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The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a federal law that helps youth and adults access employment training and support services. It also helps match employers with the workers they need.  The ultimate goal of WIOA is competitive employment for those most vulnerable and “at risk,” including individuals with disabilities. 

WIOA of 2014 replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) as the main national legislation on workforce development. This new version of the law includes an increased focus on youth with disabilities. WIOA funds many programs that can help youth with disabilities in high school and young adulthood gain important skills for successful employment.

The programs operate through a network of local centers in each state, American Job Centers (AJC), which provide youth job training, education, and employment services at a single location. Services include skill assessments, information on employment, information on training opportunities, job search and placement assistance, up-to-date information on job vacancies, and transition services.

What youth are eligible for services?

WIOA has a priority to serve those who are most at-risk, which is determined by a variety of factors including disability status, income, and whether or not the individual is currently enrolled in school (in-school youth or out-of-school youth). The best way to determine availability of services is to contact your local American Job Center .

What types of services must WIOA youth programs provide?

While WIOA youth programs must include all of the following options, the specific services provided to participants will be based on individual assessments and goals. These services include:

  • tutoring, study skills instruction and support leading to high school completion (including dropout prevention);
  • alternative school services;
  • adult mentoring for at least 12 months ;
  • paid and unpaid work experiences (including internships and job shadowing);
  • occupational skills training (including apprentice and certificate programs);
  • leadership development opportunities (including volunteering, peer mentoring, life skill training);
  • follow-up services for not less than 12 months as appropriate (including case management, support services, regular contact);
  • comprehensive guidance and counseling (including mental health, career, education, drug and alcohol); and
  • supportive services (including school fees, child care, transportation and other work costs needed for youth to participate in WIOA program activities).

The five new program elements that local WIOA youth programs must offer are:

  • financial literacy;
  • entrepreneurial skills training;
  • services to provide local labor market information;
  • activities to help youth transition to postsecondary education and training; and
  • education offered in the context of workforce preparation and occupational skills training.

What is the role of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are a required partner under the new law. Each state’s VR program will have a larger role in assisting youth who are transitioning from school to adult life.

At least fifteen percent of public VR funds must now be reserved for youth transition services, specifically for pre-employment services which include:

  • career exploration and guidance;
  • continued support for educational attainment, opportunities for skills training in in-demand industries and occupations;
  • pre-apprenticeships or internships;
  • postsecondary opportunities;
  • workplace readiness training;
  • training on self-advocacy; and
  • other services if funds are available.

Seventy-five percent of youth program funding must be spent on out-of-school youth.

What are WIOA limitations on sub-minimum wages?

As of 2016, it is required that a series of steps must be taken for a youth under the age of 24 before he or she can be placed in a sub-minimum wage position. Schools are prohibited from contracting with sub-minimum wage contractors. Supported Employment services may be extended from 18 to 24 months in order to assist youth to be successful in competitive employment. WIOA gives VR agencies a “gatekeeper” role in determining if situations resulting in sub-minimum wage are appropriate for an individual.

How does WIOA ensure individuals with disabilities are able to participate in workforce programs?

Section 188 of WIOA prohibits discrimination in the provision of services under the law. State VR agencies, American Job Centers, and other service providers must ensure individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in services and receive appropriate accommodations.

Definition of Terms

WIOA includes definitions for several key terms that determine eligibility for certain programs and describe important elements of the law.

Competitive integrated employment is now considered the optimal outcome of WIOA. It is defined as full-time or part-time work at minimum wage or higher, with wages and benefits similar to those without disabilities performing the same work, and fully integrated with co-workers without disabilities.

Customized integrated employment for a person with a significant disability that is based on the individual determination of the strengths, needs, and interests of the individual. It is designed to meet the specific abilities of the individual with a significant disability and the business needs of the employer and carried out through flexible strategies. This service is now available nationally.

In-School Youth (ISY) is an individual who is:

  1. Attending school (as defined by State law) including secondary and postsecondary school;
  2. Not younger than age 14 (unless an individual with a disability who is attending school under State law) or older than 21 at the time of enrollment and once enrolled may receive services beyond the age of 24;
  3. A low-income individual; and one or more of the following:
    1. Basic skills deficient;
    2. An English learner;
    3. An offender;
    4. A homeless individual, a homeless child or youth, a runaway, in foster care or has aged out of the foster care system, a child eligible for assistance under sec 477 of the Social Security Act, or in an out-of-home placement;
    5. An individual who is pregnant or parenting;
    6. An individual with a disability;
    7. An individual who requires additional assistance to complete an educational program or to secure or hold employment.

Low-Income Individual for Title I WIOA youth programs includes individuals who receives or is eligible to receive a free or reduced price lunch or who is living in a “high poverty area.” “High poverty area” is to be further defined in the final WIOA regulations.

Out-of-School Youth(OSY) is an individual who is:

  1. Not attending any school (as defined under the law);
  2. Not younger than 16, nor older than 24, at the time of enrollment; and one or more of the following:
    1. A school dropout;
    2. A student who is within compulsory school attendance laws, but has not attended school for at least the most recent school year calendar quarter (based on how a local district defines a quarter);
    3. A recipient of a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent who is low-income and is either basic skills deficient or an English language learner;
    4. An individual who is subject to the juvenile or adult justice system;
    5. A homeless individual, a runaway, an individual who is in foster care or who has aged out of the foster care system, a child eligible for assistance under Section 477 of the Social Security Act, or an individual who is in an out-of-home placement;
    6. An individual who is pregnant or parenting;
    7. An individual with a disability;
    8. A low-income individual who requires additional assistance to enter or complete an educational program or to secure or hold employment.

Student with a disability is defined as a youth ages 16 to 21 (or beginning at the age the state begins formal transition services) who is eligible for and receiving IDEA services or is an individual with a disability for purposes of section 504. Pre-employment transition services must be provided only to "students with a disability."

Supported employment is integrated competitive employment, or an individual working on a short-term basis in an integrated employment setting towards integrated competitive employment.

Youth with a disability is defined as a youth ages 14 to 24 regardless if they are in school. This term applies mostly to youth who are not currently in school.

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