Funds for People with Disabilities
A top priority for states when the pandemic began was to ensure the most vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities, could meet their basic economic needs. Some states utilized portions of their ARPA funding to help ensure those needs were met among the disability community.
Maine, for example, allocated $1,000,000 with S.P. 577 for one-time funding to assist people in underserved populations, including people with disabilities, with addressing basic needs and seeking employment.
Nevada made an even larger investment, dedicating $5,000,000 under SB461 for people with disabilities under the age of 18. These grants assisted individuals who were impacted by the pandemic with expenses related to education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal support services, health care costs, financial management, and other services.
Funds for Private Employers
Job openings in the U.S. numbered 10.7 million at the beginning of July 2022. Throughout the month, the number of unemployed people was only 5.7 million. This is a continuation of mismatches in the workforce that were becoming increasingly apparent even before the pandemic began. With a gulf of five million jobs between these two figures, states are seeking creative ways to grow their labor force. Incentivizing private employers to hire people from traditionally underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, is one strategy policymakers utilized ARPA funds to try.
Minnesota plans to use $960,000 in ARPA funds to support disability-owned businesses. Similarly, Maine dedicated $1,000,000 to one-time funding for technical assistance grants to support business diversity initiatives.
Given the economic and employment stresses many people were facing during the pandemic, some employment services struggled to meet the needs of residents. Tennessee used a portion of their ARPA funds to clear a waitlist for the Employment and Community First CHOICES program that helps people with disabilities find employment and integrate into their community.
Funds for State Government
Private employers are not the only ones who could benefit from seeking out workers from underrepresented groups. Maine also provided $1,500,000 in funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the state's workforce. The legislation also and invests in the promotion of DEI in both public and private hiring. This promotion included technical assistance to the state hiring managers and private businesses for hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.
Looking to the Future
Because of the myriad programs and initiatives states have implemented with ARPA funds, tracking the specific impacts of these efforts can be challenging. Furthermore, these programs have been enacted so recently that it is too soon to know the full impacts of these investments on the workforce. However, if the programs being tested now show meaningful results in increasing employment for people with disabilities in their respective states, they could prove to be helpful models for other states looking to invest in their labor force in the future.