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.
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. The AbilityOne Program provides employment for approximately 45,000 Americans who are blind or have significant disabilities and approximately 7,000 veterans, including approximately 3,000 wounded, ill or injured veterans.
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.
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.
If Congress doesn’t intervene, 800 Americans who are blind, including veterans, will lose their jobs. Furthermore, dozens of 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.
Across the AbilityOne Program, more than 2,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities— some of whom are also veterans—will lose their jobs and livelihoods due to the VA’s Rule of Two policy.
Meet a few of our employees who stand to be impacted if immediate action isn’t taken.
Scott Smith, visually impaired employee at IFB Solutions and Navy veteran. Scott works as an optical lab technician producing glasses for veterans.
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.
- This misguided court ruling could put hundreds of Americans who are blind out of work — Congress must act, The Hill, July 6, 2019
- Joint NIB/NAEPB Letter to Ranking Members of House and Senate VA Committees, May 29, 2019
- Congressional Sign-On Letter to Secretary Wilkie, July 11, 2019
- American Council of the Blind Veterans Affairs Contracts Resolution 2019-03, July 23, 2019
- Blinded Veterans Association Letter of Support, June 24, 2019
RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE
- Court decision could threaten jobs for disabled workers, WTIU-TV, January 3, 2020
- Top government contract cases to watch in 2020, Law 360, January 2, 2020
- U.S House passes bill that helps to protect blind workers, Carolina Journal, December 17, 2019
- U.S. House passes bill that could restore contracts & jobs with IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem, WFMY News 2, December 17, 2019
- Walker supports job protections for veterans and North Carolinians with disabilities, Representative Mark Walker, December 17, 2019
- U.S. House clears bill that would restore two expired IFB Solutions federal optical contracts, Winston-Salem Journal, December 17, 2019
- VA contracts would come back to IFB Solutions, Spectrum News, December 17, 2019
- Foxx files bill that would restore contracts to nonprofits serving the blind, disabled, Carolina Journal, November 11, 2019
- Our view: sad loss for IFB workers, Winston-Salem Journal, September 16, 2019
- Employer of blind North Carolinians loses first VA contract, Carolina Journal, September 11, 2019
- IFB Solutions CEO says company ‘cut out’ of federal contract process, Triad Business Journal, September 11, 2019
- Job Cuts Begin in IFB Solutions’ Optical Lab, Company Wants US Supreme Court to Hear Case, WFMY News 2, September 10, 2019
- IFB Solutions Loses Jobs, Hundreds of Blind Employees at Risk, Spectrum News, September 10, 2019
- IFB Solutions Files Petition With Supreme Court In Effort To Save Jobs, 88.5 WFDD, September 10, 2019
- 47 workers lose jobs after IFB loses contract appeal, Winston-Salem Journal, September 10, 2019
- IFB Solutions loses 47 jobs in Winston-Salem as VA ends optical contract, WXII, September 10, 2019
- IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem petitions Supreme Court after losing first government contract, forced to cut 47 jobs, Fox 8 News, September 10, 2019
- Triad IFB veterans, disabled employees left in limbo as VA contract battle continues, WXII, August 28, 2019
- Nonprofit that employs the blind says rival violating Veterans First legislation, Carolina Journal, August 16, 2019
- IFB Solutions files protest of VA contract decision, gains second reprieve, Winston Salem-Journal, August, 16, 2019
- IFB Solutions continues to fight job losses, expects VA to extend contract until decision is made, August 15, 2019
- Department of Veterans Affairs expands contract with IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem, WFMY News 2, August 15, 2019
- Curtis Chase: Save their jobs, Arkansas Democrat Gazzette, August 8, 2019
- Our view: Local jobs on the line, Winston-Salem Journal, August 3, 2019
- Legal dispute over VA set-asides could force W-S factory to fire blind workers, Carolina Journal, August 2, 2019
- IFB Solutions cutting 137 jobs in Winston-Salem due to federal policy changes, WFMY News 2, July 30, 2019
- IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem gets extension amid fight to keep 137 jobs, including 76 blind workers, Fox News 8, 7/30/2019
- 137 jobs are still on the line in Winston-Salem. But the nation’s largest employer of the blind is fighting court rulings, Winston-Salem Journal, 7/30/2019
- Costly policy? IFB Solutions visits DC, fights to save jobs, WXII 12 News, July 30, 2019
- Scott Smith: Local jobs for the blind are facing elimination – now, Winston-Salem Journal, July 28, 2019
- Court ruling may help veterans but hurt the blind, ABC 4, July 26, 2019
- IFB Solutions facing loss of 76 jobs for people who are blind, The Chronicle, July 25, 2019
- Plant that employs blind workers in Asheville braces for impact of policy change, WLOS News 13, July 24, 2019
- Winston-Salem based IFB Solutions, nation’s largest employer of blind workers, to lose 137 jobs due to federal policy changes, Fox 8, July 23, 2019
- IFB Solutions leaders lobby in Washington after new VA proposal could cut 137 jobs in Winston-Salem, WXII 12 News, July 23, 2019
- 137 people losing jobs at IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem, 76 of them are blind, WFMY News 2, 7/23/2019
- 137 local jobs at stake as IFB Solutions faces loss of federal contract, Winston-Salem Journal, July 23, 2019
- Layoffs on the horizon for IFB Solutions, 88.5 WFDD, July 23, 2019
- IFB Solutions facing dozens of job cuts; leaders heading to D.C. to fight policy change, WXII, July 22, 2019