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Statement for the Record on employment for Senate Aging Committee

Friday, March 1, 2024

Statement for the Record U.S. Senate Senate Special Committee on Aging

All Means All:

Empowering People with Disabilities to Thrive in Careers and the Workplace.

March 1, 2024

Dear Chairman Casey, Ranking Member Braun, and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement for the Record on the issue of employment for people with disabilities. The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency that provides advice to the Administration, Congress, and federal agencies based on our comprehensive and objective analyses to inform policy development, improvement, and enforcement efforts. As a federal voice for 61 million Americans with disabilities, including students with disabilities and their families, NCD is committed to advancing policy solutions that create a more inclusive society for people with disabilities.

Our statement for the record will focus on two topics covered in the hearing: it will first highlight the disharmony between the definition of competitive integrated employment (CIE) and the AbilityOne Program and next, express NCD’s support for the passage of the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (S. 533).

NCD appreciates that a significant focus of this important hearing highlighted the impact of CIE in transitioning people with disabilities into successful jobs in the community. As you are aware, the Javits Wagner O-Day Act, originally enacted in 1938, requires seventy-five percent of the direct labor hours be completed by people who are blind or have a significant disability. This requirement is in opposition to the definition and codification of CIE in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which defines CIE as a job that (1) pays people with disabilities at least the minimum wage and not less than the wage paid to people without disabilities for the same or similar work, (2) is performed in a location where the employee interacts with people without disabilities, and (3) provides workers with disabilities the same opportunities for career advancement as their coworkers without disabilities.[[1]]

As advisors to the President, his administration, Congress, and federal agencies on policy matters affecting persons with disabilities, NCD has completed two reports that examine the AbilityOne Program.[[2]] [NCD’s 2020 report, Policies from the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program in a Modern Era][3]* found that the program’s mandatory seventy-five percent direct labor hour ratio inherently creates pressures on the AbilityOne non-profit agencies to place workers with disabilities into more segregated settings, whether as work crews or on the production floor. This requirement undermines Congress’s goals under CIE, to promote inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the community. As a result, NCD concluded that the entire AbilityOne program perpetuates a separate system for people who are blind or have significant disabilities while at the same time modern federal laws seek to achieve greater integration.

Additionally, NCD’s report found that the AbilityOne program has been unsuccessful in creating employment for people who are blind or who have signifigant disabilities. Between FY 2011 and FY 2018, NCD found that the number of employees working in the AbilityOne program declined from around 50,500 people to 44,000 people, and the number of hours worked declined as well. More recently, the number of employees working in the AbilityOne program declined to 39,690 in FY 2021 and 36,377 in FY 2022.[[4]] According to the Commission figures, twenty years ago in 2000, the annual combined revenue of SourceAmerica and National Industries for the Blind was around $40 million. Twenty-two years later, their combined revenue was over $200 million. NCD found an unmistakable pattern of growth in the program – but the growth has been in sales rather than expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Given the numerous systemic problems, including the clear tension between the AbilityOne program and the definition of CIE, NCD concluded that the program could not be modernize and instead, made recommendations that policymakers phase-out the AbilityOne program over an eight-year period and phase-in a new  requirement under Section 503 that requires federal contractors in general  to hire a percentage of people who are blind or have a significant disabilities.

Next, the Committee examined the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (S. 533), incorporates many key findings from past NCD reports calling for systems change and to phase-out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (14(c). NCD’s 2012 report, National Council on Disability Report on Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment[[5] called upon policymakers to phase-out 14(c) while implementing a conversion or transformation strategy that would expand opportunities to transition away from the segregated subminimum wage model perpetuated under 14(c). NCD’s follow-up investigation, published in our 2018 report, National Disability Employment Policy, From the New Deal to the Real Deal*,[[6] found no improvement to the program and reiterated our previous recommendations again calling on policymakers to implement a mechanism for systems change.

Many of the TCIEA’s provisions are consistent with the recommendations outlined in NCD’s 2012 and 2018 reports. In addition to a multi-year phase-out of 14(c), this bill would provide states and individual providers with resources from subject-matter experts to transform their business and program models away from the outdated subminimum wage model and into a new model that supports opportunities to enter competitive integrated employment. It also incentivizes providers that have already demonstrated success in transitioning to the new work model to compete for technical assistance grants to assist other providers and states throughout their transformation efforts.

NCD thanks members of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging for holding this important hearing on the employment of people with disabilities. This issue is of great interest and concern to NCD, and we look forward to working with and being a resource to members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging as you pursue your work on this crucial issue.


Kimie Eacobacci

Legislative Affairs Specialist


[[1]](#_ftnref1) See Policies for the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program and Section 14(c) available at:

[[2]](#_ftnref2) NCD’s 2020 report, Policies from the Past in a Modern Era: The Unintended Consequences of the AbilityOne Program in a Modern Era, available at: ncd-abilityone-2020 (2).pdf and NCD’s 2019 report, A Cursory Look at the AbilityOne Program, available at: a-cursory-look-at-abilityone.pdf (

[[3]](#_ftnref3) ncd-abilityone-2020 (2).pdf.

[[4]](#_ftnref4) See U.S. AbilityOne Commission Fiscal Year 2023 Performance and Accountability Report available at:  U.S. AbilityOne Commission FY23 Performance and Accountability Report.

[[5]](#_ftnref5) ncd-subminimum-wage-supported-employment-2012.pdf.

[[6]](#_ftnref6) ncd_new_deal_to_real_deal.pdf

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