State governments have increasingly recognized the advantages of proactively recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. As such, many states have pursued “state as a model employer” policies and practices to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in the public sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the mental health of many people living in the U.S., but perhaps none more so than those who have been on the frontlines of protecting the public’s health—first responders, law enforcement officers and the nation’s health care workforce.
By Anna Lucchese, Policy Fellow and Dalton Goble, Policy Fellow
In this rapidly changing world of workforce development, businesses are seeking to diversify their staff through a variety of ways. Hiring people with disabilities is a beneficial option for organizations to achieve this goal while addressing labor needs and obtaining competitive advantages. Studies have indicated that hiring individuals with disabilities improves profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction and inclusive work culture. To encourage these positive outcomes, state governments have worked closely to construct policies that engage the private sector and provide meaningful job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment that is consistent with the individual’s unique strengths, abilities, interests, and informed choice. Due to limited funding, State VR agencies do not always have the capacity to serve everyone eligible for VR services. Order of Selection (OOS) was therefore included in Title I of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to prioritize individuals already receiving assistance from these agencies. OOS requires that during times when resources are scarce, VR agencies must create “the order to be followed in selecting eligible individuals to be provided vocational rehabilitation services.” As of April 2022, there are 41 VR agencies that use the OOS system and 37 VR agencies that do not.
“Our civil rights laws stand no matter what, including during disasters or emergencies, and it is critical that we work together to ensure equity in all that we do for all patients,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.
In March 2021, Congress passed, and President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The $1.9 trillion package is intended to combat the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. ARPA established the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF), allocating $195.3 billion to the states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories for COVID-19 relief and recovery. SFRF funds are intended to support government programs that respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts.
Despite earlier evidence of higher unemployment rates among persons with disabilities compared to those without a disability, more recent employment data shows that two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, employment rates among people with disabilities have rebounded faster.
On November 24, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor published a final rule that increases the hourly minimum wage to $15 for federal contract employees beginning January 30, 2022, up from the current rate of $10.95 per hour. The rule also eliminates the exemption for federal contractors with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage.