Bills could gut funding for Floridians with disabilities

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Millions of people in the disabled community could be affected by bills wending their way through the Florida Legislature. Senators and Representatives are seeking to inspect and evaluate the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and eventually repeal it if it doesn’t show solvency. Some in the disabled community are skeptical of state legislators’ overhaul proposals.

The federal Rehabilitation Act was established in 1973 and the Florida division is tasked with assisting people with disabilities to achieve gainful employment. Florida has roughly 2 and a half million with disabilities; 13 percent of the total population or 10 percent of the working population. It is The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which facilitates these people in finding and holding onto a job. Gary Stein, contributor to the Huffington Post on healthcare issues, is reservedly optimistic about the bills.

There is no clear transfer of responsibility to another agency if the repeal happens. Some possibilities have been floated, like moving the tasks and responsibilities to the Department of Employment Opportunity (unemployment) or just extending the deadline. Olivia Babis is community organizer at Florida Consumer Action Network, and a recipient of vocational rehabilitation funding. She said the push to repeal is misguided.

Some people view the repeal as budgetary hocus-pocus. The endgame, they see, is making a profit for private companies engaged in the bill’s pilot programs. In a telephone interview, Senator Don Gaetz, who proposed Senate Bill 802, said the spirit of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation will not change but the accountability will.

Senator Gaetz is convinced that the bill is what it claims to be.

Senate Bill 802 is currently being reviewed in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.