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June 4, 1999

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“Seventy-five percent of Americans with disabilities remain unemployed, and of those, 72% say they want to go to work. This is not just a missed opportunity for Americans with disabilities -- it is a missed opportunity for America.”

President Bill Clinton
June 4, 1999

Today, at the White House, President Clinton signed an executive order ensuring that the federal government has the same hiring and promotion standards for people with psychiatric disabilities as it has for people with other disabilities. The President also challenged Congress to pass the historic, bipartisan Work Incentives Improvement Act by July 26, the ninth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Expanding Hiring Opportunities for People with Psychiatric Disabilities. In January, Tipper Gore announced that the Office of Personnel Management would explore measures to eliminate the stricter standards that are currently applied to job applicants with psychiatric disabilities. At a ceremony to bestow the President's Award of the Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities, President Clinton responded to this issue by signing an executive order ensuring that the federal government's hiring and promotion standards are the same for people with psychiatric disabilities as they are for people with other disabilities. The executive order:

  • Ensures that individuals with psychiatric disabilities are given the same hiring opportunities as persons with severe physical disabilities or mental retardation. The civil service rules will be changed to ensure that people with psychiatric disabilities are covered by the same hiring rules and authority used for individuals with other disabilities; and
  • Permits people with psychiatric disabilities the same opportunity to acquire competitive civil service status after two years of successful service. This authority will allow adults with psychiatric disabilities the same opportunity for conversion into the competitive civil service as employees with other disabilities.

Challenging Congress to Pass the Work Incentives Improvement Act. One of the biggest barriers to entering the workplace for people with disabilities is that, under current law, they often become ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare if they work, forcing them to choose between health care coverage and employment. The Work Incentives Improvement Act removes significant work barriers for people with disabilities by:

  • improving access to health care through Medicaid;
  • extending Medicare coverage for people with disabilities who return to work; and
  • creating a new Medicaid buy-in demonstration to help people without medical assistance who have a specific physical or mental impairment that is expected to lead to a severe disability.

This historic new legislation has received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate under the leadership of Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, Roth, and Moynihan, and Representatives Lazio, Waxman, Bliley, and Dingell. The President urged Congress to move swiftly to pass this important and long overdue legislation by July 26, the ninth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Removing Barriers to Employment. Since the beginning of the Clinton-Gore Administration, the American economy has added more than 18 million new jobs, and unemployment is at a 29-year low of 4.3 percent. Yet, over 75 percent of individuals with psychiatric disabilities remain unemployed. The President's executive order, together with the Work Incentives Improvement Act, will help to eliminate the institutional barriers that prevent individuals with psychiatric disabilities from bringing their enormous energy and talent to the workforce.

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