Nicole Ducouer, IFB Solutions Senior Director of Corporate Communications and Programs
336-685-2393 | email@example.com
WINSTON-SALEM, NC (July 23, 2019) – IFB Solutions, the largest employer of people who are blind in the country, is about to experience several rounds of job cuts that will have a devastating effect on the blind community. The 137 people who work in its optical lab, including 76 people who are blind and 15 veterans, face job cuts with the first wave of 47 lost positions expected by the end of July.
The job losses are a result of policy changes with IFB’s optical lab customer, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which has had long-term contracts with the nonprofit since 2000. The VA made the changes following a recent court order that the Rule of Two as currently outlined in the Veterans Benefits Act gives priority to veteran-owned companies over AbilityOne nonprofits like IFB Solutions. IFB Solutions has been fighting that legal interpretation for three years.
“We do not believe that Congress ever intended to benefit veteran-owned small businesses at the expense of people who are blind or severely disabled,” said Dan Kelly, chief operating officer at IFB Solutions. “There is plenty of business for both veteran-owned small businesses and AbilityOne nonprofits, many of whom, like IFB Solutions, also employ a significant number of veterans.”
IFB Solutions has joined fellow AbilityOne nonprofits who employ people who are blind from across the country in asking Congress to clarify its intent with the Rule of Two. On July 24 and 25, IFB Solutions CEO David Horton and IFB optical lab employee Scott Smith will join other AbilityOne representatives in Washington, D.C. to meet with national lawmakers, including Reps. Virginia Foxx and Mark Walker and Sen. Thom Tillis, to discuss the impact on people who are blind or visually impaired. Earlier in the month, a bi-partisan letter clarifying intent with the Rule of Two was signed by 34 members of Congress, including Reps. Foxx and Walker, and delivered to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
“I’ve spent my entire career creating and fighting for jobs for people who, like me, are blind and face a job market with limited opportunities – 70 percent of working-age adults who are blind are not employed,” said Kelly. “AbilityOne nonprofits like IFB Solutions provide employment for more than 45,000 people who are blind or severely disabled. If we aren’t vigilant in protecting the jobs as intended by Congress when it created the AbilityOne program back in 1938, those individuals may have nowhere to turn.”
In addition to creating jobs, AbilityOne nonprofits provide critical rehabilitative and support services to hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of veterans. IFB Solutions alone serves nearly 4,500 people who are visually impaired each year through its Community Low Vision Centers and mobile vision units. And, more than 150 children who are blind or visually impaired attend its free SEE summer camps and after-school programs.
“We are committed to continuing to serve our community, but the loss of our optical contracts with the VA is a significant hit to our business,” said Kelly. “We’re hopeful that Congress will take the necessary action that continues to maximize contracting awards for veteran-owned small businesses without eliminating or reducing AbilityOne jobs for people who are blind or severely disabled. If not, we are fully prepared to return to the courtroom and petition to have our case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.”