Rep. Virginia Foxx has done a good turn by going to bat for Winston-Salem nonprofit IFB Solutions Inc. She’s also set an example by joining a bipartisan group of legislators to stand up for the cause. Her mission deserves to succeed.
IFB, which is the largest employer of the blind in the United States, was filling three government contracts to provide prescription eyewear to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The three contracts provided jobs for 137 local workers, which included 76 employees who are blind and 15 who are military veterans. The work brought IFB $15.4 million annually; about 20% of its total revenue.
Unfortunately, IFB lost the contracts after they were challenged in court by, among others, New Jersey company PDS, which employs disabled veterans. Based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006, PDS claimed its employees should receive preference.
The courts agreed — most recently in September — and after IFB worked through its current orders, the contracts ended, Dan Kelly, IFB’s chief operating officer, told the Journal.
We agree that those who have served our country deserve consideration. But these organizations shouldn’t be pitted against each other. All of their employees deserve opportunties to be self-sufficient.
Enter Foxx. Last week she filed a bill that could reinstate IFB’s contracts. A brief description says the bill would “reform laws for contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs so that Ability One contracts held prior to 2006 continue to be eligible for renewal.”
“Our free, prosperous nation enables opportunities for people of all abilities to work, and Congress has demonstrated its intent in past legislation to support such opportunities through the Ability One program,” Foxx said in a statement.
“Recently, it has become clear that those laws are in serious need of clarification.”
Counting Foxx, the bill currently has five Republican and five Democratic co-sponsors.
Foxx has also sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asking him to personally review the status of IFB’s federal contracts. A previous letter was sent to the VA, endorsed by 33 U.S. House and Senate members, including Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Republican Rep. Mark Walker.
“I will keep pushing for its passage until these true models of perseverance can rest more assured of their jobs,” Foxx said.
In the meantime, IFB has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal and is waiting for a reply. If the court hears the case, a decision could take 18 to 24 months.
In the meantime, also, the former IFB employees need work. Employment doesn’t come easily to most blind people. The loss of their jobs is surely wearing on them.
We appreciate that IFB is doing everything it can to fight for its workers — and that Foxx and her colleagues have joined the fight.
On an unrelated topic, a former employee of IFB Solutions has been charged with sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome, the Journal reported recently. A lawsuit connected to the charge has been filed against IFB.
We know little more at this point, but we urge IFB to be completely open and transparent about the former employee and the charges. If IFB bears any responsibility, it should take that responsibility and do everything in its power to make amends.