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.

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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.