US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “State Leadership and Innovation in Disability Employment”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today, the Committee will examine leadership and innovation on the part of states in the field of disability employment.  The topic and timing of today’s hearing are inspired by the leadership of Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, who in his role as Chair of the National Governors Association (NGA) has made boosting employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities his signature initiative.

“This past weekend, at the NGA midwinter meeting, Governor Markell and NGA Vice Chair, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, led two discussions with the other governors in attendance designed to share best practices and highlight state-level innovations and public-private partnerships that can be replicated across the country.

“During the last Congress, this Committee focused significant attention on the goal of boosting disability employment.  We held a series of bipartisan hearings and roundtables, and issued a Chairman’s Report last July titled ‘Unfinished Business:  Making Employment of People with Disabilities a National Priority.’  I want to thank Senator Enzi for being a great partner with me in advancing this bipartisan priority.

“In that July report, we noted that labor market participation rates for working-age Americans with disabilities had not improved in any significant way since the late 1980s.  During the recent economic downturn, the number of individuals with disabilities in the workforce shrunk by about a million workers, from 5.8 million to 4.8 million. This decrease, on a percentage basis, was five times greater than the impact of the recession on workers without disabilities. 

“I have set the Committee’s sights on twin goals: to make up the ground we have lost since 2008, and to increase the size of this workforce to at least six million by 2015.  I am happy that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed that goal.  And, during this new Congress, I look forward to working with Senator Alexander and my fellow members on this Committee, as well as stakeholders in the business and disability communities, to achieve this goal as we seek to grow the economy and expand opportunities for all Americans to join the middle class.

“As we noted in the July report, states can play a huge role in helping boost disability employment outcomes.  In fact, it is worth pointing out that, at a time when the national employment rate for 18-64 year olds with disabilities was 32.6 percent according to 2011 numbers from the US Census Bureau, the range in employment rates at the state level went from a low of 24.3 percent in West Virginia to a high of 49.8 percent in North Dakota.  This variation among the states was most recently documented by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, and I will submit a summary of the Institute’s findings into the record so the members on this Committee can see how their own states compare.

“Today, we will hear from four states that are doing better than the national average on this issue:  Delaware, Washington, Oklahoma and Utah.  In addition, because Governor Markell of Delaware has been engaged since last July in a discussion with other Governors, his testimony will give us an opportunity to learn about best practices from a number of other states that have been part of his NGA Chair’s initiative.

“As this Committee works to improve employment opportunities for all Americans, we must remember our citizens with disabilities, including wounded warriors, and ensure that they have access to the same opportunities to be part of the American workforce – the same opportunities to pursue the American Dream – as their friends and neighbors.”

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