Friday, September 6, 2013

Take Action Now

ORA Members, We are asking you to take action!  We must make our voices heard

Senate Bill 1356 now in the US Senate has many provisions that are potentially damaging to the vocational rehabilitation program and job seekers who have significant disabilities.  This bill could come up for a vote in early September.  There is little time to act, So Act Now to send an email by logging on to each Oklahoma Senator’s web form on their websites.  Calling and faxing are also effective.  Attached are some quick and simple facts about S. 1356 and some examples of email letters.  Contact information for each OK Senator is also provided, as well as an email for the White House disability liaison.  They all need to hear from you and soon.

Attached is all the information you should need along with draft emails and phone messages that may assist you in your contacts.  If you have questions or need assistance, please feel free to contact me.  Please feel free share this information with other advocacy groups.  Thank you. 

Theresa Hamrick, Program Manager
Oklahoma Rehabilitation Council
3535 NW 58th St, Ste 500
Oklahoma City, OK  73112-4802
Phone: (405) 951-3579 or (800) 569-7974
Fax: (405) 951-3532


Quick Facts
About S. 1356, reauthorization of the Workforce and Rehabilitation Acts

·      S, 1356 breaks up programs under the Rehabilitation Act.
·      The bill takes Vocational Rehabilitation out of the U.S. Department of Education and puts it in the Labor Department under the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), a small agency that has no experience in providing rehabilitation services.
·      The Secretary of Labor would write the federal regulations for VR.
·      VR would be more closely aligned with the One-Stop employment programs for the general public.
·      VR would use the same performance measures and standards used for the other Workforce employment programs for the general public.  These standards could be adjusted state-by-state for populations with employment barriers.  However, new data collection and reporting systems would have to be built at unknown cost to VR agencies. 
·      The bill puts Independent Living programs into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is also put in HHS.  Both programs are placed in the Community Living division along with Aging and developmental disabilities programs.  A new Independent Living Administration would be created here to oversee IL centers and Part B grants.
·      Vocational Rehabilitation is de-emphasized throughout S. 1356.  The new VR federal program would be called Disability Employment, Services and Supports Administration.  Rehabilitation knowledge and experience would no longer be required of the VR Commissioner. Research through NIDRR would focus increasingly on independent living and less on rehabilitation.  VR counselor credentials are de-emphasized in VR agency personnel plans (CSPD) with agency personnel standards opened up to many employment and business-related fields.
·      The bill emphasized Transition services.  It makes states set aside 15% of their VR funds for Transition, with most going to services, not administration.  Services to youth could begin at age 14 and continue to age 24.  Each VR office would have to have a separate Local Transition Coordinator with support staff.  VR could provide a broad range of transition services to youth and students, with emphasis on career exploration, work experience, training and skills for community participation.
·      VR could pay for extended services in Supported Employment for 2 years, not just 18 months as currently.  VR could pay for 4 years of extended services for youth with significant disabilities.
·      The bill provides NO NEW FUNDING to pay for the expanded youth, supported employment and business relations activities it requires.
·      The bill requires more collaboration and cooperative agreements with other agencies such as developmental disabilities programs, Medicaid waiver programs, and education agencies.
·      Under an Order of Selection, VR agencies could serve individuals who only need equipment or limited services in order to keep from losing a job.
·      The bill promotes VR agency partnerships with employers to increase employment opportunities, respond employer needs, access in-demand occupations, provide work experience and internships, and establish stronger, enduring connections with the employer community.
Quick Messages
About S. 1356, reauthorization of the Workforce and Rehabilitation Acts

Senator Tom Coburn MD
202-224-5754; Fax:  202-224-6008

Senator James Inhofe
202-224-4721; Fax: 202-228-0380

Ms. Claudia Gordon
White House Public Engagement Advisor for the Disability Community

·      Do not move VR from a federal agency that has experience in Rehabilitation to a department that has no experience in Rehabilitation or track record of serving people with significant disabilities.
·      Do not dilute the qualifications for rehabilitation professionals.  The CSPD section in S. 1356  envisions a wide variety of VR agency staff  but de-emphasizes staff qualifications in Rehabilitation fields, instead opening up the field to staff with bachelor degrees and experience (e.g. business, economics, human resources) that is not related to the Rehabilitation field.
·      Do not apply generic Workforce employment program standards and performance measures to VR, which is a very different type of program serving a population with unique needs and barriers to employment.
·      Do not require VR to expand services to youth without providing added funding to pay for it.  If VR has to divert funds from serving adults with disabilities in order to pay for more staff and services for youth, job placement numbers may decline.
·      DO maintain the new focus on development of partnerships with business and employers.  This is the best part of the bill and has the most promise for improving VR results.


Dear Senator (name),

            I am an Oklahoman with a disability.  Despite obstacles, I have been able to work for a number of years due to assistance from our state’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. 

            I oppose S. 1356 because it transfers the VR program into the U.S. Department of Labor, which has no experience in running rehabilitation, training or employment programs that are appropriately specialized for individuals with varied disabilities.  So far, even after 15 years since the Workforce Investment Act was passed, Labor Department employment programs like the One-Stops have made few advances in addressing disability employment needs or obstacles.

            I believe it would be a serious mistake to transfer the VR system out of the Education Department and into Labor.  Please do all you can to take this transfer provision out of S. 1356.

            Thank you for listening.


Dear Senator (name).

As a rehabilitation counselor I work closely with individuals who have many types of disabilities.  I have come to understand the range of obstacles they face to employment, and the many kinds of special skills and services that are needed in order to remove those obstacles.  I am writing you now because S. 1356 contains a provision that would hurt rather help our efforts to equip people with disabilities for employment.

S. 1356 would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which contains the Rehabilitation Act.  This bill is focused on more consolidation and “alignment” of federally funded employment programs.  But in its current form, the bill actually tears disability programs apart, with the potential to make them all less effective.  It separates Rehabilitation, Special Education, Independent Living and Disability Research, putting them into different federal departments and severing the connections these disability-focus programs now have within the Department of Education. 

Please amend S. 1356 to keep the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Education, where its connection with Special Education is necessary to address the bill’s new mandates for increased rehabilitation services for youth transitioning through school and into the world of work.  Now is not the time to sever that connection in favor of an administrative experiment that has not been studied for possible results or vetted by the disability constituencies affected. 

Thanks for doing what you can to prevent S. 1356 from moving forward without more time to study it and without significant revision.


Dear Senator (name),

I am a current Vocational Rehabilitation client who is deeply concerned about the contents of S. 1356, the HELP Committee bill to renew the Workforce Act and Rehabilitation Act.  I strongly OPPOSE these parts of the bill:

1.    It takes the Rehabilitation program out of the Education Department which knows rehabilitation and puts it in the Department of Labor which has no experience in rehabilitation and a poor record of service to job seekers with severe disabilities.
2.    It applies the same performance standards to Rehab as to employment programs for the general public without disabilities.  This is nonsensical, and shows no understanding of the barriers to employment and complex needs of people with severe disabilities.
3.    It mandates expansion of Rehab services to youth without providing any added funding, which means less funding to help adults enter or re-enter the workforce.  The bill puts more demands on the Rehab system for serving students but does not require more of the Education system.

Please work to take these harmful provisions out of S. 1356.


Dear Senator (name),

I am a person with a disability who has used the Vocational Rehabilitation system with success in the past.  The VR program needs to be preserved and strengthened.  It has truly made a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans who have disabilities.  I have been a taxpayer for many years because of the employment assistance VR was able to provide me.

S. 1356 was recently passed by the HELP Committee to reauthorize the Workforce Act and Rehab Act.  I’ m sure this bill is well-intentioned, but it does contain many features that I think could hurt job seekers with severe disabilities.  These provisions now in S. 1356 could be harmful to individuals with disabilities and the taxpayers:

-       The bill takes the Rehabilitation program out of an experienced and knowledgeable agency and puts it into a department without any rehab background or knowledge (the Labor Department).  Please do not move the Rehabilitation program from its current place in the Education Department.
-       The bill requires more Rehabilitation agency service to youth and students but provides no money for it.  Instead, it diverts funds away from the broad population needing VR services in order to serve youth.  Serving teenagers is important, but not at the expense of rehabilitation that allows adults with severe disabilities to obtain or return to work.  Any mandate of more services to youth should be supported with new funding.
-       The bill would measure the success of Rehabilitation programs by the same standards used to measure employment programs for the general public.  This shows no understanding of what Rehabilitation is, what is does or why it is needed.  Generic employment and training programs are vastly different from the VR program which removes complex barriers to employment by providing specialized and individualized services.  Generic standards applied to the Rehab program will only pressure the system toward quick job placements in low level jobs.
-       The bill fails to recognize the proven value of specialized rehabilitation services in making employment and career advancement possible for many individuals who have very significant barriers to employment.  Rehabilitation expertise is de-emphasized in this bill.  I am very worried that this shows an intent to merge Rehabilitation into the generic Workforce system which has NEVER been effective for individuals with severe disabilities.

The employment rate for people with severe disabilities is low because of the extraordinary barriers they encounter to working.  These include negative employer attitudes, lack of transportation (a major barrier), disincentives in current benefit programs, the cost of assistive technology devices and training, inaccessible workplaces and the lack of needed job accommodations.  Vocational Rehabilitation addresses these barriers for individuals to the extent it can within funding limitations.  S. 1356 does promote VR and business interaction and this will be helpful as long as we keep Rehabilitation within the Education Department where there is established expertise in this field. 

Thank you for doing whatever you can to remove damaging provisions from S. 1356.  If the provisions noted above remain the bill, I urge you to oppose it.


Dear Senator (name),

Please do not move the Rehabilitation program for people with disabilities out of the Education Department and into the Labor Department.

As many people with disabilities (like myself) have experienced, the employment service programs for the general public through Labor are mostly ineffective in getting us jobs.  Many of the one-stop centers are not even accessible.  The staff may be pleasant but they are not knowledgeable about accessibility and their system is not set up to help us deal with the problems associated with having a disability and trying to work.  Moving Rehab to the Labor Department would be a bad deal for everyone.

Keep Voc-Rehab where the administration and staff know something about disabilities and what specialized services are needed to make employment happen when there are so many obstacles in the way.

S. 1356 moves Rehab to the Labor Department.  Please oppose it unless this part is taken out of the bill.

I am proud to have been working and paying taxes for many years thanks to the Rehab program.  This is a valuable program.  We need to keep it where it is, not move it to an agency that has already shown it is not prepared to help people with severe disabilities get good jobs.

Thanks for  doing what you can about this.


Dear Senator (name)

I am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and one of your constituents.  I work with individuals who have disabilities and significant barriers to employment.  This involves understanding the effects of many types of disabilities, and knowledge of the array of resources that could help the person prepare for and obtain employment.

Last year in Oklahoma the Vocational Rehabilitation program was able to put almost 3,000 people with disabilities to work – most of these people had significant disabilities.

You will soon be considering S. 1356, a bill to reauthorize the Workforce and Rehabilitation Acts.  As now written, S. 1356 contains some troubling provisions that could negatively affect the quality and availability of rehabilitation services for Oklahomans with disabilities.

Specifically, S. 1356 moves the Rehab program out of the Education Department, where it has been for decades, into the Labor Department.  I believe this is a bad move because ED is experiences in disability and rehabilitation, but the Labor Department actually has a record of generally poor accessibility in its one-stop programs, as well as a record of not even serving people who have severe disabilities such as blindness or deafness. 

S. 1356 also contains an unfunded mandate by requiring Rehabilitation to expand services to youth in school, serve them in the early teen years and for longer periods of time, but the bill provides no added funding for doing this.  Simply put, this means that VR agencies will have to take money away from helping adults with significant disabilities get jobs and become taxpayers, in order to pay for services to youth that will not be entering the job marker for years to come.  The Oklahoma VR agency currently serves thousands of teenagers with disabilities and we want to continue doing that, but Congress needs to fund it if it wants to require expansion in this area.

In short, I hope you will oppose this bill as it is now, or work to remove the damaging provisions from it.

My sincere thanks for your interest in Oklahomans with disabilities.

(Your name and address)