Shutdown Slams Blind Merchants
Since its inception in 1936, the federal Randolph-Sheppard program has become the most effective government employment program for the blind. Today some one thousand blind entrepreneurs operate businesses on federal property throughout the United States, ranging from full-service restaurants and cafeterias to vending machine stocking and maintenance operations. All of these businessmen and women are now adversely affected by the shutdown of the federal government, which has been in place for over a week now.
The impact on these small businesses is severe. Al Falligan and Raj Mehta, who between them operate 139 vending machines in the vast Atlanta complex of the Centers for Disease Control, have not only lost the sales those machines would have generated but will likely have to dispose of most, if not all, of their current inventory as the shelf life of the goods expires. As always, the effect on these businesses also extends to their employees. William D. “Willie” Black, who operates Willie B’s Cafe at the Internal Revenue Service facility in Ogden, Utah, had already been forced to lay off five of his eleven employees because of budget cuts; he has now had to lay off the remaining six due to the shutdown. Similarly, Steve Saltzman, who runs two cafeterias in the Dallas area, has been unable to pay his six full-time and one part-time employees. And unlike federal employees, who (while they are certainly suffering) may ultimately be compensated for their lost pay by Congress, these vendors and their employees have no way to recover their losses and will not be compensated for the revenue and paychecks they didn’t receive or the inventory they can’t use.
Randolph-Sheppard vendors are businessmen and women who serve the dedicated employees of our federal government and who are trying to live the American dream by doing so. The National Federation of the Blind, and its division the National Association of Blind Merchants, supports these hard-working individuals. We demand that our political leaders end the government shutdown as soon as possible so that our blind brothers and sisters can get back to work.