SCHUMER LAUNCHES PUSH TO SAVE JOBS OF MORE THAN 100 BLIND OR VISUALLY-IMPAIRED UTICA-AREA RESIDENTS WHO PLAY CRITICAL ROLE IN FED GOVERNMENT SUPPLY CHAIN, ASSEMBLING, PACKING & DISTRIBUTING PRODUCTS FOR GOV AGENCIES FEDS MUST COMPLY WITH 1971 LAW REQUIRING CERTAIN SUPPLIES BE PURCHASED FROM NON-PROFITS EMPLOYING THE BLIND & VISUALLY IMPAIRED
As Result of 1971 Law Authored By Former NY Senator Jacob Javits, Fed Agencies Are Required To Purchase Certain Supplies From Nonprofit Agencies Employing Persons Who Are Blind Like Utica-Based Central New York Association for the Blind and Visually-Impaired But Recent Changes In Supply Distribution Has Cut Work Flow, Put Jobs At Risk Uticas CABVI Has Lost Over $700k In Sales As Result of Fed Changes Schumer Pushes Administration To Require All Cabinet Secretaries To Put Plan
Today, at the Central New York Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utica, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched a push to save the jobs of more than 100 blind Uticaarea residents who make paper goods and other supplies for federal government agencies, in addition to playing an integral role within the federal government's supply chain. Schumer explained that, as a result of a 1971 law authored by former New York Senator Jacob Javits, the federal government is required to purchase certain supplies and services from nonprofit groups like the Central New York Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI), which participate in a program called AbilityOne that employs blind people to make "SkilCraft" brand products, like office equipment and textiles, for the federal government. However, due to recent changes in how the federal government distributes and procures its supplies, sales of SkilCraft products manufactured at CABVI's AbilityOne program have been dwindling in the last year, in one case by $500,000, putting the entire operation - and the jobs - at risk. Schumer said that the federal government must ensure it is complying with the law and purchasing products from groups that participate in the AbilityOne program, since it would be extremely difficult for many of these blind and visuallyimpaired employees to find a new job if the program is no longer viable. Specifically, Schumer called on the administration to develop plans that will ensure agencies continue to purchase goods through AbilityOne, so the program - and the people who work there - can continue to thrive in Utica.
In order to ensure the AbilityOne program continues to thrive in Utica, Schumer called on the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal agency responsible for government procurement, to develop tools and resources that federal agencies and government offices can use to ensure that they are correctly adhering to the JavitsWagnerO'Day Act, and he called on the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to require federal agencies to report annually on their purchases and utilization of AbilityOne products.
"I understand it is important to find ways to cut costs and make government more efficient, but I am equally concerned that some of these costcutting initiatives, and changes in the way GSA does business, could be putting the jobs of many blind or visually impaired Utica residents at risk," said Schumer. "It is extremely difficult for many blind people to find work, and these skilled manufacturing jobs are an amazing opportunity. Not only are these jobs extremely important for Utica's visually impaired, but also for the entire Central New York economy, as many of the raw materials used to make the SkilCraft products are sourced from right here in Utica and elsewhere in Central New York. That is why I am urging the feds to take a good, hard look at the new distribution practices they are putting in place and make sure they are complying with the law and not putting jobs like these in jeopardy."
"When it comes to the true mission of CABVI, Senator Schumer really gets it," said Rudy D'Amico, Executive Director of the organization. "The folks we empower possess the drive and the talent to get the job done but they need the work to keep coming. With Senator Schumer's push, we are confident that this work will continue to flow to CABVI and that we'll weather this sales slump. We know the demand is still there for what we do, and so, there's still time to right this ship by educating federal decision makers about the benefits of organizations like ours. We provide both a fiscal and social savings to taxpayers in the long run."
Schumer explained that the JavitsWagnerO'Day Act (JWOD), passed in 1971, requires all federal agencies to purchase specified supplies-like file folders, postit notes, note pads, firstaid kits and cleaning supplies-from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind, visually impaired, or have other significant disabilities. There are a number of nonprofit agencies in upstate New York who produce these SkilCraft brand products and then sell them to the federal government through its centralized procurement agency, the General Services Administration (GSA). Historically, GSA has operated distribution centers around the country that purchase these products from the nonprofits and then distribute them to federal agencies. In an effort to reduce costs through smarter procurement systems, GSA is completely turning distribution over to private companies that specialize in commercial distribution, like Staples, and has begun to close their distribution centers over the past decade; the last two are expected to be shuttered by the end of 2014.
Sales of SkilCraft products have fallen significantly from 20112013, and the National Institute for the Blind (NIB) and its associated nonprofit agencies are very concerned about the impact these changes will have on future sales. Schumer said that the nonprofits in Upstate New York that are a part of the AbilityOne Program and produce SkilCraft office products have also expressed concern that privatization of supply distribution will result in less oversight to ensure that agencies are complying with JWOD and will hurt their business. Schumer explained that this is exactly what is happening to the AbilityOne Program in Utica. At the CABVI facility in Utica, over 200 people are employed making products for the government, over 100 of whom are blind or visually impaired. Twenty of these employees are specifically tasked with making SkilCraft products, including file folders, rubber bands, flashlights, examination gloves, disposable medical items (isolation gowns, shoe covers, caps, incontinence products), pens, pencils, garbage bags, work gloves, textiles (patient apparel, sheets, pillow cases, washcloths), cleaning products and environmental friendly tableware. Schumer noted that these 20 employees are most at risk as a result of new federal distribution and procurement processes, but that any decrease in sales could also affect the job status of other employees if the federal government does not comply with JWOD.
Schumer said that sales at CABVI's AbilityOne program dropped from $1.8 million to $1.1 million over the past year - a decline of nearly 30 percent. In addition, changes in the federal distribution and procurement process have also led to lowerthanexpected sales for the rubber bands produced at CABVI. CABVI had expected approximately $1 million in rubber band sales this fiscal year, but they have only done $500,000 in sales with a month left to go. If this trend continues, it will be increasingly difficult to absorb the loss.
Additionally, any potential closure of ABVI's AbilityOne program could have a ripple effect across the entire Utica economy. Because this facility purchases many of its raw materials for manufacturing from local Uticaarea suppliers and businesses, numerous other local jobs and profits hang in the balance. Some of these companies include Fiber Instrument Sales, located in Oriskany; Mountainside Medical, Utica; Mayflower Trading, located in Utica; Syracuse Corrigated, located in Syracuse; Genesis Disposables, located in Frankfort; Mid York Press, located in Utica; Palor City Box Co, located in Norwich; Northern Saftey, located in Utica; and Johnston Paper Co, located in Auburn. AbilityOne sales are also a major part of CABVI's annual budget to provide rehab and outreach programing. AbilityOne sales help support orientation and mobility training, low vision services, preschool screening, prevocational training, early intervention, employment training, technology training, children's services, and adaptive sports and recreations programs - including CABVI's Camp Abilities. Any sustained decrease in sales could affect CABVI's ability to deliver these programs.
Schumer explained that while he understands the need for cost reduction and smarter federal procurement systems, the federal government cannot overlook requirements in the process. Schumer further said that losing these jobs would be a blow to the entire community. Utica's CABVI pays its employees well above the minimum wage and provides comprehensive benefits. Nationally, approximately 97 percent of AbilityOne employees do not take welfare or public assistance benefits. Schumer explained that this means a net win for both the community and the government. The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 70 percent of people with sustained vision loss are not working and nearly 50 percent of this population lives in poverty. What's more, many CABVI employees who start working at the facility in Utica learn skills and move on to advance in their career, either in different capacities at CABVI or in the private sector.
Schumer was joined by Kevin Lynch, President and CEO of National Industries for the Blind; Angela Hartley, Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer of National Industries for the Blind; Rudy D'Amico, Executive Director of CABVI; members of the CABVI Board of Directors; and CABVI AbilityOne employees. Schumer explained that the AbilityOne revenue is also a critical sustaining source of funds for the entire CABVI organization, which employs a total of 220 people overall in the greater Utica region across a variety of businesses.
Schumer has worked in close collaboration with fellow New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on ensuring the jobs at Utica's CABVI, as well as other AbilityOne program sites around New York State are protected.
Schumer and Gillibrand's letters to the General Services Administration (GSA) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) appear below.
Dear GSA Administrator Tangherlini,
I write today to express my support for the AbilityOne Program and ask for the federal government's adherence to the JavitsWagnerO'Day Act in light of the General Services Administration's (GSA) decision to close the depot system for storing and distributing commonly used supply items.
The AbilityOne center located in Utica, NY-called the Central New York Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired-is of particular concern to me. AVBI is the largest single provider of employment for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have significant disabilities, such as blindness, and currently employ over 40,000 individuals at over 600 communitybased nonprofit agencies across the U.S. I am a proud supporter of the AbilityOne Program and the terrific work they do to provide employment and other services for persons who are blind and disabled. AbilityOne revenue is also a critical sustaining source of funds for the entire CABVI organization, which employs a total of 220 employees in the greater Utica and Central New York region.
In light of the GSA's decision to change the way in which it procures and distributes federal supplies, sales at Utica's CABVI's AbilityOne have dropped from $1.8 million to $1.1 million in the last year, putting the entire operation - and the jobs - at risk. At the CABVI facility in Utica, 20 of their blind or visually impaired manufacturing employees in the AbilityOne program make several different SkilCraft products, including file folders, rubber bands, flashlights and other office supplies. These 20 employees make these products, which are directly distributed under the GSA commercial distribution system. These 20 people are now at risk of losing their jobs immediately due to this privatization. In the long term, this privatization could also jeopardize all 100 jobs if the entire program is put in danger. A number of the nonprofits in Upstate New York that are a part of the AbilityOne Program and produce SkilCraft office products have expressed concern to me and my staff that this privatization of supply distribution will result in less oversight to ensure that agencies are complying with JWOD and will hurt their business.
While I understand the need for a smarter procurement system, the federal government cannot overlook requirements in the process. Losing these jobs would be a huge blow to the entire Utica community. CABVI pays its employees well above the minimum wage and provides comprehensive benefits. The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 70 percent of people with sustained vision loss are not working and nearly 50 percent of this population lives in poverty. The AbilityOne Program provides participants with high quality job opportunities who would otherwise rely on public assistance allowing these people to be active members of their communities and productive members of society. What's more, many CABVI employees who start working at the facility in Utica learn skills and move on to advance in their career, either in different capacities at CABVI or in the private sector.
I urge you to work with stakeholders to develop additional tools and resources that federal agencies and government offices can use to ensure that they are correctly adhering to the JavitsWagnerO'Day Act which states that SkilCraft and AbilityOne products must be prioritized over and not substituted by commercial products in federal purchases. I acknowledge that the GSA is committed to supporting the AbilityOne program and urge you to recommit to the requirements set forth by the JWOD Act. The consequence will be hundreds of layoffs and furloughs for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or severely disabled but whom otherwise can and want to become wage earners and tax payers who have personal and economic independence.
Again, we implore GSA to work cooperatively with the AbilityOne Commission and National Industries for the Blind (NIB) to find ways to deliver real value for the federal customer through the availability and delivery of AbilityOne products and services and increase employment for persons who are blind and severely disabled.
Charles E. Schumer Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator United States Senator
Dear OMB Acting Director Deese,
I write today to ask for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) action to ensure the federal government's adherence to the JavitsWagnerO'Day (JWOD) Act in light of the General Services Administration's (GSA) decision to close the depot system for storing and distributing commonly used supply items manufactured through the AbilityOne program. The GSA sales trends over the past several years indicate that agencies are not complying to the fullest extent of the JWOD Act and GSA has been unable to prevent significant noncompliance issues with the JWOD law by ensuring that federal agencies are purchasing AbilityOne products as required by law. Noncompliance, often referred to as Essentially the Same (ETS) occurs when federal agencies purchase nonAbilityOne products from government contractors instead of the AbilityOne product as required by law. It is imperative that this law be enforced throughout all federal agencies as JWOD programs run by local nonprofits rely on this business to employ hundreds of severely disabled people across the country. Specifically to better ensure compliance I ask OMB to require federal agencies to report annually on their purchases and utilization of AbilityOne products.
As you know, the JWOD Act was passed in the early 1970's as an expansion of the 1938 WagnerO'Day Act and served the purpose of employing people who are blind, visually impaired, or live with other severe disabilities. Since its passage, manufacturing and service jobs provided to Federal agencies have employed thousands of workers who would not otherwise have meaningful employment. Not only does the JWOD Act support employment equity, but it also supports local communities as JWOD manufacturers purchase local materials to make their products. For example, the AbilityOne program is the largest single provider of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities and currently employ over 40,000 individuals at over 600 communitybased nonprofit agencies across the U.S.I am a proud supporter of the AbilityOne Program in my office and the terrific work they do to provide employment and other services for persons who are blind and disabled. As you know, approximately 70 percent of working age Americans who are blind are unemployed face serious barriers in finding employment that service their needs both on and off the job.
While I understand that strategic sourcing is an important tool for saving taxpayer dollars, I must continue to prioritize our commitment to providing equitable employment opportunities to the severely disabled. I strongly urge you to work with stakeholders to develop additional tools and resources that federal agencies and government offices can use to ensure that they are correctly adhering to the JavitsWagnerO'Day Act which states that SkilCraft and AbilityOne products must be prioritized over and not substituted by commercial products in federal purchases. Federal agencies need to be held accountable for their purchases under the premise of this law.
This has had serious repercussions for our local community members employed by JWOD programs, like AbilityOne, most of who are persons who are blind. The consequence will be hundreds of layoffs and furloughs for persons who are blind or severely disabled but whom otherwise can and want to become wageearners and tax payers who have personal and economic independence. In New York State there are seven agencies, five that manufacture goods and two that contract services that employ a total of nearly 400 people who are legally blind. Of these agencies, four are at risk of closing down if this crucial law is not enforced. OMB's cooperation is essential to making this happen.
Again, I implore OMB to work cooperatively with federal agencies to find ways to deliver real value for the federal customer through the availability and delivery of products and services provided by JWOD program participants, ensure federal agencies are in compliance with the law by reporting on their annual purchases of AbilityOne products, and increase employment for persons who are blind and severely disabled.
Charles E. Schumer Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator United States Senator
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