The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) of 2014 establishes as a clear national priority the employment of people with disabilities, building off the goal of economic self-sufficiency established in the Americans with Disabilities Act. WIOA defines “employment” for people with disabilities as “competitive integrated employment” (CIE), meaning people with disabilities must be paid the same wages as people without disabilities and interact with and get the same opportunities for career advancement as non-disabled co-workers. WIOA significantly limits the use of sub-minimum wage sheltered workshops, and focuses on preventing the direct placement of students with disabilities leaving high school into these programs. WIOA also requires state agencies – including Medicaid agencies, developmental disabilities agencies, vocational rehabilitation programs, and education agencies – to enter into cooperative agreements to prioritize CIE. The Departments of Labor and Education recently issued regulations implementing WIOA. States are in the process of implementing the new requirements of WIOA. See WIOA’s website for more information, including its recently issued regulations.
WIOA also created a federal advisory committee to provide recommendations to Congress and the Labor Secretary about the employment of people with significant disabilities. A broad range of stakeholders were appointed to the Advisory Committee, including national experts, federal agency representatives, national disability advocates, self-advocates, supported employment and sheltered workshop providers, and members of the business community. CPR’s Director of Advocacy was appointed to the Committee and played a leadership role as a sub-committee chair.
In September 2016, the Committee issued a report to Congress and the Labor Secretary describing barriers and strategies to increase employment of people with disabilities and making recommendations about the future of the law that allows people with disabilities to be paid below minimum wage, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Committee’s recommendations include:
- Ensuring that federal funding to states incentivizes competitive integrated employment (CIE);
- Engaging the business community in building CIE capacity;
- Increasing engagement of families and employment opportunities for youth transitioning from school;
- Implementing a well-planned phase-out of Section 14(c) that allows sub-minimum wages; and
- Redesigning the federal disability procurement program (named AbilityOne) to focus on CIE.
The Committee’s report provides an important blueprint of actions Congress, federal agencies, and states should take to make the promise of “employment first” policies a reality. The Department of Labor’s website contains more information on the Advisory Committee and its final report.