On July 22, 2014 President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. The new law was a bipartisan and bicameral effort and shows the commitment to developing a workforce that can enter into competitive employment. The bill itself targets areas of previous acts by appealing some amendments and supersedes others entirely.

In the world of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), WIOA brings some significant changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The requirements of state agencies have quite a bit of time until implementation of new processes and strategy are in play. The Act goes into effect starting July 1, 2015, a full year after being signed by the President.

While the following list is not a comprehensive detailed list of all changes, it is meant to show a high level overview of features about the plan for the upcoming changes in reference to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Of the many amendments of the 1973 Act, the WIOA emphasizes the development of services to youth with disabilities. With the training services, youth will be able to practice workplace skills in their career of choice. This will require State VR agencies to make “pre-employment transition services” available to all students with disabilities as well as set aside fifteen percent of Federal VR program funds to provide the transition services to assist students with disabilities from the secondary to post-secondary shift. This shift in resources and focus can help prioritize serving students with disabilities in competitive employment.

The new act also emphasizes creating employer engagement within the community in all programs. By creating work-based learning experiences for the individuals in the programs it will allow employers to be matched with skilled workers and can contribute to economic growth. This effort ensures job-driven training rather than erroneous skill training. Agencies will be required to describe in their state plans on how they will work with partners or employers to integrate and identify employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Along with employer engagement, WIOA emphasizes competitive integrated employment. Program services will be designed to maximize the ability of individuals in the programs that have disabilities. The State agencies must ensure that priority will be given to individuals who are eligible for VR services and who are at risk of losing their jobs without other training or post employment services.

With a large focus of the Workforce Act being placed on the consumers of VR programs and youth with disabilities, the Act also works to ensure quality and accountability of agencies. WIOA will increase accountability and place a stronger emphasis on results across all core WIOA programs including VR programs. To increase transparency across federal workforce programs, six primary indicators will be used to understand performance of adults and youth. With the indicators, policy makers, consumers and program users can better understand the effectiveness of the services provided by the state.

A largely important change from the bill will be the transfer of programs under the Department of Education (ED) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Independent Living programs, Research centers and programs under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 will be in limbo as they transfer from ED to the Administration for Community Living which is housed in HHS. To increase efficiency of which individuals are served, the WIOA repeals several programs including In-Service Training Programs, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker programs, Recreational Programs and Projects with Industry.

The Department of Labor released a timeline of required implementation dates which we have attached to the article below. This timeline applies to programs administered by the Department of Labor, and only gives a high level overview of the requirements on certain dates.

With new updates, VR Horizons will continue to keep our community informed and aware of timeline, updates and implementations. To see an overview of the changes brought by the WIOA as announced by the U.S. Department of Education on July 24th, 2014, click here.