Braille Monitor April-May 1985
In late January or early February of each year the blind of the nation come to Washington to talk with Congress. The 1985 March was the biggest and most effective we have yet had. As in the recent past, we headquartered at the Capitol Holiday Inn. There was a public relations workshop on Saturday, February 2, and there was also an Associates workshop. The majority of the participants in the March arrived Sunday, February 3; and when the count was taken, more than 300 people from forty-four states were present.
There was a general informational meeting Sunday evening, at which fact sheets were read and positions discussed. Senators and members of the House were contacted Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; and as time allowed, groups were taken to the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore for tours and discussion.
Wednesday night, February 6 (as a suitable climax to the week's activities), Russell Anderson, President of the Indianapolis Chapter, was arrested and removed from the airplane he had boarded to fly home: His crime was his refusal to submit meekly to verbal abuse and his insistence that he not be moved from the exit row seat to which he had been assigned.
The issues which we discussed with the members of Congress are set forth in three fact sheets and a covering memorandum:
For more information please contact:
Director of Governmental Affairs
From: Members of the National Federation of the Blind
To: Members of the 99th Congress, First Session
Re: The blind: Priorities for the 99th Congress, First Session
One out of every five hundred of the U.S. population is blind, and thirty to forty thousand people in our country become blind each year. Even more, the social effects of blindness magnify its impact to include families, relatives, friends, colleagues at work, and others. In short, millions of our citizens are affected to a considerable degree by laws and public policies concerning the blind. But despite its widespread impact, blindness is one of the most misunderstood conditions. So we have formed the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to increase public understanding of blindness and to build greater awareness among the blind themselves.
NFB is a private sector voluntary effort directly maintained and controlled by the blind themselves. It is a resource of knowledge and personal help with everyday problems for thousands of blind men and women. We are proud of our self-help philosophy and achievements, but decisions that could be made by the 99th Congress might bring our programs to a halt or severely curtail them. Therefore, certain actions must be taken:
(1) Congress should control and stabilize postage rates for nonprofit organizations, such as NFB. This request seeks sufficient appropriations to meet "revenue foregone" expenses of the United States Postal Service for handling mailings by nonprofit organizations sent at reduced postage rates. Under existing law and appropriations levels, nonprofit postage rates will rise from 5.2 cents per piece (third- class nonprofit rate) to 6 cents per piece on February 17, 1985. But the rates could rise to 12.5 cents per piece on October 1, 1985, if a budget plan to eliminate payments to the postal service is accepted by Congress.
Nothing can be more critical to a voluntary, private sector group of citizens than to have affordable, stable postage rates for mass communications. Paying the postal service's commercial rates for necessary use of the mails would force us to dismantle many programs. Survival for many national organizations (including NFB) would be threatened. If communications with blind persons and the public at large are cut, a time bomb is created since fewer people will understand anything about blindness and even fewer will know of the continuing need to help. Then the downward spiral is in motion, with fewer people helped and even fewer people helping. Soon the benefits are gone.
This does not overstate how vulnerable we are to the postal rate crisis if Congress fails to approve adequate funding. The fact sheet entitled "Crisis In Nonprofit Mail Rates Means Serious Harm To The Blind" explains the current situation and gives details on how members of the 99th Congress can help.
(2) Congress should act to preserve the priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property. This request seeks to insure the viability of the blind vending program which operates nationwide and in every state, giving blind persons the opportunity to have small businesses on federal, state, county, municipal, and private property. Under existing law (the Randolph-Sheppard Act, as amended), blind persons trained and licensed by state agencies are to have a priority for vending facility space on all federal property. The Secretary of Education is responsible for coordinating the federal effort to protect and defend this priority, but recent actions taken by property-managing agencies (including the General Services Administration, the United States Postal Service, and the Department of Defense) have threatened the priority through competition with nonblind commercial vendors. Competition from fast-food chains (such as the McDonald's and Burger King Corporations) now occurring at Army and Navy bases is the most threatening, recent event.
The fast-food giants were given contracts for military sites without even the slightest attempt to extend similar opportunities to blind vendors. Yet, a judge in the federal district court for the District of Columbia declined to overturn the military contracts despite these apparent violations of federal law. Members of Congress and appropriate committees having jurisdiction should insist upon strict observance of the priority which Congress intended for the blind for operating vending facilities on federal property. The fact sheet entitled "Food Service In Federal Buildings: The Threat To The Blind Priority " explains the current situation and gives details on how members of the 99th Congress can help.
(3) Congress should enact the "Fair Insurance Coverage Act" to prohibit unfair discrimination in insurance based on blindness or degree of blindness. This proposal (offered in the 98th Congress, Second Session by Representative Jim Bates of California and Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland) seeks a federal ban on extra premiums and denials of insurance coverage faced by blind persons. Existing law does not provide such protection on an interstate basis for anyone. Thirty-five states have already passed laws or regulations relating to insurance discrimination against the blind, but discriminatory insurance practices still continue in some of these states and in others where no laws or regulations now exist. Congress should now examine the question and enact a comprehensive federal policy. The fact sheet entitled "Insurance Discrimination Against The Blind" explains the status of current efforts in Congress and in the states and gives details on the current need for federal legislation.
Blind people are asking for your help in securing positive action by Congress and the Executive Branch in the areas outlined in this memorandum. To the extent necessary, new legislation to achieve these and other objectives will be introduced in the 99th Congress. Other actions to support our objectives may be taken by individual members independently. Many priorities confront this session of Congress, but the needs of the nation's blind must not be overlooked during this year's legislative agenda. We of the National Federation of the Blind stand ready to assist the members of Congress in understanding our needs and taking meaningful action to address them.
CRISIS IN NONPROFIT MAIL RATES MEANS SERIOUS HARM TO THE BLIND
The Issue: The 99th Congress will decide whether federal funds will continue aiding the blind and others by meeting some of the costs for reduced rate mailings carried by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Many nonprofit organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) may not survive if forced to pay commercial postage rates. Yet, this would be the effect of announced budget plans to terminate federal aid for nonprofit groups to use the mails.
Nonprofit Postage Rates Bring Help to the Blind: Holding the line on nonprofit postage rates will mean the difference between life and death for groups such as NFB which operate in the private sector. Voluntary initiatives made by the blind themselves without government expense (such as public education campaigns and drives for more employment opportunities for the blind) will decline or cease altogether if postage rates rise further. Materials and resources aimed at personal adjustment and self-help for the blind, provided without government cost, will not be available. Organized consultation by the blind themselves to assist in developing technology or to advise officials of public programs will not be possible. Communications links among the blind to share information, knowledge, and resources will be gone. Above all, the ability to encourage the blind toward self-betterment, growth, and productive living will be lost. This is tangible help made possible now because of federally provided special mail rates. The rates allow for educational communications and fundraising to enlist community, private sector support for the efforts of the blind to help themselves. NFB's programs help reduce dependency by the blind upon the government. That in itself is a benefit to all taxpayers. But if Congress decides not to use tax money to encourage these private initiatives, demand will rise from among the blind for more help from public agencies financed by state and federal tax dollars. Costs to the federal treasury for publicly run programs will rise while private efforts cease or suffer.
How Congress Can Help
(1) Vote for a budget resolution containing sufficient authority for appropriations to stabilize nonprofit postage rates at current levels.
(2) Vote for fiscal year 1986 appropriations sufficient to stabilize nonprofit postage rates at current levels.
(3) Support legislation preserving Congressional authority to stabilize nonprofit postage rates before the authority lapses in two years.
Current Crisis and Background: Pursuant to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, federal revenues pay costs for mail service authorized by law at free or reduced rates. The appropriation is a payment to the USPS for "revenue foregone" by the Postal Service in handling mail at other than commercial rates. Communications by nonprofit organizations and "free matter for the blind and handicapped" directly benefit the blind. Political parties, newspaper and periodical publishers, schools, libraries, and many others are also aided by the revenue foregone appropriation.
The current appropriation is $801,000,000. This is a target in the current round of budget cuts. In 1981 and 1982 there were unsuccessful attempts to eliminate budget authority for the revenue forgone appropriation, but Congress wisely resisted those attempts. USPS estimates that $981,000,000 will be needed for fiscal 1986 to cover revenue foregone for free or reduced rate mailings.
The Administration may request a small amount of funds to finance mailing free matter for the blind or handicapped and some educational materials to schools. Otherwise, a major battle will be waged over federal support for other mailings, including those by nonprofit groups.
The budget and appropriations battle is an annual struggle to guard against sharply escalating postage rates. Provisions of the Postal Reorganization Act give Congress some control over special mail rates by means of the budget and appropriations process, but specific rates are principally determined and adjusted periodically by the Postal Rate Commission. Under existing law the revenue foregone appropriation can and does include funds necessary to meet overhead or "institutional" costs of the USPS. In addition, some money is authorized to cover a portion of the cost "attributed" to mailings by nonprofit groups. But this authorization will completely expire in two years unless Congress acts to extend it in some manner. If the authority lapses, Congress will lose much of its ability by law to stabilize the special nonprofit postage rates.
5.2 cents per piece is the current third-class nonprofit rate. Even under present appropriations for fiscal 1985, the per piece third-class nonprofit rate will increase to 6 cents on February 17. If Congress fails to appropriate enough for fiscal 1986, the new rate could more than double rising as high as 12.5 cents per piece, beginning October 1, 1985. 12.5 cents per piece is the commercial third-class rate. This would be the amount charged to nonprofit organizations without adequate appropriations to meet the difference. At the 12.5 cent third-class per piece rate an organization mailing 1,000,000 pieces would pay $125,000, as opposed to $60,000 for a similar mailing on February 17 or after.
A postage rate escalation of this magnitude would mean the difference between survival and destruction of private efforts to aid the blind. The additional amount paid to USPS would be taken directly from program services, which now help the blind. It would also be impossible to contact new potential contributors to raise additional revenues. If communications with blind persons and the public at large are cut, a time bomb is created since fewer people will understand anything about blindness, and even fewer will know of the continuing need to help. The inevitable result is a downward spiral, with fewer people helped and fewer people helping. Soon the self-help organizations of the blind will be destroyed. These are the unanticipated ripple effects of rising postal rates, but they are nonetheless very real. The ability to communicate at an affordable cost is vital. Without it many worthy efforts on behalf of the nation's blind will diminish or die altogether. Since thirty to forty thousand Americans become blind each year, there must either be continued widespread mailings to the general public to inform them about blindness and how to deal with it, or else an increasing number of the newly blinded will not be found until it is too late and they are hopelessly doomed to continuing dependence.
FOOD SERVICE IN FEDERAL BUILDINGS: THE THREAT TO THE BLIND PRIORITY
The Blind Priority: According to a 1936 law (the Randolph-Sheppard Act and its 1974 amendments) blind people are to have priority in the operation of vending facilities on all federal property. This priority includes the granting of federal space and utilities to support business opportunities for the blind. The 1974 amendments specifically brought cafeterias located on federal property under the priority intended for the blind. Other vending facilities covered are newsstands, snack bars, vending machine operations, gift shops, and the like.
Authority for rulemaking and enforcement of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is vested in the Secretary of Education. The only limitation to the blind priority which the law permits is a finding that a facility or facilities to be operated by the blind "would adversely affect the interests of the United States." Only the Secretary of Education can approve this finding.
Under the law blind persons in each state may operate vending facility businesses once they are trained, qualified, and licensed by the state vocational rehabilitation agency serving the blind. The state rehabilitation agencies also negotiate on behalf of blind vendors to obtain agreements with federal property managers for vending facility sites. Thus, the statutory scheme involves both federal and state agencies, which are expected to cooperate in developing viable small business opportunities for blind people.
Current Abuse of the Blind Priority: The principal property-managing agencies required to observe the blind priority are the General Services Administration (GSA), the United States Postal Service (USPS), and the Department of Defense (DOD). Actions of these agencies in awarding space for vending facilities will largely determine whether the blind priority is observed or abridged.
In January, 1984, GSA attempted to award a contract to a fast-food chain for cafeteria services at its main headquarters in Washington. Bids were invited, but the solicitation did not permit a response on behalf of blind vendors by the rehabilitation agency for the District of Columbia. Congress and the blind protested, and the plan was withdrawn. GSA then conducted successful negotiations to have the cafeteria assigned to a blind vendor. Meanwhile, GSA has not solicited bids for fast-food cafeteria service in other buildings outside of the main headquarters in question.
In July, 1984, the USPS was ordered to make vending facility space available to a blind vendor in Wisconsin pursuant to a court challenge brought under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The postal service had attempted to open a new main post office in Green Bay, Wisconsin without giving the blind vendor at the previous main post office an opportunity to move his vending machines to the new site. The court enjoined the postal service from soliciting commercial bids for the space and granted an order permitting the blind vendor to move his vending machines to the new building.
In June and again in August, 1984, DOD approved contracts with the Burger King Corporation and McDonald's for fast-food hamburger-type restaurants at Army and Navy bases located in the United States and abroad. In a lawsuit brought by several organizations (not including the National Federation of the Blind) to challenge DOD's actions, U.S. District Court Judge Barrington Parker ruled that DOD's use of the bidding system to award sites to Burger King and McDonald's did not violate the Randolph-Sheppard Act. His opinion (issued January 7, 1985) places in serious jeopardy the entire blind priority to operate all types of vending facilities on federal property. Among other things, Judge Parker said that Congress would have to decide whether the blind priority should be exercised over economic considerations used in awarding national contracts to Burger King and McDonald's. The opinion said Congress has not spoken on such matters in the Randolph-Sheppard Act or otherwise although it clearly could have done so.
Recommended Action: Blind people recommend the following actions to avoid further erosion of the Randolph-Sheppard Act's blind priority:
(A) Congress should use oversight, appropriations, and other methods (including approval of a joint or concurrent resolution) to express dissatisfaction with the growing trend toward abuses of the blind priority. Appropriate committees and subcommittees of the House and Senate should take steps to insure that property-managing agencies within their jurisdiction are held accountable for any actions or proposed actions which threaten to have an adverse impact upon the blind vending program. Further amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act are not needed if Congress now pursues other remedies to control current abuses.
(B) The Secretary of Education should be urged to exercise strong leadership (as required by the Randolph-Sheppard Act) to control current abuses of the blind priority. At a minimum the Secretary should establish effective procedures for implementing that portion of the Randolph-Sheppard Act which reads in relevant part: "Any limitation on the placement or operation of a vending facility based on a finding that such placement or operation would adversely affect the interests of the United States shall be fully justified in writing to the Secretary of Education who shall determine whether such limitation is justified. (See 20 U.S.C. 107(b)(2))." In the ten years since original enactment of this provision, no mechanism has been established for Secretarial reviews of limitations imposed by property-managing agencies. Yet, it is clear that limitations are being imposed.
INSURANCE DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE BLIND
Proposed Legislation, the Fair Insurance Coverage Act-Purpose: To prohibit discrimination in insurance on the basis of blindness or degree of blindness.
Background: The myths and misconceptions about blindness in our society today often manifest themselves in stereotyped thinking which, upon reasoned examination, has no basis in fact. Thus, the blind become victims of unreasonable and detrimental practices that are not supported by reliable evidence. This is how discrimination works against any minority. But the problem is particularly acute for blind people because of the attitudes of kindness and charity that are commonly exhibited toward them.
Practices common in the insurance industry exemplify the problem. Discrimination against the blind by insurance companies occurs when blind people are denied coverage or are required to pay extra premiums based solely on grounds of blindness. Sound actuarial statistics do not exist to demonstrate that blindness results in increased risk for insurance carriers. Yet, underwriting rules followed by many companies require extra premiums, place limits on coverage to be provided under certain conditions, or in some instances deny coverage altogether. Some companies will sell their policies at standard rates if a blind person is a "healthy, well-adjusted individual." But these requirements (whatever they might mean) are not specified for non-blind applicants or policy holders.
The Fair Insurance Coverage Act, Prohibitions: Companion bills called the "Fair Insurance Coverage Act" were introduced in the Second Session of the 98th Congress by Representative Jim Bates of California and Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland. The legislation (expected soon to be re-introduced in the 99th Congress) seeks to enact a federal prohibition against insurance discrimination based on blindness or degree of blindness. If enacted, the Fair Insurance Coverage Act would establish a federal policy that no insurer shall, because of blindness or degree of blindness, (1) refuse to make insurance available to any applicant for insurance; or (2) treat any blind applicant or insured differently than any other applicant or insured with respect to the terms, conditions, rates, benefits, or requirements of any insurance policy or contract. Observing these requirements means that insurance rates and coverage for blind people will be the same as for sighted people. Conjecture and belief about hazards due to blindness (used in the past to establish special rates or more limited coverage) will not be permitted.
The Fair Insurance Coverage Act implements the policy herein described by clearly defining "discriminatory actions." States which currently have (or may later enact) laws relating to insurance discrimination based on blindness or degree of blindness are given prime responsibility for enforcement within certain time limits during which complaints of discrimination could not be brought in federal or state courts of jurisdiction under the Fair Insurance Coverage Act. In states where laws do not exist, or if enforcement does not occur within the time limits specified, enforcement of the Fair Insurance Coverage Act can occur by civil action brought in an appropriate United States District Court or in a state court having jurisdiction. The attorney general of the United States is also authorized to file suit for enforcement of this Act on issues determined to have sufficient public importance. Penalties include recovery of actual and punitive damages.
Need for Legislation: The need for legislation to prohibit insurance discrimination against the blind has been documented by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in a model insurance regulation, revised in December, 1984. The model rule identifies discrimination based on blindness as an "unfair trade practice." NAIC's revised model regulation was issued in December, 1984, after it was found that several insurance companies were continuing to discriminate on the basis of blindness. As the commissioners noted in the original report accompanying the model regulation, there is no factual basis for the "belief" that blindness constitutes an increased risk. If the blind were actually a greater risk, it would not be a discriminatory practice to charge higher rates or deny coverage. However, the practice of classifying the blind into a category of increased risk, without any basis in fact constitutes discrimination.
Backed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Model Regulation, thirty-five states have currently enacted laws or regulatory prohibitions relating to insurance discrimination based on blindness. But despite these positive moves, discrimination still exists in many jurisdictions. It has also proven difficult to combat the policies of a multi-state industry on a state by state basis. Therefore, instead of prohibiting discrimination on an intra-state basis the Fair Insurance Coverage Act would put in place a national standard (applicable industrywide) fulfilling objectives of free commerce throughout our nation and protecting the interests of the public at large.