National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Comments on the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 Regulations
Below are comments submitted by NAMI to the Department of Labor on the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) that was signed into law last August by President Clinton. As NAMI reported in a previous E-News, dated October 21 and available on the NAMI website at http://www2.nami.org/policy.htm, this legislation (P.L. 105-220) is intended to reform job training and rehabilitation programs by consolidating over 60 federal job training programs into three block grants to the states.
WIA instructs state and local workforce boards to develop a strategic five-year plan that will include how special needs populations will be served and the overall delivery of services through "One-stop" centers. NAMI members are encouraged to contact both their state and local workforce investment board to ensure that people with serious brain disorders and their families are engaged in the planning process.
Comments on the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 Regulations
NAMI would like to thank the Department of Labor, the Employment and Training Administration, and the Workforce Investment Act Taskforce for this opportunity to comment on the regulations for the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. With more than 207,000 members, NAMI (The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) is the nation’s leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders. NAMI’s efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for nondiscriminatory and equitable federal, state, and private-sector policies; research into the causes, symptoms and treatment for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma surrounding severe mental illness. NAMI has more than 1,200 state and local affiliates in all 50 states.
Employment is an essential part of recovery for people with severe mental illnesses (SMI). Recent advances in treatment services and medications have increased the capacity of people with SMI to join the mainstream and live independently. Despite these promising developments, individuals with SMI are rarely successful at obtaining a job. A 1990 study by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) found that people with these disorders have a rate of employment of 10 percent to 15 percent. The Schizophrenia Patient Outcomes Research Team (PORT) Treatment Recommendations published in 1998, along with a corresponding study of actual patient care, found that only 22.6 percent of individuals with schizophrenia are involved in any type of employment assistance program. The PORT study indicated that if employment assistance targets individuals with schizophrenia who have certain determinant characteristics, successful employment outcomes occur. Employment assistance is critical for people with SMI to regain independence, dignity and purpose.
Many barriers to employment exist including lack of job opportunity, lack of access to job training and services, and prevailing stigma and prejudice toward people with severe mental illnesses which make employers reluctant to hire people with these brain disorders. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) is the latest in a series of reform measures that could significantly affect the ability of people with SMI to successfully find employment. Although WIA appears to offer improved employment and training services, regulations must include specific measures addressing the unique needs of people with severe mental illnesses in order to provide effective services to this population.
Below are comments by NAMI that are essential to ensuring that people with SMI will receive fair and just treatment under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.
1. People with disabilities, including those with mental illness, should be designated a priority population under WIA. People with severe disabilities are the nation’s largest unemployed minority, with 70% currently unemployed, according to the first report of the Presidential Task Force on Employment of People with Disabilities. The figure is even higher, 85% to 90% unemployed, for people with severe mental illnesses. A recent Harris poll states that 72% of people with disabilities currently unemployed would like to have a job. Unfortunately, the President’s goal of closely matching employment rates of people with disabilities to the general population is not even reflected in the largest job training reform legislation of his own administration. This should be rectified by identifying people with disabilities in the WIA regulations as the neediest group for job training services. Furthermore, the needs of this population should be represented throughout these regulations.
2. States should be required to specifically address the needs of people with severe mental illnesses and other disabilities in WIA state regulations. These regulations must include a specific plan for coordinating activities between the designated WIA agency, the state vocational rehabilitation agency, and other state and local programs responsible for serving people with SMI.
3. The WIA Regulations should require that at least one individual appointed to the WIA State Board should be a business representative with experience in hiring people with disabilities, including people with SMI. WIA authorizes the Governor of each state to appoint representatives to the state board. Along with the Governor, members of the state board are the most powerful decision makers in the implementation of the statewide workforce investment system. WIA instructs Governors to appoint representatives who are business representatives (Sec. 111 (b)(1)(C)(i)) with "optimum policymaking or hiring authority." People with severe mental illnesses have the highest rate of unemployment and their special needs should be represented by someone with experience on the state board.
4. NAMI applauds the intent of WIA to establish an effective comprehensive performance accountability system, however people with severe mental illnesses should be evaluated independently due to the unusually high level of unemployment. WIA specifically states that (Sec. 136(d)(F) states shall report performance measures of participants with disabilities. This information is very important and is needed to properly assess the state of employment of all individuals with disabilities. However, different disability groups have different employment training needs. Current employment training services have not served people with SMI well and outcomes are the worst of any disability group. People with SMI are often labeled "failures" and closed out of the system. But it is the system that has failed to serve an individual with SMI by not addressing the unique needs that could produce a successful outcome. It is imperative to assess performance measures for people with SMI in order to correct this disparity and improve the lives of a largely neglected group.
5. All WIA designated agencies and One-stop centers must provide appropriate training and supported employment services specifically designed for people with SMI without taking funds from an already under-funded vocational rehabilitaion program. As WIA seeks to coordinate and streamline services through One-stop centers, people with SMI will be seeking employment training from generic employment service centers not specifically designed to fit their needs. One-stop employment training centers may not have sufficient expertise to effectively serve people with SMI. Therefore, staff at One-stop centers must receive training and education to effectively serve this population. Additionally, WIA centers must adhere to the mandates and requirements of the American with Disabilities Act as they apply to people with SMI and other disabilities. Finally, although traditional vocational rehabilitation programs have not effectively served people with SMI, they are already under-funded and their funds should not be diverted to WIA programs.
In November 1998, NAMI signed onto a Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) letter providing comments on WIA to the Department of Labor. These comments addressed the issue of One-stops centers complying with the ADA, and the importance of not seeking funds from the vocational rehabilitation system to support services for people with disabilities. One-stops must provide these core services on an universal and non-discriminatory basis.
For further information on NAMI’s comments on WIA implementation, please contact Chris Marshall, federal affairs representative, NAMI, Colonial Place Three, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201-3042 or by phone at 703-516-7969, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.