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Additional Testimony from the California Department of Rehabilitation
I have two major concerns about the employment and training bills that are now being considered by the House and Senate: 1) the absence of any reference in the bills to the vocational rehabilitation system and the importance of its linkage with a federally supported employment and training system, and 2) the dropping of disability as a criteria for eligibility.
The proposed Employment and Training Act and the Vocational Rehabilitation Act are the two federally funded programs that concentrate on moving people who are vocationally disadvantaged into the labor force. Both programs should be closely linked in order to avoid duplication of services, to maximize the sharing and blending of expertise, and to permit the people with the greatest needs for employment training assistance to gain these services. At a time when there is strong bipartisan support for the reduction of conflicting regulations and eligibility criteria and the elimination of duplication in services, Congress is considering a bill that works to separate vocational rehabilitation and employment and training rather than bring them closer together.
It has been our experience with the previous employment and training legislation (CETA) that unless the rehabilitation agency is specifically mentioned in the law the needs of the disabled are largely overlooked. The idea that persons with disabilities have rehabilitation services and other economically disadvantaged people have CETA is one that vocational rehabilitation professionals have come up against time and time again. It is an idea that makes no sense because it essentially excludes the disabled from CETA and denies them equal opportunity to compete for the employment and training opportunities.
A primary linkage between the programs can be assured by the inclusion of the state vocational rehabilitation agency on the state and local councils. This would insure the needs of persons with disabilities would be considered and the expertise of the vocational rehabilitation programs would be available in the planning and implementation of employment training programs.
The most distressing part of the new employment and training bills, from our perspective, is that disability is no longer recognized as a substantial disadvantage to employment. As the bills now stand, only those persons with disabilities who receive cash benefits (SSI and SSDI) are eligible. I believe that this restriction is an error and is based on incorrect assumptions about disability and welfare.
An SSI recipient is typically an individual who is elderly or has been disabled since childhood, who has no work experience or work training and who has lived a relatively isolated and sheltered existence outside the mainstream of society. An SSDI recipient is typically an older individual with work experience who has become disabled later in life and who is considered relatively unable to work because of a wide range of factors. Many of these people can be helped to enter employment but the economic, attitudinal, and physical barriers they face are often formidable. As a group, SSI and SSDI recipients make up only 7% of the clients of vocational rehabilitation agencies.
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There is almost nothing in common between people who are on welfare because they can't find work, and people who are on SSI and SSDI because of disability—but there is a great similarity between the non-handicapped on welfare and the people who are eligible for vocational rehabilitation. Both populations have a high potential for employment but are unable to reach that potential without additional training and other assistance. I can't believe that Congress considers the persons served by state rehabilitation programs as not sufficiently disadvantaged to qualify for employment and training assistance.
I strongly urge that language be added to extend eligibility to those persons for whom a disability is a handicap to employment (see attached). This is the same language that appears in the Rehabilitation Act and would insure that those rehabilitation clients who can benefit from a federal employment and training program can compete for the opportunity.
I would like to suggest that there are significant advantages to both the employment and training program and vocational rehabilitation from a close linkage and a matching criteria. The employment and training program will, in any case, be required by law to provide equal opportunity to persons with disabilities. A linkage with vocational rehabilitation would make this obligation far easier to meet. It's our job to help disabled persons become job-ready. We have a great deal of experience in adapting a work site to enable a disabled person to be employed, and we consider it our responsibility to provide our clients with the necessary equipment, adaptive devices, counseling, and other assistance that will enable them to perform well on the job. We can't make the employer's building accessible, but short of that we can assist in many ways to insure the successful employment of the individual. In many states, we have had such a relationship with CETA and it has worked well. I urge you to see that it continues.
EDWARD V. ROBERTSMarch 29, 1982
California Department of Rehabilitation