Congressman Robert Ehrlich addresses the crowd at the 

April 28 press conference.  Behind him are (Left to right) Eileen

RIvers, Marc Maurer, and Fred Puente.

 Congressman Robert Ehrlich addresses the crowd at 

the April 28 press conference. Behind him are (left to right) 

Eileen Rivera, Marc Maurer, and Fred Puente.

	Linkage Bill Introduced in House


	From the Editor: On April 28 Congressman Robert Ehrlich, R- 

Maryland, introduced H.R. 1601, the Blind Empowerment Act, with 

230 co-sponsors. He conducted a press conference in front of the 

Capitol to announce the details of the bill. Members of the NFB 

have been working steadily since 1996 to pass this legislation 

and continue to urge members of both the House and Senate to 

become co-sponsors. On April 28 the Baltimore Sun published the 

following story about the problems faced by blind Social Security 

Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients and Congressman Erhlich's 

efforts to solve them. Here it is:


	Ehrlich Bill Would Raise Earning Limit for Blind Who Get Disability Benefits

	Advocates Suggest Link Between Cutoffs for Elderly, Visually Impaired

	by Jennifer Sullivan


	Southwest Baltimore's Maurice Peret has a new baby and a new 

job. But at the beginning of the year the government stopped 

sending him a large chunk of his income. Peret, thirty-four, who 

is blind, is one of a growing number of visually impaired people 

who find themselves limited by a federal restriction on their earnings.
	Because he took a job that paid more than the annual limit 

for Americans receiving Social Security disability benefits, he 

was dropped from federal rolls.
	To raise blind Americans' earning threshold, Republican 

Senator John McCain of Arizona introduced a bill in January that 

would put their earning limit at the same level set for senior 

citizens. That was the formula used until 1996, when Congress 

raised earning limits for the elderly but not the blind.
	Today Maryland Republican Representative Robert L. Ehrlich, 

Jr. will introduce a similar bill. Peret will be among those 

standing with the Congressman at a news conference to discuss the 

	According to the National Federation of the Blind, blind 

Americans will earn about $14,000 in benefits by 2002--compared 

with about $30,000 for senior citizens. The 1999 earning limit 

for the blind is $1,110 a month, in addition to the federal 

stipend--making a penny more means loss of benefits.
	"Unemployment among the blind is at 70 percent, while there 

is great prosperity in the country," said Ehrlich, who is 

introducing the Blind Empowerment Act, nearly identical to 

McCain's Blind Person's Earnings Equity Act.
	He has the support of all of Maryland's representatives, the 

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Baltimore-based National Federation 

of the Blind, and Blind Services and Industries of Maryland. Both 

Democratic Maryland Senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. 

Sarbanes, are among the twenty Senate members who co-sponsored 

McCain's bill.
	Peret, a native of Washington, says he bounced from working 

on an assembly line in an Iowa vending machine factory to loading 

trucks to pressing shirts in a West Virginia garment factory. 

Mindful of the earnings limit, he held only part-time jobs so he 

could stay on the federal rolls and retain his disability 

benefits, he said.
	"A lot of jobs I held weren't secure. I needed a fallback 

because of frequent layoffs," Peret said. "By working part-time 

and accepting part-time wages and retaining benefits, a person 

could earn a decent living, whereas working full-time might 

actually result in a cut in income."
	In January, when Peret was hired to teach basic computer 

training courses at Blind Services and Industries Southwest 

Baltimore headquarters, he reported the income as required and 

was promptly dropped from federal rolls.
	He now earns his highest wage ever, but he takes home less 

money than he did ten years ago when he worked in a garment 

factory while receiving federal benefits.
	Peret says Ehrlich's bill will help the blind get on their 

	"Blind people are really looking for a measure of equality. 

We want equal opportunities to work," he said. "Ideally people 

would want to be in a situation where they are no longer 

receiving benefits. We want to get to that point so we can get a 

fair start."
	Although Peret says he makes enough for him, his wife, and 

their seven-week-old son to live on, he has blind friends who 

never apply for full-time positions because they take home more 

money retaining their federal disability status and working part 

time or earning minimum wage.
	Northeast Baltimore resident Eileen Rivera is a graduate of 

Harvard University and the Wharton School of Business at the 

University of Pennsylvania. But she said she needs extra funds to 

help raise her seven-year-old daughter and to get her business 

off the ground.
	The company, A Better View, is an advertising agency that 

helps companies market their products to low-vision audiences.
	Rivera, whose vision is severely impaired, also works as a 

marketing consultant for Voice of the Diabetic, a magazine for 

Americans with diabetes. She has to hire people to read business 

information to her and to help her daughter with her homework.
	If she makes more than $13,320 a year, Rivera, a single 

mother with a family history of kidney failure, could lose her 

monthly stipend and health insurance.
	"If I wasn't single, sure I would be working full time, just 

like I did when I was working at Johns Hopkins," said Rivera, who 

from 1988 to 1991 was administrative director of the hospital's 

Wilmer Vision Research Center. "But I can't be a super executive 

and a single mother at the same time."
	Rivera said, "The bill is going to give us more freedom to 

earn more and cover the expenses of living."
        Four people can clearly be seen with others in the background. The Capitol 

dome is conspicuously visible behind them. 

Standing in front of the Capitol at the press conference are 

(left to right) Kristen Cox, Charlie Brown, Eileen Rivera, and Joe Cordova.]
	Both Ehrlich and McCain supported similar measures last 

year. Ehrlich's died in the House Ways and Means Committee, while 

McCain's was killed by the Senate Finance Committee.
	James Gashel, director of governmental affairs for the 

National Federation of the Blind, said that without the bill's 

passage, the visually impaired who earn more than allowed will be 

asked to repay the difference to the government.
	"It's not uncommon to see letters that say, `You owe 

$30,000. Please send a check in the envelope enclosed,'" he said.
	Peret said he received two letters from the federal 

government, one dropping his disability benefits and another 

requesting $1,000 he owed. He paid it.
	Gashel, who has twice worked to link benefits for the blind 

and seniors, said the fact that there are fewer blind people may 

have made it easier for lawmakers to bypass the blind.
	But, he maintained, they are just as dependent upon the 

	"If you have limitations on one group, you might as well 

have them on both," he said.