Protecting Jobs of Americans Who Are Blind

AbilityOne Program Support to Department of Veterans Affairs in Jeopardy

NIB and its nationwide network of associated nonprofit agencies have been providing jobs for Americans who are blind for more than 80 years. Today, more than 6,000 Americans who are blind, including many veterans, have jobs thanks to the AbilityOne Program.

Americans who are blind working as part of the AbilityOne Program are proud to support the federal government, military, and our nation’s veterans. Contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sustain employment for hundreds of people who are blind, who produce more than 1,300 products and provide critical services for the VA. Thanks to these VA contracts, this skilled and dedicated workforce has been given opportunities for employment that most Americans who are blind do not have.

THE ISSUE

In 2006, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits Act, which created the “Rule of Two.” This provision allows the VA to award contracts to Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) when at least two SDVOSBs or VOSBs are identified as qualified offerors.

Until now, the program has worked alongside other contracting programs at the VA, including the AbilityOne Program. However, courts have recently determined that Congress intended for the “Rule of Two” to have priority over the AbilityOne Program.

This ruling—and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ implementation of the ruling—effectively pits federal contracting opportunities for people who are blind directly against contracting opportunities for veterans. By creating competition between two worthy groups, everyone loses.

THE IMPACT

If Congress doesn’t intervene, 800 Americans who are blind, including veterans, will lose their jobs. Furthermore, the nonprofit organizations that employ these individuals and provide critical services in local communities across the country for thousands more—including services for children, aging adults, and veterans—will be irreparably harmed. Some will have to close their doors permanently.

Meet a few of our employees who stand to be impacted if immediate action isn’t taken.

Antonio Arbelo, Aplhapointe employee at work producing plastic pill bottles

Antonio Arbelo, visually impaired employee at Alphapointe and Navy veteran. Antonio works as a machinist and packer in the plastics department producing pill bottles for veterans.

Scott Smith, IFB Solutions employee at work in optical lab

Scott Smith, visually impaired employee at IFB Solutions and Navy veteran. Scott works as an optical lab technician producing glasses for veterans.

OUR SOLUTION

We respectfully call upon members of Congress and the Administration to reaffirm the United States Congress’s 80-year commitment to providing meaningful employment to people who are blind by passing legislation that would preserve the majority of the contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs currently on the AbilityOne Procurement List. This solution would help to preserve most of the jobs tied to VA contracts, and would not result in taking any existing contracts from veteran-owned small businesses.

This compromise sacrifices any opportunity for AbilityOne providers to do new business in the future with the VA, but it is a compromise we are willing to make so that two critical programs can co-exist and serve their important, respective constituencies.

We urge Congress to move quickly to approve this legislative compromise before a substantial number of contracts are lost and people who are blind begin losing their jobs. The time to act is now!

HOW YOU CAN HELP

To show your support and help save jobs for Americans who are blind, contact your federal elected official. If you’re not sure who to speak to, use the links below.

Find your U.S. Representative here

Find your U.S. Senator here

RESOURCES

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