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Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS) Applauds Successful Reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

The bipartisan backed H.R. 803, better known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), was signed into law today, July 22, by President Obama after successfully passing the US House on July 9, 2014 by a vote of 415 to 6. The Senate passed WIOA on June 25 by a vote of 95-3.

          "The president's signature on the reauthorization by Congress of WIOA is a momentous step forward in increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities in our country and in our state," said Elmer L. Cerano, Executive Director of MPAS. "In Michigan, a staggering 81 percent of persons with disabilities are unemployed. As the designated organization in Michigan which protects the rights of people with disabilities, MPAS is well aware of the unemployment and underemployment facing Michiganders with disabilities, despite their sincere desire to work."

            Chiefly, the bill would prohibit individuals with disabilities age 24 and younger from working in jobs paying less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour unless they are first provided certain vocational rehabilitation services, among other requirements. There are exceptions, however, for those already working for what’s known as subminimum wage and in cases where individuals are deemed ineligible for vocational rehabilitation.   

          The injustice of people with disabilities being segregated in the workplace and compensated well below minimum wage is finally gaining national attention and becoming the focus for many disability advocates across the country.  In Michigan alone there are over 8,000 people with disabilities being paid an average of just $2.75/hr.         

          Beyond limiting who can work for less than minimum wage, the legislation also mandates that state vocational rehabilitation agencies work with schools to provide “pre-employment transition services” to all students with disabilities. What’s more, the agencies must dedicate at least 15 percent of their federal funding to help those with disabilities transition from school to meaningful work.

          The WIOA reauthorization, previously known in the House as the SKILLS Act, will improve upon the original Act's purpose in the following key ways:

  • To maximize opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including individuals with significant disabilities, for competitive integrated employment;
  • To increase employment opportunities and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, including through encouraging meaningful input by employers and vocational rehabilitation service providers on successful and prospective employment and placement strategies; and
  • To ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that youth with disabilities and students with disabilities who are transitioning from receipt of special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et. seq.) and receipt of services under section 504 of this Act are either continuing their education or employed in competitive integrated employment independently.

          "This long-overdue reauthorization indicates that Congress is finally recognizing, and starting to sincerely appreciate, the valuable assets that people with disabilities bring to the American workforce," continued Cerano. "WIOA reauthorization is a firm step in the right direction toward making sure that people with disabilities are being provided the appropriate job training in an area of their interest, resulting in competitive integrated employment in their community. MPAS will be an active participant in ensuring that the newly created provisions under this Act are implemented in Michigan."

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Posted on:
July 10, 2014