Taking Reforms Too Far

July 14, 1995

Republicans in Congress are intent on making sweeping reforms in the federal government. That's for the good. But not if the good gets tossed out with the bad.

Take, for example, employment training programs. There is a crying need for an overhaul. A General Accounting Office study last year found 154 different and often overlapping programs run by 14 agencies that dispense $25 billion in job training assistance. These activities are confusing, offer no clear entry path, fail to link programs together and lack accountability.

Change is in order. But while a sensible proposal to create an integrated, "seamless" job-training program is marching forward in the Senate, a less desirable "one-size-fits-all" plan is advancing in the House. The latter bill would eliminate 50 programs and create four block grants to states for adult job-training, youth education and training, adult literacy and vocational rehabilitation.

Both bills aim to set up "one-stop" job-training shops. Unfortunately, the House bill decimates vocational rehabilitation. People with serious disabilities would be unable to receive the kind of highly focused help now available. There would not be any expert career guidance and planning or vocational medical services, only a voucher after waiting in line at a generic manpower training office.

That would be a costly mistake. The Maryland Rehabilitation Center, with a national reputation for getting people with mental retardation, chronic mental illness, blindness, deafness and spinal cord injuries back into the work force, would probably cease to exist. Instead of recycling taxpayers back into the economy, the House bill would likely lead to these individuals being placed in nursing homes and state hospitals at taxpayer expense.

The state each year returns to the work force 2,300 people with severe disabilities after giving them specialized medical treatment and job-training. For every dollar spent, $5 to $10 is returned. These people become taxpayers, job-holders and community residents.

Removing vocational rehabilitation from the block-grant bill on job-training is the only sensible approach. Why kill a program that is helping those among us who deserve assistance, especially when it is saving us huge amounts of money?

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