State Legislators and Advocates Release Package of Bills to Improve Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Nine bill package would enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities and strengthen New York’s economy

Albany, NY A bipartisan coalition of state legislators unveiled a package of nine bills last Thursday that would improve employment outcomes for New Yorkers with disabilities. Nationally, only 23% of people with disabilities are employed versus 70% of the general population, underscoring the urgent need for legislation to close the gap.

Lawmakers included in the coalition are Senate Committee on Disabilities Chairman John Mannion, Assembly Committee on People with Disabilities Chair Tom Abinanti, Assembly Subcommittee on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities Chair Chris Burdick, and Assembly Committee on People with Disabilities Member Harvey Epstein.

Despite the challenges that people with disabilities have faced in the workforce, in New York, their contributions generate billions in economic activity for the state. According to a 2021 report from the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, New York’s nonprofit disability service providers reported $6.7 billion in revenues and generated $14.3 billion in economic output in New York.

Sponsors of the package are taking a collaborative approach to increasing equity and economic prosperity in New York – many of the bills were developed with the disability advocacy community as a result of the 10-hour hearing on this topic held by the Assembly on October 20th in Albany. According to an analysis led by State Comptroller DiNapoli’s office, New Yorkers with disabilities face high levels of unemployment, which skyrocketed during the worst of the pandemic: between April 2020 and March 2021, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.2%. With Governor Hochul’s historic attention in her to employment opportunities for people with disabilities in her State of the State address, the legislators sponsoring the nine bill package hope to work with her to advance their shared goals of increasing employment for these New Yorkers.

The package includes:

  • A8157 Epstein/ S7386 Mannion – Expands the 55-b/55-c programs for the employment of persons and veterans with disabilities by the state; provides up to five thousand positions may be filled by persons with a physical or mental disability and up to two thousand positions may be filled by disabled veterans and veterans with disabilities.
  • A3130 Steck/ S1836 Skoufis - Establishes the office of the advocate for people with disabilities to advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities and assure that persons with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to exercise all of the rights and responsibilities accorded to citizens of the state of New York. Already passed, awaiting Governor’s signature.
  • A3137 Epstein/ S1629 Skoufis - Relates to establishing goals for participation by individuals with disabilities with respect to state employment, state contracts, legislative employment and judicial employment; establishes a goal of seven percent employment of individuals with disabilities within state agencies, the state legislature, unified court system and state contractors and subcontractors; defines terms.
  • A8549 Burdick/ S7578 Mannion - Relates to preferred source status for entities that provide employment to certain persons; requires grants issued by the workforce development initiative to utilize at least fifteen percent of preferred sources for projects receiving such grants.
  • A8915 Burdick/ S7746 Mannion – Creates a pilot program to boost the OPWDD existing “EmployAbility Pledge” to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities. Employers who take the EmployAbility pledge and support an inclusive workplace would receive certain recognition (a window decal; a badge for its website; recognition on the OPWDD, Employment First Commission, and other partner websites). Cost is $250,000. New York State Industries for the Disabled would match with $250,000.
  • A8667 Burdick / S7745 Mannion- Authorization for School Districts - Expands the SED ACCES VR program that provides vocational rehabilitation for special education students that would benefit from such services.
  • A8816 Epstein / S7688 Thomas - Establishes the people with disabilities access to programs commission to streamline the application process for services offered by New York State agencies, including employment-related services.
  • A8599 Epstein / S7662 Hoylman - Requires job opportunities in the civil service to be posted on the department of civil service website and requires a separate website be maintained for job opportunities available through civil service law 55-b/55-c programs. A2381 Santabarbara - Establishes a customized employment demonstration program whereby certain positions are divided into sub-positions by the civil service commission to provide for employment of persons with developmental disabilities who are able to perform a portion of the duties of such position.
  • A3960 Cusick / S3458 Addabbo - An act to amend the tax law and the labor law, in relation to establishing a small business tax credit for the employment of disabled persons; and providing for the repeal of such provisions upon expiration thereof.

“How is it that so many qualified people with great skills but some disabilities are overlooked in an economy with a desperate need for workers?” said Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, Chair of the Committee on People with Disabilities. “Today we are starting an effort to help those with disabilities who want to work get work.”

“New York State must improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For far too long, people that desperately want to work have been unable to do so. We must and can do better at utilizing all of our available workforce, which will benefit not only those with disabilities but our entire state economy as well,” said Assemblymember Chris Burdick, Chair of Subcommittee on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities. “Thanks to a strong commitment by both the legislature and Governor Hochul, we can make historic progress this session.”

Improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities who want to work is a matter of social and economic justice. There are millions of people with disabilities in New York and they are unfortunately overrepresented in our unemployment figures. In so many cases, that reality is not by choice. As a state, we should be striving to become a national model for how we incorporate people with disabilities into both the public and private sectors. Both houses of the legislature recently established standing committees on people with disabilities; in her first executive budget, Governor Hochul made the call for increasing employment opportunities for these New Yorkers. We have the momentum and we are ready to pass these bills and improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a member of the Committee on People with Disabilities.

“Employment transforms by allowing us to contribute in a way that gives meaning to our lives. By increasing employment for people with disabilities, the Assembly is expanding that opportunity while helping employers tap into a talent pool of dedicated workers they can’t afford not to hire” said Winifred Schiff, Associate Executive Director for Legislative Affairs, InterAgency Council of Developmental Disabilities Agencies, Inc.

“We know that when people with disabilities have jobs, our entire state benefits. As the Rockefeller Institute recently reported, a sampling of 427 of New York’s nonprofit disability service providers generated $14.3 billion in economic output; supported nearly 200,000 full-time jobs; and contributed $2.2 billion in federal and state tax revenue. When we combine this Assembly legislation with Governor Hochul’s proposals we have the makings of a rock-solid agenda that can propel New York to its rightful place as the national leader in how it supports and employs individuals with disabilities,” said Maureen O’Brien, President and CEO of New York State Industries for the Disabled.

"There should be a job for everyone. These historic bills make the commitment we need to ensure the full participation of New Yorkers with disabilities in the workforce," said Fredda Rosen, Executive Director of JobPath.

“This is the biggest opportunity to advance employment for individuals with disabilities in New York State that I have seen in the past 10 years! Our Ability is proud to be a part of this New York State inclusion movement for individuals with disabilities through employment,” said John Robinson, CEO of Our Ability.

“The acquisition of a career opportunity is something that has often been challenging for many people with a disability to achieve. The proposed legislation will increase the possibilities that many more people with a disability will have the opportunity to become gainfully employed in NYS, consequently changing their lives for the better,” said Steve Towler, VP Programs & Business Development, AHRC NYC.

“Employment for people with disabilities needs to be a top priority in NY State. Equal opportunities in employment benefits all parties involved,” said Brian Monaco, Director of Adult Services, Center for Disability Services.

To view a full video of the launch, please click here.