Lighthouse for the Blind Officials from St. Louis Lobby Missouri Political Leaders in Washington, D.C.
JUNE 6, 2016, St. Louis, Missouri… John Thompson, president of Lighthouse for the Blind-Saint Louis (LHB), Jill Kluesner, vice-president-finance and Elton Thomas, production supervisor at LHB’s manufacturing plant in Berkeley, Missouri, met with U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo) and six other Missouri congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., on May 25 to lobby for policy changes to help people who are blind be more independent.
The Lighthouse team met with Congressional representatives to raise awareness and support for job opportunities for people who are blind as part of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) Public Policy Forum conducted in the nation’s capital May 24–25.
“Seventy percent of working-age Americans who are blind are not employed,” said LHB’s Thomas. “People in the blind community are one of the nation’s greatest untapped labor resources — that is why the Lighthouse and NIB lobbied legislators for policy changes to help people who are blind become more independent through job training, education and employment to earn steady income.”
LHB is a non-profit 501(c)3 enterprise that helps children and adults who are visually impaired maintain dignity and independence by offering employment, education and support services. NIB and its network of associated nonprofit agencies, including LHB, comprise the nation’s largest employer of people who are blind through sale of products and services enabled by the federal AbilityOne® program.
LHB has two plants in St. Louis, and employs 48 people who are legally blind to assemble, pack and ship a variety of products to government, commercial and retail customers nationwide.
At the Public Policy Forum, LHB and NIB staff discussed these key issues with Congressional leaders:
Preserve the Commissary Benefit. Thomas said, “The commissary is a great benefit for men and women in uniform, and veterans. It enables military troops and their families to buy products at discounts, which helps them financially. The commissary system hires people with severe disabilities, and is supplied with products made by eighteen NIB Agencies that hire people who are blind. The Commissary Benefit is important for military troops and veterans, people with severe disabilities and for people who are blind.”
Redefine the definition of an “integrated work setting” to include AbilityOne nonprofit agencies. “The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) of 2014 brings challenges for blind people seeking employment,” Thomas said. “WIOA states that a place of competitive employment must have an ‘integrated setting,’ meaning that a workforce must have at least a 51 percent ratio of non-disabled employees in order to be considered a competitive workplace. This conflicts with the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD) of 1938, as implemented today via the AbilityOne Program through NIB and its associated agencies. Under the JWOD Act, NIB agencies must have direct employment of which 75 percent or more of the employees are legally blind. This does not meet WIOA’s definition of ‘integrated setting’ because of WIOA’s higher ratio requirement of non-disabled employees. The result is that many blind people seeking employment do not get referred to NIB agencies which provide competitive employment,” Thomas said.
Remove the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Cash Cliff barrier. “The SSDI ‘cash cliff’ is a term meaning that if an SSDI recipient earns just one dollar over the specified cap (currently $1,820 per month), then he or she will lose all SSDI benefits,” said Thomas. “We know that some people who are blind at agencies across the nation are rejecting pay raises, promotions, and in some cases quitting their jobs, because they fear losing SSDI. If Congress would remove the ‘cash cliff,’ then it would make our mission easier in helping blind folks become more independent,” he said.
“We urged Missouri legislators to remove the ‘cash cliff’ barrier and implement a benefit offset or sliding scale in order to incentivize people who are blind to accept promotions, additional work hours and increased pay. A benefit offset will allow SSDI recipients to trade dollars gone over the cap for dollars from the SSDI benefit. We believe this common sense reform approach will promote upward mobility for people who are blind while reducing dependence on federal benefits,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who is legally blind, added, “It was very exciting and meaningful for LHB to participate in NIB’s Public Policy Forum. We believe we made a positive difference in communicating our goals to Missouri legislators and their staff members who all seemed to support our mission. The wheels of government often turn slowly, yet we came away thinking that the ‘cash cliff’ issue may have a chance of passage in the future,” Thomas said.
LHB employees assemble, warehouse and sell many high-quality products including first aid kits, medical kits, catheters, aerosol and liquid paints, aerosol and liquid cleaning products, eco-friendly products and many others, including Quake Kare® emergency survival kit products and Tear Mender® adhesive products.
All sales revenues directly support Lighthouse programs including Professional Career Development; Special Technology and Adaptive Resources for Students (STARS); Summer Jobs for Students; Continuing Education; Arts & Entertainment Accessibility; Low Vision Aid; and others for individuals who are legally blind and visually impaired in Missouri and Southwestern Illinois.
For information, contact Brittney Bettonville, Marketing Manager, at 800.542.3697 or 314.423.4333, or see the websites http://www.lhbindustries.com, http://www.quakekare.com or https://www.tearmender.com.