Citizens with disabilities have a much higher rate of unemployment than most other people group in the United States. Physical, mental, and situational disabilities significantly narrow or eliminate any chance for employment for these individuals, especially without outside assistance. This is a statistic which has had the U.S. Labor Department concerned in the last several years, and actively seeking solutions.
In an effort to both boost employment rates and lessen the case load of the over-extended and backlogged Social Security Administration (SSA), the Labor Department has decided to launch the second phase of a program it started last fall. The project, called the Disability Employment Initiative, was formed from the partnership of two branches within the Labor Department – the Employment and Training Administration and the Office of Disability Employment Policy. This project is setting aside $20 million for the purpose of making 6-10 grants available to qualifying state programs which are utilizing the Workforce Investment Act to help provide education, training, and employment assistance to those with disabilities. This includes both adults and children who are disadvantaged, under-supported, mentally or physically disabled and would normally become dependent on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
The goal of the project is to help qualifying programs by improving the systems and avenues through which they offer employment and job-training services to the disabled. By establishing partnerships between the government and the private sector on a nationwide, statewide, and local level, the State Department hopes to lead a team effort to more effectively help the disabled find and keep employment. Ultimately, this will help not only the government, which provides millions of dollars in benefits every year to the disabled, but also the economy, society as a whole, and of course, individuals.
Last year, the Labor Department’s initial launch of the program enabled state-run programs in Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, and New Jersey to improve their employment services to the disabled by way of funding over a period of three years. This second wave of available funding will enable 6 to 10 of the remaining states’ programs to be awarded anywhere from 1.5 to 6 million, to be extended over the same three-year period. Obviously, with 41 states, and only 6 to 10 grants being awarded, there will be tough competition. State programs must convincingly demonstrate the existence of approved methods of incorporating the disabled into the work force. The official invitation to apply is available on the Department of Labor website, and application is open until the middle of July.
With a rising unemployment rate and more disability cases than ever before, it is crucial for both the government and private sector to find ways to assist those who are incapable of helping themselves. By partnering with state programs to provide educational, training and employment opportunities, the Department of Labor plans to significantly improve the statistically low rate of employment among the disabled, and create an enabling environment which will foster not only greater productivity and self-sufficiency, but self-confidence and self-respect.