Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Heralds New Opportunities
On July 22, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act and Rehabilitation Act. For over a decade, Congress has been debating this reauthorization, which is now effective through 2020.
The President stated that the WIOA “will help workers, including workers with disabilities, access employment, education, job-driven training, and support services that give them the chance to advance their careers and secure the good jobs of the future.” But what exactly does this legislation do?
David Hoff is a program director at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We asked him for his insights on the WIOA.
“Number one, for people with disabilities, the WIOA makes it clear that that the general workforce system is there to help them,” Hoff explains. “Most people access this system through American Job Centers (AJCs), or One-Stop Career Centers—there’s over 1,700 AJCs around the country. Now, however, in the WIOA, there is a lot of really great language stating clearly that that system helps people with disabilities.”
Another significant element to the WIOA is the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. Hoff notes that 15% of public vocational rehabilitation system funds will now be used for transition services for people with disabilities, especially pre-employment transition services.
“There was no mandate before,” Hoff explains. “So if you’re a young person in school looking for services, looking for assistance, clearly there’s now a stronger mandate for vocational rehabilitation services to help you. That’s a huge piece.”
The WIOA also mandates better employment funding for young people with significant disabilities, through Supported Employment State Grants totaling around $27 million. “Now at least half that money has to go for what is called ‘youth with the most significant disabilities,’ which includes people up to age 24. This is another strong message from WIOA that vocational rehab needs to serve young people with disabilities,” says Hoff. “If we can get people into work, their long-term lives will see more success, they won’t end up spending their lives on Social Security benefits, or in day programs.”
WIOA also limits the use of sub-minimum wage for people under 24. Hoff says, “It places severe limits and procedures that have to occur for young people being screened by the vocational rehabilitation system before entering sub-minimum wage jobs. And schools can no longer contract with entities like sheltered workshops that pay sub-minimum wage.”
Courses in the DirectCourse/College of Employment Services give employment professionals important background about disability legislation and its day-to-day impact. Check out our course Foundations of Employment Services to learn more.