportunities for youth with disabilities while they are still in school and he’s making the issue a top priority as Congress looks to tackle a major employment bill.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he is currently working to bring a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act up for consideration. As part of that process, Harkin said this week that he would like to see vocational rehabilitation agencies take a bigger role in facilitating internships and other real-world experiences for students with disabilities who are in transition.

Currently, access to vocational rehabilitation varies widely from state to state, with employment services available to young people with special needs in some locations, but not others. Harkin is looking to change that.

An aide for the senator told Disability Scoop that Harkin wants to require vocational rehabilitation agencies in each state to set aside at least 10 percent of their funding to provide “pre-employment transition services” for students with disabilities. This could mean offering everything from skills training to internships, summer jobs and apprenticeships as a complement to the transition services provided by schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“I am committed to raising employment rates for Americans with disabilities, and one of the most effective and lasting ways we can achieve that is to ensure that young people with disabilities have access to the summer jobs, internships and experiences in competitive employment that can be a springboard to a career,” Harkin said in a statement to Disability Scoop. “Improving services to young people with disabilities will be a central focus for me in the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.”

Staffers for Harkin, who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said early conversations with the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., suggest that there’s bipartisan support for the plan.

Harkin said he expects to have a bill ready for consideration by late summer or early fall.

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Comments (12 Responses)

  1. Lisa Woodcox says:

    my daughter has Asperger’s and is working our states Michigan Rehabilitation Services for job support. She is 18 but not out of high school yet because she lacks transition skills that are needed for her to live on her own or to be self reliant. Between our ISD and MRS they offer a summer work program usually most student’s receive 2 summer but not this year. My daughter was one that was cut from having that work experience so now she is with no job, no work experience and no social security check to assist her financially. Her Asperger’s hinders her from communicating effectively with individuals and she has no support from her MRS services.

  2. DEE says:

    Thank you Senator Harkin for being a champion for the those of us with Disabilities. Individuals with Targeted Disabilities (IWTD) find it extremely hard to find employment and even though there are hiring authorities out there like Schedule A for Federal Employment, Federal Agencies are not using the hiring authority to become a model employer. Look at one of your major Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has only 66 IWTD. ICE’s HSI with it’s 15,000 plus employees only has 11 IWTD and all those self identified, they did not have to provide proof that they were actually a IWTD. So, if the Federal government is not going to required these Agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement to higher qualified IWTD how can we expect the private businesses in this country to do so? If Agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement would hire IWTD and let the public have positive experiences with these individuals, it would help to breakdown those employment barriers in private business employment. Senator Harkin HELP TEAR DOWN THESE BARRIERS IN FEDERAL AGENCIES!

  3. Anne Leake says:

    This sounds great on paper but what are the real ramifications across the board. Why can they not work with Volunteer Managers at all non profits across the country to have additional volunteers for those who are unable to find vocational rehab for regular jobs. I have worked with Call a teen here in Arizona and place sever disabled youth within the health care organization. The students, staff and skilled nursing home patients enjoyed the youths energy, and understanding for the older adults.
    Anne Leake

  4. Lori Thomas says:

    They need to provide more services once they turn 21.My oldest graduated. With no services available to help with him. I can’t work. I’m also in counseling and can not even continue with that.

  5. jakki says:

    This is a great idea and I’m hopeful it was go through. My daughter is 25, watches tv and does NOTHING with her life. Transition services and Spec Ed failed her miserably. I hope better things for future students.

  6. Laurie says:

    I am so glad Senator Harkin is making this a part of the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. My daughter is almost 14 and it would help so much to have summer job, apprenticeship or internship opportunities available when she is ready for them in the very near future. Senator Harkin represents individuals with disabilities and their families so well. I hate that he is leaving the Senate when his term is up as he is one of the few that is always thinking of this population and how laws will help or hurt them. Who will take the cause of individuals with disabilities and their families when he leaves? I hope Senator Alexander supports the plan.

  7. JR says:

    Lovely notion, but please make sure you include people who have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The forgotten “non compliant” disabled suffering from this pre natal birth injury (from their mother’s drinking during pregnancy) often have prison as their only “choice of care.” My adopted son spent over 7 months in jail even though he functions like a seven year old. (Broke in to someone’s house to play video games). But no one cares….prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, doctors, psychologists, politicians, foundations, celebrities…Anyway, you get it. He did a private apprenticeship that offered a GED, which then made him ineligible for all subsequent (public) career services (he was eventually fired from apprenticeship). Look forward to the day when ALL disabled are properly cared for. The streets and jails are filled with these unidentified disabled.

  8. Dr. Evil Bat says:

    This is a tremendously worthwhile bill. The employment statistics for young adults with disabilities are staggeringly bad, and anything done to improve the situation benefits far more than the individuals involved and their immediate families.

  9. Bill Maass says:

    I applaud his actions. He is however going to have to include some money along with it. I am one of many WIA personnel that after 20 years of giving everything I could to CETA, JTPA, and WIA, was out on the streets unemployed due to budget cuts. They barely have enough funds left to justify having an office open because of continual cuts. I’m the one that was responsible for handling over 20,000 people on unemployment for one county, many of them Caterpillar layoffs and I was given enough money to put 51 of them in training – mostly nursing and pipe welding and factory equipment maintenance. I would have had only enough for about 20 or so if we hadn’t gotten the big extra one time chunk from the stimulus package. You have to have enough in that Act Mr. Harkin, to take care of their fathers and mothers and put them back to work first and then we can take care of the children. WIA is probably the most accountable program out there. Training can only be done in high growth/employment skilled occupations. No wasting of federal money on art school, sociology, poli-sci, etc. Only those jobs that are in demand in the local hiring area. The best return on investment of any government program I know of. It already has bridge programs in it for the disabled students in Tazewell County Illinois and I’m sure many other counties as well. It gives Veterans preference in training so that helps with all the return VETS. Just put some money in the program so it can do its job please!

  10. marie camp says:

    My son was very fortunate to have this service in high school and when he graduated he had the job waiting for him. I highly praise this Senator for doing this, it gives the person with a disability have a productive full life. People with disablities have the desire and the willingness to work. Starting them in high school is a wonderful idea, best of luck Senator.

  11. Stephanie says:

    We at College Living Experience are in support of Sen. Tom Harkin’s push to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. As a post-secondary support program, we see the difficulties that many individuals with disabilities face as they transition from high-school into an educational or career setting.

  12. Jeff McNair says:

    This is great news. It seems we have actually moved backward on employment of persons with disabilities. Integrated employment figures have actually gone down in recent years. Integrated employment opens the door to a wide variety of opportunities for people beyond just employment, not the least of which are community integration and the potential for the development of friendships.

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