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Workforce Investment and Rehab Act Now Law

In August Congress passed, and the President signed into law theWorkforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220). The new law also includes reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law replaces the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and consolidates over 60 federal programs through the establishment of three block grants to the states. While it is impossible to summarize all of the changes to the Rehabilitation Act in this column, there were several changes that will be of particular interest to RESNA members. Below are excerpts from the Conference agreement between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The full text of the new law and the Congressional Conference Report (H.Rpt. 105-659) at Thomas, the Congressional website

Congress urged the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services to direct current evaluation activities on identifying what works well, rather than continuing to seek to define, or in many cases, redefine, the chronic problems connected to the employment of individuals with disabilities. Congress expects that through the changes made throughout the law in integrating the State workforce system, States will serve individuals with disabilities throughout the entire State workforce system, not only through State vocational rehabilitation program.

Accommodations at Colleges and Universities and Inter-Agency Agreements - Congress recognized that colleges and universities already have a responsibility to provide certain services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Conferees encourage State vocational rehabilitation agencies and public institutions of higher education, in developing interagency agreements, to consider the requirements of the ADA. However, State vocational rehabilitation agencies should not interpret these "interagency agreement" provisions as shifting the obligation for paying for specific vocational rehabilitation services to colleges and universities. State vocational rehabilitation agencies will still have that responsibility.

Cooperative agreements - This section is designed to make the State vocational rehabilitation system more compatible with the State's workforce system and to underscore the links in training, information, and financial management systems between the two systems. Included in this sectiion is the use of common intake and referral procedures, customer databases, resource information, and human service notices.

Transition Services - The Conferees also reaffirm the intent of the transition services provisions in the 1992 Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments, to define the role of the rehabilitation system as "primarily one of planning for the student's years after leaving school".

Eligibility - The bill adds new language making individuals who receive SSI or SSDI benefits automatically eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. "The Conferees do not intend to create any sort of entitlement to vocational rehabilitation services for individuals receiving SSI or SSDI benefits. SSI and SSDI recipients must still, however, demonstrate their desire to work in order to receive vocational rehabilitation services. Moreover, the decision on whether an individual actually receives vocational rehabilitation services is based on the availability of funds in accordance with the State's order of selection criteria."

Individual plans - The Conferees expect that these changes will fundamentally change the role of the client-counselor relationship, and that in many cases counselors will serve more as facilitators of plan development. The Conferees believe that a consumer-driven program is most effective in getting people jobs.

Research and Training - The law eliminates provisions that requires the awarding of funds for pediatric rehabilitation and other areas, but adds provisions that allow research grants to be made for research programs on the effectiveness of medical practices and on quality assurance in rehabilitation technology, and makes other improvements in focusing research funds on critical areas.

The Conferees stated further that they intend that information and findings from work funded by NIDRR be effectively disseminated so that it is more accessible to the public, including individuals with disabilities. The Conferees also recognized "that individuals with disabilities lack access to uniform, useful information about assistive technology devices and services". The Conferees urged NIDRR to assume a leadership role in promoting the identification, use, and acceptance of uniform information about common devices and services that permit individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions about such devices and services. However, the Conferees believed that it would be inappropriate for NIDRR to contemplate or set standards for such devices and services.

There was a provision in the House version of the law that required compliance with the "Buy American" Act. The Conference Committee had agreed to exempt the Rehabilitation Act from this provision but it was included in error. A technical amendment is expected to be adopted to fix this potential problem.

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The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and RESNA. The grant (Grant #H224B050003; CFDA 84.224B) is funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended and administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

This website is developed with grant funds. The information contained on these pages does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education or the Grantee and no official endorsement of the information should be inferred.