In 1987, President Ronald Reagan officially established March as National Disability Awareness Month. Today, 35 years later, I reflect on the past and look toward the future. I see a lot of great things that have happened, but I am worried.
There are 54 million Americans living with disabilities. For many of those people, having a job is not only a paycheck but a purpose. Knowing these stakes, we face the harsh reality that 60% with disabilities are unemployed.
We are at a crossroads in Indiana. The Ability Indiana program has historically been a great “win.” Businesses across the state that employ people with disabilities can apply to become Certified Ability Indiana Organizations (CAIO). The way it works is the state purchases products and services they use anyway from these CAIOs that provide employment and training programs for Hoosiers with disabilities. Through the program, Indiana taxpayers realize annual savings of $2300 per worker. How? CAIO employees become taxpaying citizens and have a reduced need of government entitlements. In addition, state agencies receive high-quality products and services at fair market prices.
In 2018 of HB 1257 was passed to increase program transparency. Governor Eric Holcomb signed the legislation into law. Unfortunately, it did not increase opportunities. In fact, state purchases from CAIOs that employ Hoosiers with disabilities is lower. It is time the state strengthens its own regulations. House Bill 1242, heading towards Governor Holcomb’s desk, is a step in the right direction. It would help answer critical questions. Is the state living up to its own standards? Is it doing all it can to create job opportunities for Hoosiers with disabilities?
HB 1242 would do several things. It addresses the need for increased transparency with the collection and dissemination of information from state agencies on purchasing practices. It would also establish a utilization goal of 1.5%. This would create an awareness and set an expectation that does not conflict with other purchasing goals. It also makes state buyers more cognizant of the Ability Indiana program as they are evaluating available products and services during the purchasing process.
We have seen strong bipartisan support for this legislation. It is my hope Governor Holcomb continues his fight for Hoosiers with disabilities. Any action against this legislation sends the wrong message at a time when we need to bring awareness to Americans living with disabilities. Let’s ensure there are more opportunities for this population of people who want to work while benefitting taxpayers.