Feds Urged To Give Disability Employment Rules A Second Look
Republican lawmakers are pushing the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider regulations that transformed the transition from school to work for people with disabilities.
In a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last month, eight GOP members of Congress said that rules established during the Obama administration should be revisited. The regulations clarify how the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act should be implemented.
Under the 2014 law, individuals with disabilities ages 24 and younger are required to pursue competitive integrated employment before working at jobs paying less than minimum wage. Individuals with disabilities already working for what’s known as subminimum wage can continue to do so, but must receive regular career counseling and information about training opportunities.
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Last year, the Education Department said it planned to “amend” the regulations. Most recently, a fall agenda indicated that the agency would issue a notice of proposed rulemaking in January, but that never materialized.
Now, the House lawmakers are urging DeVos to move forward citing “ongoing problems with the implementation of some aspects of the law.” In their correspondence, they say that the Obama administration used “imprecise criteria” to define what qualifies as “integrated settings” which has led some state vocational rehabilitation agencies to stop referring people with disabilities to certain employers rather than making case-by-case determinations.
The issue is particularly affecting employers operating through the federal AbilityOne Program which provides employment opportunities for those who are blind or have significant disabilities, typically in segregated settings.
“We have heard from employers from across the country that nearly 20 state VR agencies have partially or completely stopped referring individuals with disabilities to AbilityOne and State Use employment,” the letter to DeVos states. “Unfortunately, the blanket denials of referrals to AbilityOne and State Use jobs deprive people with significant disabilities from being referred to valuable employment opportunities in a wide variety of settings, including in federal and state government buildings.”
The correspondence to DeVos is signed by Reps. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Tim Walberg, R-Mich., Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., and Susan Brooks, R-Ind.
The lawmakers say that the Education Department should rescind its current guidance and issue new rules telling state vocational rehabilitation agencies to conduct case-by-case reviews for AbilityOne jobs to determine whether they should be seen as competitive integrated employment under the workforce law.
The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment about the status of the regulations, but in January told Disability Scoop that the agency’s work on the issue is ongoing.
An Education Department spokesman said the agency “continues to receive input on the department’s regulations and guidance” and is in the process of responding to the lawmakers’ correspondence.
(Updated: May 2, 2019 at 10:40 a.m. ET)