After the passage of the Rehabilitation Act Amendment of 1992, considerable actions were taken to enhance cultural competence in rehabilitation service delivery, increase outreach and services to persons with disabilities from diverse populations, and develop recruitment strategies of persons from diverse backgrounds to work in areas of rehabilitation. The Amendments required the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services with the U.S. Department of Education, to develop a national strategic plan, known as the Rehabilitation Cultural Diversity Initiative (RCDI) that would implement priority training on issues of cultural diversity to all programs funded under the Rehabilitation Act.
Between 1992 – 1993, Several RCDI meetings were coordinated by the Region VIII Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program (RCEP) to address the current service delivery system within Section 121 funded American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services Projects. Issues and concerns were expressed in regards to initiating and improving tribally appropriate vocational rehabilitation (VR) service provision on reservations nationwide, as State VR services and administrative plans often conflicted with tribal norms, eventually leading to high rates of unsuccessful closures among Native American clients. As a result, on January 22, 1993, the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation (CANAR) was established, which functions as a national platform for advocating the needs for effective rehabilitation service delivery for American Indians and Alaska Natives with disabilities. The CANAR serves as the official voice of Native American rehabilitation programs, which provide VR services to American Indians and Alaska Natives with disabilities who reside on or near Federal or State reservations, Alaska Native villages, rancheros, and pueblos. CANAR addresses the concerns, abilities, capabilities, and informed choice of American Indian and Alaska Native consumers, so that they may prepare for and engage in gainful employment, including self-employment, telecommuting and business ownership.
After the CANAR met its first five-year initiative (1993 – 1998), their administrative offices relocated from Region VIII RCEP at the University of Northern Colorado to the American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (AIRRTC) located at the Institute for Human Development, an Arizona University Affiliated Program at Northern Arizona University. The CANAR continues to form collaborative working relationships with AIRRTC, state rehabilitation agencies, Regional RCEPs, tribal health and social service programs, Capacity Building Projects, and federal service agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Labor.
BRIEF LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
The American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program (AIVRS) is authorized by Title 1, Part B, Section 110c and Part C, Section 121 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (the Act). Under the AIVRS Program, discretionary grants are awarded on a competitive basis to governing bodies. The funding source is 90 % federal with 10% tribal match that is allocated by the Indian Tribes to provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for American Indians who are individuals with disabilities residing or near reservations. The legislative foundation for this program came about in 1978 with re-authorization of the Rehabilitation Act. The AIVRS Program has grown from one grantee in 1981 to 88 in 2019. This growth is primarily a result of insertional increases in the mandated minimum reserve of funds appropriated to the state VR services program, under Section 100(b)(1) of the Act and more importantly, providing quality and culturally appropriate VR services to AI-AN with disabilities that continues to result in a successful employment rate of 60% and high.
A typical tribal AIVRS grantee employees three to four staff and operates on a budget of $350,000 per year. Section 121(b)(4) of the Act allows priority consideration to be given for the continuation of previously funded programs and most Tribal governing bodies re-apply for funding at the end of each five-year project period. Many Tribal AIVRS projects have been funded continuously since 1981 competing every five years with other tribal applicants, new and old. AIVRS projects continually work to improve and expand their capacity to provide VR services on and near the reservation. The success rates of AIVRS projects are similar to those of the state agencies and some are more successful than State VR agencies in terms of successful employment outcomes, particularly at providing services to American Indians and Alaskan Natives with disabilities, where the unemployment rate is 80% or higher.
We believe the reason for this remarkable success is because of the following program features:
- Tribal grantees are able to maintain a continuous presence on reservations;
- They observe tribal traditions, incorporate tribal culture in the services
- They employ primarily American Indian/Alaskan Native staff;
- They seek non-traditional and native employment services and outcomes; and
- where possible, the staff speak the native language
- They provide quality and culturally appropriate VR services
- Inhibits a strong tribal government and community support to the programs and consumers
The authority to provide grants directly to Indian tribes located on Federal and State reservations was introduced in the 1978 Amendments to the Act, in Title I, Section 130. Based on the legislative history, Congress intended that: 1) services provided under the AIVRS Program were to be comparable to those provided under the state VR program; 2) The AIVRS Program is recognized comparable to the state VR services program for American Indians living on the reservation, provided in a culturally appropriate format; and 3) the AIVRS Program was authorized to provide services traditional used by Indian Tribes. Currently, Section 121(b)(1)(B) of the Act requires that, to the maximum extent feasible, AIVRS Programs provide services to American Indians with disabilities that are comparable to those provided under Title I of the Act by state VR agencies to other individuals with disabilities within the state, continuing the original provisions.
Significant statutory changes for the AIVRS Program were made as a result of the 1986, 1998 and WIOA Amendments. In 1986 eligible applicants for grants were expanded beyond the Navajo Nation to include any governing body of Indian Tribes located on federal and state reservations. In 1998, grant periods were extended from three to five years and services were authorized to be provided to American Indians living on or near reservations. In addition, in 1998 amendments greatly expanded the participation of American Indians in many programs and activities funded under the Act.
The passage of the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act in 2015 made additional amendments and improvements to the program under Title 1, Part C, Section 121. These included:
- The expansion of the definition of “Indian” to include natives and descendants of natives under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
- The amendment of the definition of “Indian Tribe” to include a “tribal organization,” and
- Those governing bodies eligible for a grant under this program.
However, AIVRS projects are still funded on a 5-year discretionary, competitive grant basis, unlike State VR which is funded year-to-year under an approved plan and on a formula grant basis. Yet the AIVRS grantees are held to the very same performance standard as State VR. This means that every AVIRS project must operate under the threat of a complete loss of funding, program shut down and loss of trained and experienced staff every five years. Indeed, this has happened to a number of highly successful AIVRS projects simply because all tribes are eligible to apply and brand-new projects with great need are permitted to compete with long-established successful projects-in essence punishing projects for their success. It is a perverse and punishing cycle of competition that has been in place since the beginning of the program. This places a hardship on programs, especially clients when the program is not refunded, and the budget is cut and level funded. The majority of the State VR programs are on an Order of Selection so that impedes on the collaboration of dual case services and support of the state VR agency to AIVRS programs.
Over the past 19 years, AIVRS projects have achieved significant success in spite of these limitations in funding and the perverse nature of the grant competition. The number of consumers serves and successfully rehabilitated, and the quality of services provided, are truly remarkable.
Tribal VR Success
Tribal VR provides culturally relevant VR services to Tribal members with disabilities who reside on or near Tribal lands including reservations, Trust Territories and Alaska Native corporations. Tribal VR is required to provide services that are equivalent to State VR agency services. The AIVRS program is funded with a set-aside under Title I, Section 110 of the Rehabilitation Act and distributed through a competitive discretionary grant process with 5-year awards. Tribal VR projects have successfully served several thousand Tribal members in areas with extremely high poverty, unemployment and disability rates. The employment outcome rate for Tribal VR consistently exceeds that of the State VR agencies at 60% or higher.
Tribal VR provides highly effective VR services. In fiscal year 2018, Tribal VR served 7,790 tribal members with disabilities in the rehabilitation process with employment outcomes of 2,363- a 68.2% success rate overall, compared to overall State VR rate of around 64%.
Section 21 of the Rehabilitation Act identified under-served and unserved populations; American Indians and Alaska Natives are consistently identified as underserved. There are over 573 federally and 567 state recognized American Indians tribes in the United States. Tribal VR could have a much greater impact if the legislation were modified to provide more stability and continuity to current projects and to increase funding to new projects. Qualified and many times, successful projects are denied funding with every funding cycle and new grant competition awards.
This information is an introduction and summary of CANAR, an organization that is a voice and advocate for AIVRS that serves Tribal members with disabilities and the successful Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation programs administered by the AIVRS program.