Workforce bill provides new supports for people with disabilities

WIOA Act passes
WIOA Act passes

Congress sent a bipartisan bill to President Obama’s desk on June 9 that updates a variety of programs aimed at improving employment opportunities for young people with disabilities.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which updates a comprehensive 1998 law of the same name, requires states to take steps to reduce their reliance on separate employment centers for people with disabilities.

These centers, called “sheltered workshops” by critics, are allowed to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage, pursuant to Section 14(c) of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. In recent years, many disability advocates have pushed for an end to this subminimum wage exception, or for new requirements to ensure these facilities provide opportunities for people with disabilities to transfer into the regular workforce.

Under the bill, states would no longer be allowed to pay subminimum wages to people with disabilities prior to age 24, without first providing them assistance through their other vocational services programs, according to an article in Disability Scoop.

In addition, state vocational agencies would be required to work with schools to provide “pre-employment transition services” to all students with disabilities transitioning into the workforce.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to earn a competitive salary while contributing to their community, which is why we are thrilled with the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, in a news release. “The Arc applauds the bill’s focus on integrated, competitive employment for individuals with disabilities, and on essential transition services for youth with disabilities who need them to attain and hold a job.”

The bill passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 415-6, after passing the Senate by a vote 95-3 in June.

“Access to education, training, and employment services is critical to helping our workers secure good jobs, gain access to the middle class, and become economically self-sufficient, and this bill is part of the solution to the challenges facing our middle class,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of the bill’s key sponsors, in a news release. “This bill represents the best of what Congress can accomplish when we work together and I urge President Obama to sign it into law as soon as possible.”