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A Bipartisan Victory for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

As you may have heard in the news, conflicting federal laws have recently cost dozens of blind or visually impaired individuals their jobs in Forsyth County. It’s a devastating outcome that required an expeditious response, and I’m proud to report that relief is on the way. Thanks to the passage of H.R. 4920, the bipartisan VA Contracting Preference Consistency Act, nonprofits who support individuals with disabilities such as IFB Solutions, located in Winston Salem, can work for the VA if they held federal contracts that predate the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006. As an original cosponsor of this bipartisan initiative, I’m pleased to see its passage in the House and its subsequent signage by the President.

To fully understand the necessity for this legislation, let’s turn back the clocks. For blind or visually impaired workers, their opportunity to gain employment stems from the AbilityOne program. AbilityOne was enacted by Congress to help those who have trouble finding work due to circumstances beyond their control. This program gives nonprofit companies that employ the blind and significantly disabled individuals preferential treatment in competing for certain federal procurement contracts. One such nonprofit is IFB Solutions, which employs workers right here in the Fifth District.

Unfortunately, court rulings cost IFB Solutions three important federal contracts that supported blind workers. This is because of an unnecessary conflict between AbilityOne and a similar program, the Veterans First program, which sets aside some Department of Veterans Affairs contracts for service-disabled veteran owned small businesses. Typically, the AbilityOne program has been exempted from such programs to not put programs for veterans and programs for the blind in conflict with each other. However, when Congress passed the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006 to create the Veterans First program, it neglected to exempt the AbilityOne program.

The passage of the VA Contracting Preference Consistency Act did not come to fruition through osmosis, Democrats and Republicans came together in a bipartisan fashion to correct this issue. Though the common narrative portrayed by the media dictates that Republicans and Democrats divide into two warring factions and refuse to compromise on any, or all, legislative items, the simple truth is that this notion is untrue. Bipartisanship on critical issues is not a “once in a blue moon” occurrence, nor is it a last resort when all other legislative avenues for passing legislation have been exhausted. This legislative fix is a testament to the power of bipartisan collaboration, and it’s an undeniable win for workers not only in the Fifth District, but also for workers across our country.

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