Fact Sheet Developed After Senate Hearings
Since its enactment in 1936, the Randolph-Sheppard Act has fostered and encouraged entrepreneurship and business opportunities for Americans who are blind and visually impaired. By providing a priority for the operation of vending facilities by blind people on federal property, this law has provided a means for tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people to earn a living, compete and achieve not just as employees, but also as managers and owners of businesses. Participants in this program operate a wide range of facilities, from small snack shops to vending machine rooms, large cafeterias and dining halls. Currently, the number of blind vendors is around 3,000. Annual earnings for Randolph-Sheppard vendors average about $40,000.
The Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD), which was originally enacted in 1938, also provides employment opportunities for blind and “severely disabled” people. However, unlike the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the jobs provided by the JWOD program are classified as “direct labor” rather than management or supervisory positions. The law gives a preference to not-for-profit agencies, such as National Industries for the Blind and NISH, in bidding for contracts to provide manufactured goods or services to the federal government. These agencies then employ people who are blind, or otherwise disabled, to manufacture the goods, or provide the services under the contract.
Both of these programs provide valuable opportunities to blind Americans. However, there are some concrete steps that Congress should take to ensure that both the number of individuals served by these programs, and the kinds of opportunities for advancement and achievement that they can obtain, will be expanded.
Currently, there is no legislation under consideration regarding these programs. However, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held an oversight hearing on these programs last year. During this hearing senators expressed concern that these programs provide opportunities for too few people, and that the programs do not provide enough incentive for individuals to advance into employment or management of businesses outside of the programs.
ACB is encouraging Congress to adopt legislation which will address these and other concerns that have been expressed by members of Congress and the blind community. Specifically, we are urging Congress to pass legislation which will:
1. Create a new Blind Business and Employment Agency within the Department of Commerce to administer the Randolph-Sheppard Act;
2. Expand opportunities for experienced blind vendors and blind entrepreneurs by creating Qualified Blind Business Enterprises (QBBEs) and Qualified Blind Employment Enterprises (QBEEs) that would be eligible for a competitive procurement priority in the awarding of federal contracts;
3. Provide these enterprises access to low-interest loans, and loan guarantees, as well as training and technical assistance, to encourage the creation and success of new businesses;
4. Establish management and workforce participation criteria which must be met by any individual or corporation seeking to be certified as a QBBE or a QBEE, including the following requirements for ownership and management by people who are blind: At least one-third of the enterprise’s workforce (including management employees) must be people who are blind and their pay must be proportionate to the percentage of the workforce they represent; All employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage; and the enterprise must acknowledge the collective bargaining rights of its employees.
1. The Randolph-Sheppard and Javits-Wagner-O’Day programs continue to provide valuable opportunities to people who are blind;
2. These programs were established to meet the unique needs of distinct groups of people with a variety of employment goals. Therefore, both programs should be preserved;
3. Positive measures have been identified which would modernize the programs and increase their capacity to provide meaningful employment opportunities.
Please urge members of both the House and Senate to support legislation that will increase the number and expand the variety of employment opportunities available to people who are blind by enhancing the Randolph-Sheppard and JWOD programs. Share with them the proposed enhancements outlined above and ask them to be a sponsor or co-sponsor of this legislation. If a member of Congress is interested in sponsoring this legislation, please advise the ACB national office of their interest so that staff can make a follow-up contact.
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