Disabled Workers Hit Hard by Shutdown
by Rachel Thomas
One month and two days and still 800,000 federal employees are currently working without pay as a result of the “partial” government shutdown. As many employees struggle to afford basic necessities it’s only slight comfort that Congress has already passed the law authorizing back pay when the shutdown ends. While the hardship of these government employees deserves the mass media’s coverage, there are also over four million federal contractors supporting the federal government, and the million furloughed contractors have notably received far less attention for not only being put on leave but have little hope they will ever get paid for the past month.
Even those contractors specifically designated as needing government assistance are not immune to the shutdown. Blind and severally disabled Americans working through the Javits-Wagner O’Day (JWOD) Act are included in this massive number of out of work contractors. JWOD established the AbilityOne Program that gives over 45,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities employment on federal contracts, and the program is the largest source of employment for these individuals. Rather than simply writing more checks to support a disadvantaged and marginalized population, the AbilityOne Program gives a path to meaningful employment. Not only do these individuals gain a dignified answer to the typical “so what do you do?” they also provide much-needed labor supporting government facilities and operations.
While the sudden lack of pay can be devastating to anyone, disabled employees under the AbilityOne program are also currently without the much-needed support system tied to this specialized program. Harrison Misewicz, Director of Contracting for Chimes DC, a non-profit resource provider for individuals with disabilities, reports that of the hundred Chimes DC employees currently furloughed, none are receiving benefits while the shutdown looms. In addition, many of these disabled workers are missing the day-to-day coaching and other direct support they have come to rely on while they wait at home for the chance to go back to work.
There is a push to help low-wage federal contractor employees such as those working under the AbilityOne program. While the damage and disruption these individuals are facing may never be cured, one hopes this bill will gain more attention and offer some relief to the already disadvantaged population.