Briefing to the Senate HELP Committee
February 23, 2006
Randolph-Sheppard Stakeholders Group
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Randolph-Sheppard Act
1. Why should the benefits of the Randolph-Sheppard Act be limited to persons who are blind?
The Randolph-Sheppard program makes a powerful statement about the capacity of blind Americans to contribute at the highest levels in our society. Obviously, those who work as blind vendors gain from this program, but Randolph-Sheppard offers valuable benefits for all blind people: watching blind men and women conduct public business on a par with others demonstrates that it is respectable to be blind.
2. Why not combine the Randolph-Sheppard program with other programs to offer business and employment opportunities to persons with disabilities?
The number of opportunities available under the Randolph-Sheppard program continues to decline, while blind people who are ready to work wait for facilities to open. If Randolph-Sheppard opportunities are made available for individuals with a wide range of disabilities, blind people would be squeezed out of those opportunities presently generated by the program. Other business development programs especially designed for persons with particular disabilities should be created or enhanced. The limitations resulting from different disabling conditions are unique and must be considered to achieve appropriate use of skills and abilities.
3. Who runs the Randolph-Sheppard program? Is it the same in all 50 states?
The Randolph-Sheppard program is administered in each state by the State Licensing Agencies (SLAs), state rehabilitation agencies designated under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended). In those states that have separate state agencies for the blind, the Blind Agency serves as the SLA. Though SLAs administer the program, the Act requires that each state establish an elected committee of blind vendors who are empowered actively to participate with the SLA in development of policies affecting the program. Therefore, some policies governing the Randolph-Sheppard program may vary from state to state.
4. Who is eligible to apply to become a Randolph-Sheppard vendor? How does someone who is blind find out about and join the program?
To participate, individuals must be legally blind in accordance with the definition used in the Social Security Act and restated in the Randolph-Sheppard Act and regulations. Additionally, individuals must be citizens of the United States, and meet state program eligibility requirements to receive licenses to operate vending facilities. Because the SLAs are rehabilitation agencies established under the Rehabilitation Act, rehabilitation counselors employed by these agencies have information about opportunities available under the RS program. Others may become aware of the program through friends who are operating vending facilities, or from blindness organizations that promote opportunities available under the program.
5. How large an operation does the typical Randolph-Sheppard vendor run? How many employees? How much revenue? What is the typical annual salary of a Randolph-Sheppard vendor?
Most facilities are small classic “mom and pop operations” with an owner-operator and perhaps one or two additional full time employees. These constitute about 90% of the 3,100 facilities. Ten percent of facilities are cafeterias; only .5% of the facilities have over 25 employees. The typical Randolph-Sheppard vendor received an income of nearly $40,000 in 2004. The average vending facility had total gross receipts of $157,580 in that year.
6. How large is the Randolph-Sheppard program nationally? How much federal funding does it receive?
There are 2,584 licensed blind vendors, a number that has been declining steadily. These vendors operate about 3,100 facilities, (again a number that is declining) but many venues are small and are therefore combined to produce a respectable income for their operators. Congress is authorized to appropriate federal funds to the Randolph-Sheppard program, but has never done so. The state licensing agencies generally dedicate a small portion of their funds for rehabilitation to the program, and some states require vendors to contribute a reasonable portion of their profits (referred to in the RS Act as a set aside) which can only be allocated for specific purposes expressed by law.
7. How many persons with disabilities are employed as a result of the Randolph-Sheppard program? What percentage of the Randolph-Sheppard program workforce does that represent? How does that compare to the private and public work force nationally?
According to available data, approximately one-third of the total number of individuals employed under Randolph-Sheppard as managers or employees has a disability. This substantially exceeds the percentages of disabled workers in either the public or private sector workforces. However, data collection instruments used by the program have only recently begun to seek information about disability employment. While there are several commonly used definitions of “disability” in federal law, there is no definition of the term in the RS Act. This further complicates the application of a definition and collection of accurate statistics. Those close to the program recognize that employment of persons with disabilities is underreported, because many employees in small operations may have disabilities that go unreported for data collection purposes. Among the larger operations, several stand out for their active efforts to employ individuals with disabilities.
8. Supporters claim that the purpose of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is to foster blind entrepreneurship rather than employment, but the word entrepreneurship is never used in the Act. How is this legislative intent expressed?
The language of the Act calls for more than simply employment of blind people. This begins with the purpose clause, which states, “For the purposes of providing blind persons with remunerative employment, enlarging the economic opportunities of the blind, and stimulating the blind to greater efforts in striving to make themselves self-supporting.” It is reinforced by the statement that the SLAs and the Rehabilitation Services Administration must support the advancement of blind vendors under this Act: “The Commissioner shall ensure…that uniform and effective training programs, including on-the-job training, are provided for blind individuals, through services under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. He shall further ensure that State agencies provide programs for upward mobility (including further education and additional training or retraining for improved work opportunities) for all trainees under this chapter, and that follow-along services are provided to such trainees to assure that their maximum vocational potential is achieved.”