Governor Tom Wolf today signed an important milestone for young people with disabilities when he made House Bill 400 a law in Pennsylvania.
The new law ensures young people with disabilities have access to part-time and summer jobs while in high school, preparing them for work as adults.
It was a real thrill to be in the Governor’s Reception Room with my colleagues on the #IWantToWork team as the governor signed the bill. Befitting our social media campaign, we broadcast the signing live on Facebook so our entire social community could witness the excitement. We even gave the governor one of our famous #IWantToWork selfie signs. During the campaign to pass HB 400, we’ve gathered hundreds of selfies from people with disabilities, legislators, and other supporters.
Why is this important? Without work experience, research shows young people with disabilities are likely to never hold a job after graduating from high school. As a person with a disability, I know what it’s like to not have work experience. I did not get my first paying job until I graduated from college.
Teenagers with disabilities want what all teenagers want – a part-time job. Not only are time part-time jobs a milestone for every teenager, but employers want people with experience, and you only get that experience when you’re given the chance.
The new law makes significant changes in when and how the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation OVR) begins working with high school students with disabilities to prepare them for work after they graduate.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our legislative champions, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, and Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon. Both introduced identical bills in their respective chambers. Sen. Baker graciously allowed Rep. Gingrich’s bill to move forward so it could get to the governor for his approval.
The new law is good for businesses, too. Businesses will benefit from the changes at OVR. They will have a way to more easily identify and hire young people with disabilities, who are eager to work, and research shows, grow into dedicated, hard-working employees. On any given day there are an average of 200,000 open jobs across the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania invests an average of $200,000 on the education of a young person with disabilities. Without job experience before graduating from high school, research shows three out of four young people with disabilities will never work.
And just as importantly, there is money to fund OVR’s new work. We worked with Republicans and Democrats and the governor to ensure that $5 million in new state funds, accompanied by an $18.9 million federal match, were included in the 2015-2016 budget to fund this new initiative. That’s quite an achievement during Pennsylvania’s most controversial budget battle ever.
By Alexa Brill