The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program provides employment and support services to people with disabilities. In 1998 when Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), it linked the VR program to the mainstream job training programs to create a one-stop job training and employment system. Seen as having achieved mixed results, this year Congress is likely to reauthorize the nation’s job training program through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). One part of the new bill makes significant changes to the nation’s VR program.
Among those changes, it eliminated four programs, specified population to be served and set-aside funds for that purpose, and it more clearly and specifically defines competitive, integrated employment as on outcome. Below is a brief summary of all the major changes:
- The bill eliminates four programs in the Rehabilitation Act: Projects with Industry, Recreation Programs, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program, and the In-service Training Program for VR staff.
- The bill heightens VR’s focus on students with disabilities and adds new services, such as 10 pre-employment transition services for all students with disabilities that the VR agency, in collaboration with the local educational agencies involved, must provide.
- The bill sets aside 15 percent of VR funds to provide the above-mentioned pre-employment transition services. In addition, 50 percent of the funds available under the Supported Employment program must be dedicated to providing services to youth with disabilities.
The ultimate goal of the VR program is to help people with disabilities find employment, and WIOA contains several provisions that strengthen and clarify the meaning of employment outcome. The bill defines the term “competitive integrated employment” in a manner consistent with the definitions of the terms “competitive employment” and “integrated setting” currently set forth in the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) regulations. It also adds a variation on Supported Employment called Customized Employment.
The public policy team is expecting WIOA to move to the Senate floor before the July Fourth holiday, after which it would go to the House before heading to the President. We will keep you posted on the developments on this key job training legislation.