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The Potential of the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act for People with Disabilities

This new bill will invest $15 billion to help restore the nation’s public workforce system in response to the economic collapse following the COVID 19 pandemic

Washington, D.C., Feb. 23 – In the response to the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) has introduced a new bill to kickstart the economy and get millions of people back to work. This new legislation is called the “Relaunching America’s Workforce Act” and it contains significant provisions that would specifically help workers with disabilities.

Impact on Individuals with Disabilities

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a much larger impact on the unemployment rates of individuals with disabilities compared to people without disabilities. Specifically, since March 2020, more than 1 in 5 workers with disabilities have lost their jobs at the hands of the coronavirus, compared to 1 in 7 individuals without disabilities. To put it another way, more than 1 million workers with disabilities have lost their job since the start of the pandemic. The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act could play an important role in helping workers with disabilities get back into the labor force. Thankfully, this legislation explicitly mentions individuals with disabilities more than 10 times, and it provides numerous recommendations to help the disability community reenter the workforce.

Getting people with disabilities back to work or retraining them for new careers will be absolutely critical to rebuilding the American economy. Studies show that most people with disabilities want to work. The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired and other publications have extolled the “disability-advantage” to companies that hire talent that includes people with disabilities. More people with disabilities in the workforce will bring new insights, ideas and innovations as the world recovers from the coronavirus.

The truth is that the disability community has faced extraordinary losses — but it is also strong and resilient. Thomas Edison, who was deaf, was America’s greatest inventor. Stephen Hawking unlocked the secrets of the universe from a wheelchair. Harriet Tubman freed slaves while living with a seizure disorder. And Greta Thunberg, who is on the Autism spectrum, is a global leader working today to save the world from the effects of climate change.

If it becomes law, the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act could be instrumental in making the economic recovery from COVID-19 inclusive of workers with disabilities.

Services to Support Workers with Disabilities

The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act sets out a plan to collaborate with state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide multiple individualized career services to support the disability community. Specifically, these supportive services will assist individuals with disabilities who have experienced layoffs, suspensions or reductions in employment due to COVID-19.

Additionally, this bill also plans to provide services for youth with disabilities through expanded internships, work-based learning opportunities and youth apprenticeships. Investing in these critical programs could significantly improve opportunities for transition-age youth with disabilities to develop their skills and earn an income. The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act also discusses expanding apprenticeship opportunities and retention strategies for programs that specifically serve nontraditional apprenticeship populations such as adult learners who include many people with disabilities.

Since COVID-19 has forced many work environments to become virtual, this bill is also finding ways to help other services and jobs be more accommodating by helping individuals with disabilities have better access to technological devices, online services, and assistive technology.

Overall Distribution of Funds, Strategic Plan, and Objectives

The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act would invest close to $11 billion in both state and local public workforce systems. This financial support will be used to assist businesses, employers and workers as they collectively work to rebuild the economy. This investment is the largest portion of the bill and it will be used to build up a variety of training activities like apprenticeships, online skills trainings and other career navigation services. Another portion of this $11 billion will focus on training essential workers.

In addition to this large investment, another $1 billion will focus on working with and enhancing the capabilities of adult education providers throughout the United States. These funds will specifically be used to create opportunities for adults with low literacy levels that were unfortunately burdened by the pandemic.

The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act would also distribute around $2 billion to help improve community college career training and eventually establish employment relationships between education institutions and potential employers. The goal of this $2 billion investment is to eventually create a pipeline for jobseekers to find reliable, high-quality, consistent jobs that need to be filled.

This bill’s last large investment is a $1 billion commitment to career and technical education. This investment in education is primarily focused on trying to expand the reach of many education programs by developing more virtual learning opportunities. These new virtual learning opportunities will be able to be paired with traditional in-person education to help prepare students for future employment opportunities.

Additional Benefits

In addition to helping individuals with disabilities enter the workforce, this bill also contains many other benefits to support the disability community. For issues in the classroom, the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act would provide funding to help cover the costs related to infrastructure projects surrounding technology modernization needed to provide for online remote learning. This piece of legislation also plans to provide funding for assistive technology and internet access for students who must continue their education online. These changes will help individuals with disabilities who cannot yet return to the classroom learn virtually. This bill also explicitly states that it will provide funding to help expand digital literacy curriculums surrounding professional development activities and to ensure that these curriculums are accessible to people with disabilities.

The Relaunching America’s Workforce Act also impacts the disability community by providing training for healthcare workers, including personal-care attendants, direct service providers and home health workers. This training will focus on responding to the coronavirus by learning about transportation, technology, food service, maintenance and cleaning. Since many individuals with disabilities rely on personal-care attendants, this training will be imperative to help these individuals reenter the workforce and continue to care for the disability community.

We Need Your Help

This bill would be vital in helping restore our nation’s economy. It would also be an important step to assist the disability community in their fight to return to the workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is encouraging to see a new bill of this magnitude be inclusive of the disability community, we must continue to hold legislators accountable.

RespectAbility invites everyone to contact their congressional representatives about what people with disabilities need to get back to work. To easily write to your elected officials, please visit RespectAbility’s Voter Voice portal here.

This digital advocacy and activism will help inform Congress about the benefits this piece of legislation will have on all citizens living with and without disabilities.

Meet the Author

Ian Malesiewski
Ian Malesiewski

Ian Malesiewski currently serves as the Accessibility Services Liaison in the University of Miami’s Student Government. After graduation, he plans to attend law school, where he will focus on disability law and policy.

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