Shared by Nicky Gacos: ALERT — CALL YOUR SENATORS NOW ABOUT S. 1356, VR AND WIA REAUTHORIZATION BILL
The contact information for both Senators is at the end of this email. I appreciate you taking the time to contact them with your thoughts.
Date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013
For those of you who read on the run, please take a few minutes to read one of the most important ALERTS that you will receive from the National Rehabilitation Association.
Let me begin by thanking you for your continued advocacy on behalf of all Americans with disABILITIES. Your advocacy has made and continues to make a positive difference in the lives of Americans with disABILITIES.
This Washington Wire Alert is being sent to you to ask you to contact your respective U.S. Senators regarding S. 1356, the Senate bill which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the programs authorized Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. These programs are also referred to as the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Programs.
Among many other concerns, S. 1356 would move the Rehabilitation Services Administration, which administers the VR Program, from the U.S. Department of Education, where it presently resides, to the U.S. Department of Labor. The National Rehabilitation Association is on record for many years as opposing such a move and remains so now.
Another great concern to the National Rehabilitation Association with S. 1356 is this bill would dilute the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) — credentials that are essential to the qualifications of uniquely qualified rehabilitation counselors and associated rehabilitation professionals.
Over the years, the programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, have faced serious challenges, including an all-out attempt by the U.S. House of Representatives to block grant the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program in the mid-90s. In that bill — H.R. 1617, NOT a bipartisan bill — we knew what we were dealing with, which when it reached the House Floor for a vote did not ultimately have enough votes to pass. It was defeated because of your advocacy and many others in the disABILITY community.
But, this time, we are facing a much more insidious challenge to the very livelihood and existence of the Public VR Program and to the millions of eligible Americans with disABILITIES, including our wounded warriors, whom the successful VR program serves. This time, we are encountering changes to the Rehabilitation Act in S. 1356 that would change the very nature and need for individualized services and supports by qualified rehabilitation counselors to those with the most significant disabilities, all under the cloak of inclusion.
MAKING THE CASE
Ask yourself this question: What distinguishes the Public VR Program from the rest of the Federal job training and placement programs? In this Washington Wire, we will focus on two of the most important distinctions of the VR Program from the generic job training programs.
First, the Public VR Program is housed in the U.S. Department of Education, where it rightfully resides, where it keeps the continuum of individualized services and supports by qualified rehabilitation counselors that students and other young adults desire and deserve. The Congressional and Community architects of the Rehabilitation Act fully appreciated the importance of an education and the role education plays in the lives of Americans with and without disABILITIES.
Second, the Public VR Program employs both public and private uniquely qualified rehabilitation counselors and associated qualified personnel whose education and experience have embodied those disciplines critical to the rehabilitation field.
Qualified VR counselors and associated qualified professionals, as we have said, provide individualized supports and services to eligible students, other young adults and adults with disABILITIES and have done so for almost a century.
But, this time, we are facing what I believe to be a bill, which enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate, that has the potential to do harm to Americans with disabilities who want what the National Rehabilitation Association calls the “The Three Cs of Success: College, Careers, and Community Living.
This well-intentioned, but misguided measure, is S. 1356, which was introduced on July 24, 2013, by Senators Tom Harkin (D.IA.), the Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R.TN.), the Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D.WA.) and Johnny Isakson (R.GA.). This bill would, as we have said, reauthorize the programs under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) as well as the programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act.
These Senators are good people and have been supportive of legislation that enhances the lives of children and adults with disABILITIES. And, that is why we are so concerned about S. 1356. Why would these Senators and so many others support a bill that will have the unintended consequence of hurting not only the VR Program but the millions of Americans that benefit from the VR Program?
- 1356, would remove the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) (which administers the VR Program) from the U.S. Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Labor where the generic Federal job training and placement programs are housed. The model employed by the U.S. Department of Labor is a group model, a one-size-fits-all model, and focuses on any job that is available at the local level.
The VR Program, on the other hand, provides a set of individualized services and supports by qualified rehabilitation counselors and other qualified rehabilitation professionals who are well schooled in the needs of Americans with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities.
- 1356, would also dilute a hallmark of the VR Program, the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) (credentials), for qualified rehabilitation counselors and other qualified personnel in the VR Program.
By making these changes to the Rehabilitation Act in the bill, the Senate HELP Committee would eliminate two of the major distinctions between the VR Program and the U.S. Department of Labor’s “generic” job training programs all under the cloak of inclusion.
What happens next?
LOSS OF IDENTITY
As Congressman Dale Kildee (D.MI.), a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee said during deliberations on the attempt to block grant VR, which occurred during deliberations in the early 90s on H.R. 1617:
‘ONCE YOUR LOSE YOUR IDENTITY,
YOU LOSE YOUR ADVOCACY,
AND THEN YOU LOSE YOUR DOLLARS.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Then, there is the still-struggling, sluggish economy. Yes, it is getting better, but very, very slowly.
The Congress is looking to save money whenever and wherever it can which is evidenced by the millions of dollars in budget cuts to the Workforce Investment Act since its inception in 1998. While we appreciate the Congress wanting to save money, as we all do, that focus should be more properly targeted to fraud, waste and abuse in programs, not making disastrous funding cuts in job training programs.
With these millions of dollars gone from WIA (and many more to come) for infrastructure and administrative costs, who is going to pay for these critical expenses?
As your Director of Government Affairs, an 18-year veteran of Capitol Hill and as a parent, I believe, over time, that if the VR Program is moved to the U.S. Department of Labor, if the Congress succeeds in diluting the credentials of uniquely qualified VR counselors and associated qualified VR personnel, that the VR program will lose its dedicated funding which will be blended into the generic job training funding stream and all that so many of you and your predecessors have worked for all these years will be lost forever. And, as we all know, once you lose funding in Washington, you do not get it back.
THIS IS NOT AN OVERSTATEMENT. I BELIEVE, OVER TIME, VR’S FUNDING WILL BE BLENDED INTO GENERIC JOB TRAINING FUNDING AND THERE GOES THE EDUCATION, THERE GOES INFORMED CHOICE, THERE GOES YEARS OF ADVOCACY FOR A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.
When you ask people on Capitol Hill why they are recommending the move to the U.S. Department of Labor they try to assuage you by saying: Nothing is going to change. Well, if nothing is going to change, why move RSA at all?
The fact is Capitol Hill has not made its case for moving the VR Program over to the U.S. Department of Labor, nor have they made their case for diluting the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD). Americans with disabilities, especially those who have made serious sacrifices to keep us safe, deserve more.
Because I believe the very existence of the VR Program is at stake here, I ask you again to call your RESPECTIVE Senators who are now back in their States enjoying the holiday season. You may also want to contact Members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee which drafted S. 1356.
As we have said on so many occasions at NRA’s Government Affairs Summit and elsewhere, when contacting your Senators, please always be respectful but resolute. And, please do not use acronyms unless you clearly qualify those acronyms.
Do not, under any circumstances, mail letters to your Senators, but rather call, fax or email your Senators and follow up with them to make sure they received the fax and email.
Please identify yourself as a constituent, assuming you are a constituent and please make sure you identify yourself as being on the front lines of service to eligible Americans with disABILITIES.
When contacting or visiting your respective Senators (or their staff responsible for job training and disability programs), please be punctual, be prepared (a one-page of bulleted points is always helpful and will be read), and please be patient. Members of Congress (in this case, Senators and their staff) are not always on time for appointments due to other responsibilities, so, again, be patient.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Here are some suggested talking points you may wish to share with your respective U.S. Senators and those Senators who sit on the Senate HELP Committee.
Why would Senators want to move the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the U.S. Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP), which has never administered a service delivery system like VR? ODEP is a grants-giving entity with no prior experience in running and administering a successful job training and placement program like the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
Why would Senators want to downgrade credentials for qualified VR counselors and other qualified professionals in the VR field, which will ultimately hurt Americans with disabilities, including veterans, whom the VR program serves, as well as many others?
Why would Senators want to move the very successful VR Program over to the U.S. Department of Labor when the U.S. Department of Labor has not made the one-stop career centers fully accessible to all Americans with disabilities?
Why would Senators want to move the VR program which provides critical services and supports to eligible children and young adults with disABILITIES (among others) to the U.S. Department of Labor when a major focus on the Senate bill is to enhance transition outcomes for eligible young adults from school to post-secondary education to careers? That simply does not make sense.
Remind your Senators of the most recent data on return on investment that we have on the VR Program.
A portion of VR consumers are Social Security disability beneficiaries with significant disabilities. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), for every dollar VR invests in an eligible American with a disability, $7 is returned to the Social Security Trust Fund allowing Americans with disABILITIES to become taxpaying citizens of our great country. These former SSA beneficiaries will generate $828 million in savings to the Social Security Trust Fund and the Federal Treasury.
Remind your Senators that the VR Program embodies the ABCs of Vocational Rehabilitation: It is Accountable, Bipartisan, Comprehensive and Cost-Effective and has the supporting documentation to substantiate that claim.
Remind your Senators of the inextricable link between education and successful careers. Given this reality, why would anyone want to move the VR Program out of the U.S. Department of Education over the the U.S. Department of Labor?
Tell your Senators not to leave Americans with disABILITIES behind and support continued proven credentials for qualified rehabilitation counselors which are embodied in the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD).
Your Senators are on holiday break until January 7, at which time they return to Washington, D.C. If you are unable to reach your respective Senators over the holiday break, please try to get in touch with them or their staff once the holidays are over.
This is a critical time for the VR Program and we need all of you to advocate and educate your Senators once again on the successes of the VR Program, the importance of maintaining the VR Program in the U.S. Department of Education and the importance of maintaining uniquely qualified rehabilitation counselors and associated rehabilitation personnel to the very highest credentialing standards.
When you contact your respective U.S. Senators, you may be advised that nothing is going to change that everything will be all right and some of you may even experience push back from your Senators or their staff. Be prepared for that because this is a bipartisan bill that has support from both sides of the aisle.
You should also be alerted to the fact that S. 1356 could be attached to a must-pass bill, like restoration of unemployment benefits for those who cannot find work, or possibly to a bill to raise the minimum wage, or other bills which may come before the Senate in January. Please know we are monitoring this issue very closely and will keep you advised.
WHAT PRICE INCLUSION?
All of you must act now. There is no time to lose. Why should citizens with disABILITIES settle for less than they already have? Why should our heroes at home be deprived of the individualized services and supports that they have earned and deserve? Why should anyone settle for a dismantling of the integrity of the VR Program, including its dedicated funding, over time all in the name of “inclusion”?
JUST SAY NO. THAT IS MUCH TOO HIGH A PRICE TO PAY. ACT NOW.
We want to take this opportunity once again to thank you for your continued advocacy and support of and with all Americans with disABILITIES, including our heroes at home.
Happy New Year.
LEAD ON, VR, LEAD ON.
Interim Executive Director
Director of Governmental Affairs and Public Policy
National Rehabilitation Association
Contact information for:
Senator Tom Carper – Brad Simon and Larry Windley
Senator Chris Coons – Jim Paoli