Background: In recent years, federal budget uncertainty and the across-the-board cuts that resulted from sequestration have harmed many of our associated nonprofit agencies that create employment opportunities for people who are blind through the AbilityOne Program. Continued lack of compliance by federal agencies compounds funding shortfalls amidst this new era of budget austerity, and it has significantly impacted many NIB associated agencies. One of the greatest challenges remains the purchase of commercial products -- what is often called "Essentially the Same" (ETS) -- over those AbilityOne approved products identified on the federal government's Procurement List (PL). While the average purchaser might not see any harm in such a practice, the collective results of ETS infractions has serious negative consequences for the employment of people who are blind.
The AbilityOne Program Makes Sense: While NIB agrees that the federal government must be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, it is critical that these purchasing decisions not come at the expense of smart socio-economic procurement programs like AbilityOne. Compliance with the AbilityOne Program under the Javits Wagner O’Day Act (JWOD) remains a solution toward greater opportunity of those who would otherwise rely heavily on government assistance if not for the job opportunities provided through the AbilityOne Program.
Action: We ask that federal agencies comply with the law and turn to the AbilityOne Program first to fulfill their procurement requirements for those goods and services that have been listed on the federal Procurement List. If federal agencies increased their compliance with JWOD, we could significantly grow jobs for people who are blind, and assist more people in becoming wage earners and taxpayers. Subsequently, Congress should reach out to federal agencies, reminding them that compliance with the AbilityOne Program reduces the negative impact of federal downsizing on people with disabilities looking to enter (or reenter) the workforce.
Social Security Disability Insurance Reform and Removing the "Cash Cliff"
Background: Currently, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program faces a number of challenges. Not only does the Social Security Administration (SSA) forecast depletion of the SSDI Trust Fund within the next few years, but both sessions of the 114th Congress featured hearings where concerns over accusations of fraud and abuse by beneficiaries trying to take advantage of the system were raised. This comes amidst NIB’s long-term campaign to educate Congress on the benefits of aligning SSDI with work incentives found in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program.
Issue: For years, advocates of people with disabilities wishing to return to work have argued that the current SSDI rule to completely eliminate benefits when a specific wage amount is earned creates a major disincentive for persons who wish to return to work. This barrier, known as the “Cash Cliff” differs from the SSI program, which provides a benefit offset of $2 for every $1 over the prescribed earnings amount threshold (Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA threshold) set by SSA.
While no one clear solution exists for Congress to make the current Social Security system sustainable in the coming years, there are a number of directions Congress can go to make sure that any strengthening within the current Disability Insurance (DI) program can work collectively to reduce the strain the DI Trust Fund will continue to face. The Benefit Offset model is one that has been considered through various forums over the years. And while it may not be a solution for those SSDI recipients who will never be able to physically return to work, it is a model that disability advocates have championed for those persons capable of returning to work after receiving appropriate training and supports.
Solution: The Benefit Offset model could have great positive gains in supporting persons with blindness and other severe disabilities who wish to return to work. Incentive-driven reform not only reduces reliance on SSDI benefits for the long-term, but it carries an important message that in certain cases through proper rehabilitation, a person with a disability can, in fact, return fully to the workforce. To this end, any reform of the DI program should amend Title II of the Social Security Act to provide a benefit offset that is in-sync with the current offset for SSI beneficiaries.
Protecting the Commissary Benefit
Background: Military commissaries provide our men and women in uniform and their families – along with retirees and reservists – with an important non-pay benefit in the form of greatly discounted groceries. This provides shoppers with a discount of as much as thirty percent, and amounts to savings of thousands of dollars for an average military family.
In addition to the important benefit that commissaries provide those in uniform and their dependents, it also benefits sixteen NIB associated nonprofit agencies that produce items for military resale at commissaries. This work provides employment for several hundred persons who are blind, so military shoppers are doing well and doing good at the same when shopping at a commissary and buying AbilityOne and SKILCRAFT® products made by people who are blind.
Issue: For decades, Congress has periodically examined the possibility of changing or ending the commissary system in order to produce cost savings for the federal budget. Most recently, there has been some consideration given to the possibility of eliminating most state-side commissaries, while keeping open a handful of stores located on military bases in rural locations, as well as those overseas. When that possibility was not received well by military families or on Capitol Hill, the conversation shifted toward reducing the direct appropriation for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and eventually asking it to charge more for groceries in order to become self-sustaining. But, taking the cost savings away from military customers is tantamount to shutting down the system altogether.
Action: Have your Member of Congress support maintaining the current commissary system as is and support the important relationship between DeCA and the AbilityOne Program that helps provide employment for several hundred people who are blind.