National Association of Blind Merchants
BLIND ENTREPRENEURS INITIATIVE
With the holidays upon us, we thought it was a good time to get out The Blitz and update you on all things Randolph-Sheppard. It has been a crazy busy time for the National Federation of the Blind and its Merchants Division – the National Association of Blind Merchants as we continue to confront many challenges and work to chart a new course for blind entrepreneurs. As this issue of The Blitz and others will attest, we spend too much time fending off one threat after another. Our goal is to change that in 2018. But for now, here is a look at what has been going on the last few months.
Music City BLAST Smashing Success – Pick any superlative you want and you can probably use it to describe the Music City BLAST that was held in Nashville. Although the remnants of Hurricane Irma were bearing down on Nashville and devastation was predicted for much of the Southeast, approximately 500 individuals were able to get to town and take advantage of a fantastic training conference. The staff training provided in conjunction with the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind attracted 85 SLA members and was a quality training experience. The BLAST Conference itself offered several fantastic nationally acclaimed speakers, informative presentations on entrepreneurship and Randolph-Sheppard, and great breakout sessions that offered practical solutions to real problems blind entrepreneurs face every day. In keeping with the name of the conference, BLAST, there was also some great fun to be had as the conference featured some of country music’s best talent and some other wonderful entertainment. The trade show is always the highlight of the conference and President Gacos made sure it was again this year with approximately 75 exhibitors. The conference got some great exposure in the vending industry. The Vending Times included a cover story on BLAST with the headlines reading “These Aren’t Your Father’s Blind Vendors.” If you missed that article, it’s not too late. Go to http://vendingtimes.p2ionline.com/Flip/Sitebase/indexM.aspx?adgroupid=137276&view=single . The National Federation of the Blind’s Braille Monitor also featured a story about BLAST. You can go to https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm17/bm1711/bm171104.htm to read that article that traces the evolution of what has become one of the premiere training events in the vending industry as a whole and not just for blind entrepreneurs.
Now the focus turns to the 2018 BLAST which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio, Texas, on November 13-16. NABM President Nicky Gacos has a personal goal of making each BLAST better than the one before. You can bet he will achieve that goal again this year and our Lone Star BLAST will be our biggest and best ever. Mark you calendars now plan on joining us in the great state of Texas where they always go big.
Rest Area Commercialization Gaining Momentum – Yes, we’ve been talking about this issue for at least a year now but this is not a case of the little boy crying wolf. The threat of rest area commercialization is very very real and the movement is gaining momentum. 2018 looks to be a pivotal year in our fight to protect opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. H.R. 1990 is still alive and gained a new co-sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona. Recently, the Texas Department of Transportation reached out to its Congressional delegation asking them to work to eliminate the ban on rest area commercialization so we will see if that effort results in any additional sponsors from the Lone Star State. But that bill in and of itself is not the real threat.
There are two concerns here. First, we are fairly confident that rest area commercialization will be part of any infrastructure bill that could be introduced early next year. The Washington Post reported that President Trump hopes to see his long awaited infrastructure bill introduced after the New Year. The bill will focus on public-private partnerships just like what has been discussed for the interstate rest areas. Although the article, which can be read at
doesn’t specifically mention rest areas, it might as well have. This Administration supports commercializing the rest areas and we can expect support from the National Governor’s Association. We will have a real fight on our hands in Congress.
But now there is a new threat. The Governor of Arizona has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation for a waiver which would allow that state to commercialize its rest areas. Although the current law does not give DOT authority to grant such a waiver, the State of Arizona is asking to do it under some demonstration authority. Although we are convinced that the career professionals in DOT will oppose such a waiver, we are equally confident that the political appointees will look for every way possible to grant such a waiver. If one state gets such a waiver, the floodgates will open and opportunities for blind entrepreneurs will vanish into thin air.
The National Federation of the Blind and NABM are committed to fighting to protect these opportunities but we need your help. We set up a website and asked blind entrepreneurs, family, friends, and other stakeholders to go to the website, provide some basic information, and then send an automatically generated letter to all of your members of Congress. 2,000 of you have done that so far but we need many times that number if we want to make a difference. It is not too late. Go to https://nfb.constituentvoice.net/nfbaction/us-nabm_online_letter_to_congress_commercialization and let your voices be heard. You don’t have to be a rest area vendor. You don’t even have to be a blind entrepreneur. Ask all of your friends and family to do the same. Act today!
Department of Defense: The Never Ending Story – There is lots of news on the DOD front but in some ways it is just more of the same old same old.
- DOD Regs Still Alive – We have been talking about these proposed rules for 18 months now and they still have not been finalized. To recap, DOD proposed regulations in June of 2016 that would drastically impact the Randolph-Sheppard priority as it applies to military dining. Those proposed regs were never finalized but there is still an open case. The National Federation of the Blind, NABM, and its Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative continue to advocate in an effort to permanently prevent those rules from being finalized. In the last issue of The Blitz, we reported that Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas had taken a keen interest in our issue. He continues to be an ally. We have asked other members of Congress to write to both DOD and the Department of Education in support of the Randolph-Sheppard priority. Those efforts continue as we await responses to the letters that have been sent. Those responses will dictate future strategies. However, regardless of the outcome of those regulations, our fight with AbilityOne will not go away. They want all that we have and will continue to lobby their point of view. We cannot let our guard down.
- There are currently two arbitrations in progress that relate to the competitive range. The most notable is at Fort Dix in New Jersey. The Army there stated tin its solicitation that the Randolph-Sheppard priority would apply but it also stated that the award would be granted “without discussion.” That is code for there would be no competitive range established. It seems a conflict to on the one hand say the priority will be applied but then on the other say no competitive range will be established as required by the Act. The Army’s argument is that the priority only applies if the SLA’s bid is within the competitive range but since no competitive range is being established there is effectively no priority. This seems to be a new DOD strategy. They used it at Eglin AFB in Florida and actually convinced the panel majority that the Florida SLA had waived its rights by not objecting to the language in the RFP. However, the SLA had no way of knowing that “without discussion” was code for we are going to circumvent the law. A second case involving the competitive range is at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The Army claims the SLA’s bid was not in the competitive range. Just recently, the Air Force issued a RFP using the “without discussion” language but then stated that a competitive range would be established for the purposes of determining the viability of the SLA’s bid. That competitive range was set at 5% which comes from the now famous Joint Policy Statement from 2006. That policy statement was never promulgated into regulation and has no application. The SLA objected and the RFP was amended and the 5% was stricken.
- There is some good news. Congratulations to the California SLA, Blind Entrepreneur Tom Evans, and Blackstone Consulting for being awarded the troop-dining contract at Edwards Air Force Base.
- If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, you know that NABM and the NFBEI have long taken the position that states should be going after traditional vending facilities on military bases. Well, kudos to the Florida SLA for filing for arbitration against the Air Force over vending at Tyndall AFB. This could be a game changing arbitration on a couple of fronts. First, if it wins on the issue of the priority applying to all buildings constructed or renovated after 1975, it could motivate other states to go after these bases to create opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. Secondly, the SLA is challenging the notion that the Post Exchange is exempt form income sharing from vending machines not located within the Post Exchange itself. Florida is effectively challenging a court ruling in a Texas case from 25 years ago but is not convinced the court got it right. The panel heard that case in November. Likewise, the Kentucky SLA has filed for arbitration over the same issue at Fort Knox. That case is in its early stages. Good luck guys on getting good decisions.
- Marine Bids Will Soon Be In – The Marines RFP hit the streets in September and, after a couple of extensions, bids will be due on January 5th. One contract will cover bases in California and Arizona and the other will cover the Marine bases on the East Coast which will include South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and D.C. California and Arizona are working together to submit a joint bid and have selected Don James and FSIG as their teaming partner. South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia are working together with South Carolina taking the lead on the East Coast bid. They too selected FSIG as its teaming partner. These contracts are approximately $100 Million each and would place 10 blind vendors to work (5 on each contract). There have been some technical protests and we will see where those lead. However, at this point, final touches are being made on the bids and then it will be wait and see. Getting one or both of these contracts could be earth shaking. Stay tuned.
- Earlier this year, the Department of Defense sought public comment on how it could improve the contracting process in general. NABM President Nicky Gacos joined NCSAB President Lea Dias in submitting comments calling on DOD to use standardized language in all troop-dining contracts. Suggested language was included in the comments. Although the request was not specific to cafeteria contracts., both NABM and NCSAB thought it afforded an opportunity to offer suggestions.
NABM Releases White Paper on Funding – Frustrated by what is has seen with poorly funded BEP’s in many states, NABM recently issued a white paper on what it believes are the legal obligations of the SLA to fund a program. When it agrees to become the SLA, the state agrees to certain things and this includes providing training, equipment, and supervision. Creating new opportunities is a fundamental responsibility of the SLA as a VR agency. It cannot pass along to the blind vendors the responsibility for funding these obligations through set aside or use of unassigned income. We have seen too many states use set aside dollars to match federal dollars to fund their VR programs. They then do nothing to create new Randolph-Sheppard opportunities and even pass on the ones that fall in their laps. They can’t buy replacement equipment and many of their facilities are in disrepair. NABM believes this is not only wrong but illegal NABM is not naïve. There is no expectation that our white paper will be the cure all for BEP’s struggling financially. However, we hope it starts some dialogue amongst the states and the Rehabilitation Services Administration in regards to the SLA’s financial responsibilities. To review this white paper, go to https://blindmerchants.org/an-impending-crisis/.
Three in One: Join Us In D.C. in May – What are 3 things you think of when you think of NABM and the NFBEI? The answer is probably training, advocacy, and our involvement with current events that impact blind entrepreneurs. Well, NABM is going to combine all of these over 3 exciting days in Washington, D.C. May 21-23, 2018, at he Marriott Key Bridge Hotel (Arlington). Come be a part of this:
- Emerging Leaders Training – NABM is announcing its third Emerging Leaders Training class which will beheld May 21-23. The fist two classes attracted some outstanding future leaders and if you are interested in being a leader for the next decade and beyond, you should apply for the class. Applications will be up on our site at blindmerchants.org in a couple of weeks. Trainees will learn about self-advocacy, critical leadership skills, and the relevant issues of the day. Be on the watch for our formal announcement on our website. This training qualifies as upward mobility training and is eligible to be paid for with set aside and federal VR dollars. We encourage SLA’s to recommend participants and to fund their travel. There is no cost for the training itself.
- Critical Issues and Futures Conference – This training will be conducted in concurrence with the Emerging Leaders Training. It will be designed for SLA staff and blind vendors. The conference will focus on the issues of the day and where we are going in the future.
- NABM Fly In – On May 22, NABM will hold its annual Fly In. Those who attend will be able to visit their members of Congress on The Hill and tell their stories and advocate on behalf of the program. On the afternoon of May 21st, attendees will receive a half-day of training on self-advocacy. John Pare and Gabe Cazares in the National Federation of the Blind’s Office for Advocacy and Policy will conduct this training.
Make plans now to join us for this tremendous 3 in one event.
American Heart Association War: Randolph-Sheppard Strikes Back? – In the last issue of The Blitz, we told you about an executive order the Governor of Louisiana issued at the request of the American Heart Association. That executive order mandated that only healthy products be sold in vending machines on state properties. The order caught the blind entrepreneurs and SLA in Louisiana off guard. But NABM has joined NAMA in fighting back. NABM President Nicky Gacos recently accompanied NAMA members to meet with the Governor’s Office. Nicky invited the Chair of the Louisiana Committee of Blind Vendors to attend with him. As suspected the Governor did not realize that the order would impact the livelihoods of blind entrepreneurs. He also didn’t realize that the order would negatively impact the state’s universities and sporting / entertainment venues. President Gacos suggested a pilot project with the blind vendors working with the Governor’s Office to make healthy options available to state workers. Although we do not expect he Governor to rescind the executive order, we do expect it will be modified to the extent that blind vendors can live with it.
Cook County Board Repeals Soda Tax –The penny per ounce sweetened beverage tax in Chicago and Cook County is now history. Effective December 1st, the tax was overturned by the Cook County Board. The controversial tax was in effect for only 4 months but brought national attention to the city. The tax was projected to bring in $200 Million annually. However, organizations like NAMA fought back. NAMA vowed to never bring its One Show back to Chicago and other organizations followed suit with similar promises. Our blind entrepreneurs in partnership with NAMA and local vending industry operators played a major role in overturning the tax. There has been a growing trend of late, as counties and municipalities look for revenue, to impose a so-called sugar tax. NABM vehemently opposes such taxes. Cook County’s actions buck the trend and are a positive statement as to what collective action can accomplish.
Millennials: What You Should Know as a Vending Operator – During the staff portion of the training at BLAST, Hector Benavidas made a presentation on the impact Millienials are having on the vending industry and how operators should respond to this growing customer base. It was an eye opening presentation and by most accounts was the highlight of the staff training. If you are interested to learn more, you can review the Power Point for his presentation at our website at https://blindmerchants.org/millennials-know-vending-operator/ .
NABM Comments on U.S. Department of Education Regulatory Review – As part of its commitment to eliminate regulatory burdens, the Trump Administration has required the various departments to undergo a regulatory review process. The goal is to eliminate unnecessary regulations and clarify and streamline others. The Department of Education sought public comment on its rules and President Gacos submitted a lengthy document outlining multiple regulatory changes that would eliminate burdens on Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs and the SLA’s that administer the programs. It was a far-reaching analysis of the current regulations and where improvements are needed. President Gacos hit on topics such as troop dining, satisfactory sites, active participation, and much more. The National Federation of the Blind and National Council of State Agencies for the Blind also submitted comments although their comments extended beyond Randolph-Sheppard. Opening up the regulations could be a scary thing but it may be time. The regulations that were promulgated in 1975 have never been updated and it is a very different world today than it was 40 years ago.
SLA’s Face Dilemma on Purchases of Over $5,000 – The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) could be potentially throwing a wrench into how SLA’s purchase equipment for blind entrepreneurs. Without getting too technical, there is a new requirement that could result in all SLA’s submitting to RSA for approval any purchase that exceeds $5,000. This means that many, if not most, vending machines would now require RSA approval. One can only imagine the problems this will cause? A routine purchase of a vending machine may now take months. RSA has indicated that the approval process will take 2-3 weeks but there is no reason to have confidence that a shorthanded federal agency could turn around approvals that quickly. But even if they could, this is still totally unacceptable. RSA is not prepared or equipped to handle the number of requests it will receive and we anticipate it will take months for such approvals to work their way through the cumbersome process. In the meantime, blind entrepreneurs are forced to sit there with broken equipment that cannot be replaced and customers are forced to look elsewhere for food. Blind entrepreneurs will make less money and the image of the program will be further damaged. Randolph-Sheppard is essentially a $700 Million business being operated within a government system. The bureaucracy is already choking the program to death and now our federal partner is threatening to bring it to a grinding halt. RSA did not necessarily create the problem but NABM is calling on RSA to find a solution that doesn’t burden the SLA’s and does not affect the abilities of blind people to make a living. We have offered alternative solutions that meet the intent of the applicable regulation without requiring approval of each piece of equipment. We are optimistic that RSA will do just that.
Tax Cuts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – As The Blitz goes to press, Congress has just passed and sent to President Trump a $1.5 Trillion tax cut bill. We have gotten many inquiries as to what the bill means for blind entrepreneurs. There are no direct implications for blind entrepreneurs specifically. However, the tax bill will have the same effect on our folks as it does on other small businesses and individual taxpayers. There could be some real benefits to blind entrepreneurs who form S Corps or LLC’s The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) did a nice analysis of the bill. To see NACS’ analysis, go to http://www.nacsonline.com/Media/Daily/Pages/ND1218171.aspx?utm_content=NACS%20Daily%20121817:%20newsarticle1%20(The%20GOP’s%20Final%20Tax%20Plan:%20How%20It%20Impacts%20You)&utm_source=NACS%20Daily&utm_campaign=NACS%20Daily%20121817&utm_medium=email&utm_term=587277#.Wjfr2itOmEc . CNN Money also did an informative piece outlining 34 things everyone needs to know about the tax bill. That can be found at https://apple.news/A4bMA1XKOSruUJ22fZ4Vx0Q. The two most significant pieces of the legislation are that the individual tax deduction doubles and tax rates go down. There is good news for blind tax filers who do not itemize. The extra exemption for the blind is still the law. The National Federation of the Blind worked hard to keep that extra deduction as the House version of the bill had eliminated it.
Lower taxes are generally a good thing but there could be consequences for the SLA’s who administer the program. The theory behind the tax cuts is that the economy will be stimulated and the net effect is that tax collections will actually go up. However, there are some economists who disagree with that theory and predict the budget deficit will only increase. If the deficit increases to a certain point, a process known as sequestration could be triggered. This means that entitlement programs, which would include Vocational Rehabilitation, would face mandatory budget cuts. Initially, the thinking was these cuts could range from between 6 and 8 per cent. However, some are projecting much deeper cuts. Combine these cuts with the requirement that states spend 15% of their federal allotment on pre-employment transition services (which in effect was a cut to the basic VR Program), and states could be forced to operate with one-fourth less in federal dollars. Remember what we said earlier about poorly funded BEP’s? If sequestration becomes a reality, the problem will only get worse. Let’s hope the tax cuts do as proponents promise.
Need Assistance with Social Security? – Last summer, NABM President Nicky Gacos announced a new service on a pilot basis NABM was providing to blind entrepreneurs who were having difficulty with Social Security over their SSDI. Michael Dalto who is a nationally know Social Security expert was retained to provide the services and he was able to help several of you. That test has concluded and we are continuing the program on a month-to-month basis. It remains to be seen if we continue to offer the service long-term. It simply depends on the demonstrated need. If you have a need for assistance, contact Nicky Gacos at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 1-888-687-6226 and press Extension “4”.
Dates to Remember
- January 29–31 – National Federation of the Blind Washington Seminar in Washington, D.C. (Merchants Meet on the 29th)
- March 20-23 – NAMA One Show in Las Vegas (Randolph-Sheppard Training on March 20th)
- May 21-23 – NABM Emerging Leaders Training in Washington, D.C.
- May 21-22 – NABM Advocacy and Current Issue Training in Washington, D.C.
- May 22 – NABM Goes to the Hill in Washington D.C.
- July 3-8 – National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention in Orlando
- July 24-25 – NAMA Fly In in Washington, D.C.
- November 13-16 – BLAST Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
On the Road Again – The last few months since the last Blitz have been busy travel months for President Nicky Gacos and Terry Smith. Combined they traveled to 15 states including Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, D.C.. Terry was in South Carolina at the NCSAB Fall Conference and President Gacos attended the NAMA Board Meeting in D.C. and NAMA’s Coffee, Tea, and Water Show in Dallas. Gacos also attended the Society for Hospitality Food Management Conference where he was able to make some important connections.
Tidbits – Here a few little tidbits for your information:
- Check out the new video produced by the Michigan BEP at http://www.michigan.gov/lara/0,4601,7-154-28313_81736—,00.html
- Congratulations to the Nebraska SLA for filing for arbitration against the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- A great big salute to the Indy Thunder Beep Baseball Team from Indianapolis for winning the Beep Ball World Series. The team that featured NABM members and Indiana blind entrepreneurs Joe Higdon, Ron Brown, and Eddie Brown beat Taiwan to bring home the title.
- Micromarket sales in the U.S. in 2016 topped $1 Billion and continue on an upward trajectory. They are clearly not just a fad.
- Longtime NABM member and blind entrepreneur Harvey Johnson has announced his retirement. He currently manages the troop-dining contract at Fort Bliss in Texas and does so without a teaming partner. He will stay on until his replacement can be selected early next year. We wish Harvey the very best in retirement.
You Can Still Help – Do you like what the National Federation of the Blind and NABM are doing to advocate for the program on a national level and to assist individual state programs and blind entrepreneurs? Do you enjoy reading The Blitz and being kept informed about what is going on in the Randolph-Sheppard community? If so, we can use your financial support. Over half of our support comes from the NFBEI subscriptions but we count on donations to make up the rest. If you would like to contribute to the cause, we would welcome your donation. You can donate by sending a check to:
National Association of Blind Merchants
7450 Chapman Highway, #319
Knoxville, TN 37920
Make the check payable to NABM and write “NFBEI” in the memo portion of the check. Your support is greatly appreciated.
You can also donate by going to our website at www.blindmerchants.org and we have a new way you can contribute. We can do bank drafts if you want to sign up for monthly giving. Contact Terry Smith if you are interested in setting up bank draft donations
If your state is one of the 11 that doesn’t subscribe to the services of the NFBEI, we’d welcome your involvement. Terry Smith would be happy to discuss the services with you.
Share Your News with Everyone– Help us keep everyone informed about what is happening around the country. Let us hear from you. Tell us what is going on in your state. What is happening in one state affects what is going on in another, and NABM and the NFBEI offer the best vehicle to keep everyone updated on what is going on out there.
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The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.