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Breaking News: 14 States Give Washington Big Bucks: Deny it to People with Disabilities Who Want Job

Bethesda, Maryland – States around America returned millions of dollars to the federal government that could have been used to enable people with disabilities to get jobs and careers. This is despite the fact that 70 percent of people with disabilities are out of the workforce, and disability benefits and healthcare are costing billions to taxpayers.

Vocational rehabilitation and workforce development programs, when resources are allocated to proven best practices, can enable people with disabilities to secure stable employment. In 2012, vocational rehabilitation agencies helped 177,172 Americans with disabilities get jobs and careers. These programs operate by having the federal government match nearly $4 for every $1 that is spent by the individual states. However, if the states fail to spend the money or come up with matching funds, then the funds go back to the federal government.

“Denying capable people with disabilities the opportunity to get jobs and careers harms them and wastes tax money,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility. “It also hurts employers who are missing out on the real talents that people with disabilities can provide them.”

RespectAbility has been meeting with governors across the country to share concrete evidence that enabling people to work is a win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike. They have partnered with other national disability groups on a toolkit to help states use the most cost effective programs to help more people with disabilities to achieve the American dream.

The leadership of governors is vital to enabling people with disabilities to get into jobs and off government benefits. A key example of leadership in action is Governor Jack Markell of Delaware and his efforts through the National Governors’ Association. In 2012, the NGA launched the Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities initiative.  This effort focused on building partnerships between state governments and employers to create employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

One in five Americans has a disability and most people with disabilities want to work, just like everyone else. Some employers miss out on hiring job applicants with disabilities due to negative stigmas and persistent myths. However evidence shows that people with disabilities can be outstanding employees, leaders within companies, and are extremely loyal workers. State vocational rehabilitation programs are just one way of ensuring that people with disabilities can achieve the American dream.

Below is a list of states that have had to return money to Washington that was allocated to them from the federal government to enable their citizens with disabilities get and maintain jobs and careers.


Currently, there are 622,600 Georgians with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 64. Sadly, only 31% of those with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 64 are employed compared to 71% of people without disabilities. In 2014, Georgia gave back $42,581,367 to the federal government. This is money could have been used to help Georgians with disabilities get jobs. Governor Nathan Deal has spoken about employment for all and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency has been developing partnerships to bridge the gap. Just this year, the state legislature gave an increase of $900,000 which will enable the agency to better serve people with disabilities. VR is also partnering with the Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental, the Technical College System of Georgia, the University System of Georgia, and the Dept. of Juvenile Justice. Such partnerships will help to better serve youth with disabilities. There are 40,300 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 to 20 in the Peach State. Georgia Vocational Rehab has created pathways to serve these youth through things such as inclusion programs at KSU and Columbus State, as well as the High School/High Tech transition program.  Georgia has also been host to multiple Project SEARCH sites. This program serves students and young adults with intellectual and development disabilities by connecting them with work experience and skill building during the final year of high school. Project SEARCH exemplifies best practices and is one that other states ought to emulate.


With the small population and limited state resources in Idaho, people with disabilities face big challenges in finding a job. There are 99,100 people with disabilities between the ages of 21 to 64 in Idaho. The employment gap between them and those without disabilities has increased 2.3% between 2010 and 2011.Only 36.7% of working age people with disabilities in Idaho are employed. The problem is magnified for the 7,100 people between the ages of 16 to 20 who have disabilities—most of whom want jobs. Despite these challenges, the Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has been working hard to serve clients with the resources they have. In 2014, their efforts helped 1,978 individuals with disabilities to obtain, maintain or retain employment. However, Idaho had to return $736,206 to Washington that could have been used to help the people of Idaho achieve independence and a better quality of life. While Governor Butch Otter of Idaho has signed legislation amending the language of the Idaho code to eliminate discriminatory language, this loss of resources has cost Idahoans with disabilities opportunities and kept more of them on government benefits.


There are 418,400 people with disabilities between the ages of 21 to 64 in Indiana and only 33.8% of them are employed. This number contrasts with the 76% of people without disabilities in Indiana who are working. Vocational Rehab has contributed to 4,729 people successfully securing jobs, and many more want the opportunity to succeed. Despite this the state, under Governor Mike Pence, returned $14,500,000 to the U. S. Department of Education in 2014. This loss of resources has limited Indiana’s ability to help youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20 get a foot in the door to a life of employment, independence and success.  There are 25,000 such youth with disabilities in the Hoosier State and each year a quarter of them will age out of school and into an uncertain future.  As in other states, Indiana has seen credible results by putting best practices into place. Young people with disabilities in Indiana have opportunities for work and independence through Project SEARCH sites at 9 different employers.  This school to work transition program is a cost-effective and impactful method for states to better serve people with disabilities.


Under Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa has been improving their capacity to successful transitioning its residents with disabilities into the workforce. There are 169,300 working age people with disabilities in Iowa and they are well served by the progress their state has made. As it stands, 44.5% of Iowans with disabilities are employed, slowly closing the gap with the 82.1% of Iowans without disabilities who are employed.  Such progress is improving the prospects of youth with disabilities in Iowa. Currently, there are 12,500 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20 and each year a quarter of them will be looking to take advantage of the many opportunities that have become available. Vocational rehabilitation programs have proven helpful in securing 2,244 jobs for people with disabilities.

Iowa is an example of a state that had initially failed to spend its full federal match but has since worked to maximize available resources. In 2014, Iowa failed to spend $2,314,114 for its general population and $596,085 for blind individuals. However, with strong leadership from Governor Branstad and David Mitchell, Director of Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation, things are looking up.  Iowa is now receiving full federal funding. Iowa should serve as a model for the rest of the nation on how utilizing resources is a win-win-win for states, taxpayers and people with disabilities. In Iowa, their vocational rehabilitation agency has even experienced success in employing people with vision impairment at 82% which is the second in the nation.

Speaking about his state’s efforts, David Mitchell said that his agency had “…worked collaboratively with the Governor’s Office and the legislative branch and are expected to draw down full federal funds for this budget cycle.” Iowa VR’s success built upon support from a “a multi-system effort occurring leveraging funds and resources through various efforts to provide financial and technical assistance to community providers and direct service staff across the state promoting employment and a better bottom line for business.”


In Kansas, there are 182,000 working age people with disabilities, 41% of them have been able to find work.  While this better than the national average, the Sunflower State under Governor Sam Brownback still has room to improve outcomes for its residents with disabilities. Indeed, 79% of the state’s non-disabled population is employed so the labor force participation gap is massive. In 2012, vocational rehabilitation was able to obtain jobs for 1,619 out of an applicant pool of 6,803 people with disabilities. However, the Brownback Administration gave back $7,500,000 to Washington that could have been used to drive better outcomes and enable more people with disabilities to get jobs. There are 11,300 young people with disabilities in Kansas who will be entering the workforce in the near future. They should not be abandoned at this critical moment.


Kentucky has received millions of dollars to find employment solutions for people with disabilities generally, and in particular for people who are blind. However, the state returned $6,078,400 for its general vocational rehabilitation fund as well as and $1,071,668 from its services for people who are blind. In Kentucky only 26% of working age people with disabilities has work. This is one of the lowest percentages in the country. This is in stark contrast to the 73.7% employment rate for people without disabilities. There are 399,100 Kentuckians between the ages of 21 and 64 with disabilities who deserve the opportunity to pursue the dignity and independence of work. This includes the 67,000 Kentuckians who have a visual impairment. These statistics represent a troubling future for youth with disabilities living in Kentucky. Of the 21,400 people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20, fully a quarter of them will leave school each year to face an uncertain future in the workforce. Fortunately however, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation has cultivated strong collaborations with community partners and major employers for programs around Louisville, Kentucky.  At the Best Buy Distribution Center and the UPS Transitional Learning Center, Kentuckians with disabilities have been able to achieve the goal of competitive, integrated employment. The success of such partnerships represents a solid foundation of success. This good work should be supported with resources to expand further opportunities and serve more people with disabilities.


People with disabilities in Louisiana under Governor Bobby Jindal have not experienced any tangible growth in moving toward an integrated workforce. There are 366,600 working age people with disabilities in Louisiana. Most of them have yet to gain the chance to demonstrate their potential as they are only employed at a rate of 31.8% compared to the 75.5% of their non-disabled peers. The gap between workers with disabilities and non-disabled workers has increased by 2.9% between the years of 2010 to 2011. In 2014, however the Jindal Administration returned $17,583,295 to Washington that could have been used to help the people of Louisiana. By not adequately supporting their job efforts for people with disabilities, the state was only able to successfully connect 2,012 people with disabilities to employment. This loss of funding also means that many of the 22,900 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20 in Louisiana will not receive the support that they need.


Vocational rehabilitation in Michigan helped to obtain 7,816 jobs for people with disabilities, but they had to return $19,558,448 to Washington because they failed to come up with the local match. People with disabilities living in Michigan only have an employment rate of 29% compared to the 73.4% of those without disabilities. There are 684,000 in working people with disabilities in Michigan and there are 48,500 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. These youth need better support as they age out of school and move towards entering the workforce.

However there is good news in Michigan and it speaks to the vitality of leadership at the State level. Governor Rick Snyder has hosted summits about jobs for people with disabilities and is reaching out the businesses to inspire business-to-business best practices. Michigan Lieutenant Governor Kelly and Justice Richard Bernstein have been leading “Hidden Talent Tours” to discuss the value of people with disabilities to local chambers of commerce.  Additionally, the state is launching pilot programs to improve and change how transition services, especially for youth, are provided. They are also hosting an orientation for Federal contractors regarding Section 503 and disability hiring. Key funding is needed to build on this success.


In Missouri, there are 449,660 working age people with disabilities. Like other states, there is a substantial employment gap between people with disabilities and those without disabilities.  The employment rate for non-disabled residents is 77.1% while, the rate for employed people with disabilities is only 33%. RespectAbility has met multiple times with Governor Jay Nixon and he express interest in work on these issues. However, the challenge of Ferguson has occupied his attention. There is hope yet that he will make creating jobs for people with disabilities, a priority in Missouri. Last year, The Show Me State gave back $2,000,000 to Washington that could have been used to enable people with disabilities in Missouri to get jobs.


Nevada has experienced success in helping people with disabilities due to the outstanding leadership of the professionals at the Nevada Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. There are 171,600 working age Nevadans with disabilities and they have been able to find gainful employment at a rate of 39.2% which is well above the national average. However, this compares with the 73.1% people without disabilities who are employed so there is still progress to be made. Governor Brian Sandoval signed an executive order to provide greater opportunities for Nevadans with disabilities. Nevada possesses several inclusive employment sites at PEPSI, Starbucks and Office Depot that should be held up as models of success and the state is in a position to build on that strength.  The program at Pepsi has recently received a prestigious award recognizing the work enabled by Nevada Vocational Rehab.  However, in 2014 Nevada returned $5,200,000 to the federal government that could have been spent to enable Nevadans with disabilities to get and keep jobs. Connecting job seekers with disabilities to in-demand job sectors is one critical way to achieve better outcomes. For example, hospitality, with gaming and tourism, is responsible for 300,000 jobs in Nevada. New progress has proven that people with disabilities can be model employees in this high turnover industry. RespectAbility recently hosted a webinar on this topic.


In Ohio, the workforce participation rate of people with disabilities has remained fairly low at only 33.8%. Compare that number with the general population without disabilities who are employed at a rate of where 75.9%. There are 812,500 working age Ohioans with disabilities and of those who are vocational rehabilitation clients, 3,510 were able to find jobs. Governor John Kasich made Ohio an “Employment First” state by decree and there are several model programs, including Project SEARCH, which originated in Ohio. However, progress has been hampered by the fact that the state returned $18,215,538 to Washington. This hurts economic prospects for people with disabilities–especially the 50,300 Ohioans between the ages of 16 to 20 by not continuing to fund these vocational rehabilitation programs.


Pennsylvania has made partial progress toward improving the employment rate of people with disabilities, but there is still much to achieve before it can arrive at the level of where it should be. There are 831,700 working age Pennsylvanians with a disability and only 33.9% of them have a job. 23,729 people with disabilities applied for jobs through the vocational rehabilitation system but only 9,939 jobs were obtained. Last year, Pennsylvania returned $4,086,378 to the Washington, which greatly limits vocational rehabilitation’s ability to serve people with disabilities. While campaigning, Tom Wolf spoke about the importance of jobs for people with disabilities and there is a chance that improvements can be made to turn this hope into a reality.


Governor Jay Inslee is working to make the state a model employer of people with disabilities.  He is inspiring companies and making state government a model employer of people with disabilities. However, the population of individuals with disabilities living in Washington State is sizable and there are difficulties that remain in helping them to transition to independent living. There are 425,700 working age people with disabilities and within that population, 36.4% are employed compared to 74.7% of people without disabilities. Such limits cloud the future of the 25,400 people young people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. Washington State gave back $250,000 to Washington, thus limiting the ability of people to pursue the American dream.


Of the states that have been listed above, Wyoming has come to the closest to achieving parity for people with disabilities entering the workforce. 79.4% of people without disabilities are employed and 50% of people who have disabilities are employed. While Wyoming is to be commended for that figure, the state still returned $858,951 to Washington that could have been used to enable more people with disabilities to find and succeed at work. From 2001-2012 Wyoming used this pot of money to draw down funding to help support their Wyoming Business Leadership Network, which eventually operated in 9 communities and made extensive business training and education possible. Part of the good reason for higher levels of employment in this state is due to assistance given to Wyoming businesses to assist them in the hiring and retention of individuals with disabilities.  This funding was eliminated in 2012 and has been a tangible loss to this state’s impact on the employment numbers for people with disabilities. Even with a small population and limited resources, Wyoming can still make further and better progress for people with disabilities by reconsidering this use of funding to help their new Employment First Initiative and the one BLN still operating to make a difference moving forward.


In 2013, 1,156,000 individuals from ages 13 to 25 received $8.7 billion in Supplemental Security Income benefits. These young people face distinct challenges in transitioning to work and economic self-sufficiency. Resources need to be directed to programs that work, are cost effective, and give people with disabilities the ability to pursue the American Dream. To help them overcome these challenges, the Social Security Administration sponsored the Youth Transition Demonstration, which did not show as much promise as hoped. Results here.

However, Project SEARCH and Bridges to Work continue to get outstanding results for employers, people with disabilities, and taxpayers around the country. Experts on the front lines of this field find that it is also vital to partner with employers who have business-driven talent needs. Ideal partners for this include the United States Business Leadership Network, and their Affiliates in 26 states. Federal Contractors are also important partners because of new rules that they must be inclusive employers. Transportation issues must also be taken into account as many people with disabilities rely on public transportation.

The new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act will provide states access to a pool of $17 billion a year to help create opportunities for people with barriers to work. Every state must have a pre-approved plan in place by March 2016 and once those plans are in place they will be frozen for four years. That is why it is vital for states to focus on best practices today. For a free webinar and toolkit on best practices go to or email [email protected].

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO and President
202-517-6272 / [email protected]
May 2015

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