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Survey reveals government savings

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

VIENNA, Va., Oct. 29, 1999 – People with disabilities who find work through a federal program designed to provide employment opportunities for them ultimately save the government about $3,700 each every year. This is based on a recent survey of nearly 2,000 DoD and Coast Guard contract food-service workers.

NISH, formerly National Industries of the Severely Handicapped, announced these figures as part of the results of their 1999 Survey of Government Entitlements for Workers with Disabilities in JWOD Food Service Projects.

The respondents, all employed on projects covered by the Javits- Wagner-O'Day Act, reduced dependence on government entitlements by $4.18 million annually. Additionally, they pay $2.8 million in taxes annually. In essence, the federal government saves roughly $7 million a year by employing these 2,000 individuals. Apply these figures to the more than 30,000 people with disabilities employed on JWOD projects nationwide, the government saves over $100 million annually.

To be fair, you cant figure all 30,000 would save $3,700 because of different levels of disability, Linda Schulte, vice- president of NISH, said. Some would save more, some less. But were still talking millions of dollars, she said.

The reduced entitlements include unemployment benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Income, welfare income, food stamps, and housing benefits. Matthew Greenwald and Associates, a Washington, D.C.- based market research and survey firm, conducted the survey.

The survey focused on food-service projects, believed by NISH officials to be a representative sample of JWOD service projects. JWOD food-service projects involve military dining facilities in roughly 45 different locations. Of workers surveyed, the largest number, 44 percent, reported their primary disability to be mental retardation.

Congress passed the Wagner-O'Day Act in 1938 to provide for the sale of products made by people who are blind to the federal government. In 1971, the act was amended by Sen. Jacob Javits to include all people with severe disabilities and expanded to include services provided to the federal government. In addition to food service, JWOD projects include administrative support, janitorial and custodial services, central facility management, mailroom operations, and laundry services.

"We wanted to focus on one of the services for our survey, because nearly all of our work, 80 percent, is in the service arena," Schulte said. The other 20 percent of projects involve producing products that are purchased by federal government agencies.

"Food-service workers have a better chance of finding work in a private setting. We were hoping to say to the restaurant industry of the world, 'Hey these are good workers here. They've all been trained, and they work in the military food-service industry,'" Schulte said.

Schulte explained part of NISH's goal is to help people with disabilities find meaningful work outside the JWOD program. Sixteen percent of "JWOD graduates" find private-sector employment each year, she said. This opens up positions for the more than 200,000 individuals with disabilities on waiting lists for employment.

The survey also found that 87 percent of those previously on welfare and three-quarters of those who had been on food stamps were able to discontinue these benefits completely after being employed on JWOD projects. Seventy-six percent of those receiving SSI were able to either discontinue or reduce their use of this benefit, and 60 percent either reduced or discontinued their dependence on public housing.

Prior to JWOD employment, 76 percent of respondents said they had no private health insurance. In contrast, 76 percent now receive health insurance through their employers, greatly reducing their use of Medicare and Medicaid, the survey found.

"Employing people with disabilities makes economic sense and benefits all Americans," Dan McKinnon, president and chief executive officer of NISH, said. "The most effective way to reduce dependence on government entitlements is to provide meaningful employment. If all the people with disabilities who wanted to work could find jobs, the result would be more significant savings to the government and American taxpayers."

Schulte said the survey results are encouraging, but there's still a lot of work to be done. A 1998 Harris Poll found that 29 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed, and that 72 percent of those who are unemployed want to work.

She explained that Community Rehabilitation Programs, which in turn contract with federal government agencies for products or services, employ the people with disabilities. Schulte said the Department of Defense is one of the largest "partners" in the program. The departments of Veterans Affairs, Treasury and Agriculture are also significant partners, she said.

NISH assists these CRPs by providing encouragement and help in establishing contracts with local government agencies.

Schulte said about 550 CRPs have contracts with government agencies nationwide, but there are almost 1,200 more that don't have projects. "They're ready and willing to put people to work in their communities," she said.

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