The Blitz, Fall 2021
The Blitz, Fall 2021
Sorry! It’s been a while since we got out a Blitz. It’s not because there has been nothing to report. It’s that we have been very busy. Whether it’s advocating for additional Randolph-Sheppard funding, providing virtual training, or assisting SLAs with issues, we have been going hard. But we also realize that many of you rely on The Blitz for much of your news and we apologize for the delay in getting one out. We cannot report on everything that has happened since the last issue but we will hit on the highlights.
A Sad Farewell – We start this issue out with some sad news. The Randolph-Sheppard community recently lost a pioneer. Don Morris was a long-time Randolph-Sheppard blind entrepreneur in Maryland. As a 37-year veteran in Randolph-Sheppard, Don operated one of the more unique vending facilities in the country at the National Emergency Training Center. Don was also a past president of NABM and created the acronym BLAST (Business Leadership and Superior Training) which has become synonymous with quality training. He was also active with the National Federation of the Blind. Don had only recently retired from the Program and was living in Florida at the time of his death. You will be missed Don. Rest in peace.
We also want to extend our sympathies to the family of Terry Camardelle, a long-time vendor from Louisiana who passed away on September 5th at the age of 75.
COVID-19 Still Hammering Blind Entrepreneurs – It is hard to overstate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our Randolph-Sheppard blind entrepreneurs and to the program as a whole. When the pandemic hit, most of us thought we were looking at a 3 or 4-month problem. No one envisioned what is now more than18 months and we will feel the effects well into 2022. Vendors not on a military base, at a rest area, or in a Post Office, were probably closed or in many cases still closed or have a minimal amount of business. Many struggled to make ends meet. Average income was down by 25% for the federal fiscal year but that only included 6 months of the pandemic. That equates to a 50% decline over a 12-month period and that is misleading because the troop dining guys artificially inflate that number. Most blind entrepreneurs saw between 75% and 100% drop in profit. Unemployment, the PPP loans, and other relief aid offered a band-aid but at the end of the day many blind entrepreneurs had enough and retired or simply quit. But the long-term effect is yet to be felt. Teleworking is our new reality. The General Services Administration has told NABM that 70% of federal workers will be given the option of working from home. Governors are catching on too. One governor has indicated a desire to only have 20% of the workforce on-site at any given time. That means fewer customers. That means goodbye cafeterias and snack bars. Two years ago, a cluster of government buildings may have provided a living for 3 or 4 blind guys. In the new norm, those same buildings may only support one blind vendor. What happens to the others? Many will never come back. The national program will shrink by at least 30% if not more. This will force Randolph-Sheppard to reinvent itself. NABM is already thinking of ideas that will expand opportunities. Everyone needs to be doing the same. NABM President, Nicky Gacos, has often said “We don’t need to think outside the box. We need to get rid of the box.” For our great program to survive, that is what we have to do. Over the coming months, expect to hear about some of our ideas and efforts. We look forward to real dialogue about our future.
FRRP Becomes a Reality – Before leaving the topic of the pandemic, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Randolph-Sheppard Relief Program. It was in March of last year that NABM first got the idea of asking Congress for relief specific to Randolph-Sheppard. It was a long and winding road but we were delighted when in December Congress passed the 2021 Appropriations Bill with language that included $20 Million to compensate blind vendors for losses in 2020. We won’t mention names but a special thank you goes out to our Connecticut vendors who helped us with Congresswoman DeLauro. California and New York were also invaluable during this process. Also, we couldn’t have done it without the support of the National Federation of the Blind’s Office for Advocacy and Policy. And to those who lent a helping hand behind the scenes, we thank you too. At long last, every SLA’s application has been approved by RSA and in most states blind entrepreneurs have already received their money. This money was literally a lifesaver for many in our community. RSA deserves credit for their part in rolling out the program promptly and for the very fast approval process for state grant applications. NABM is pleased for the most part with the spirit of cooperation between the SLAs and Elected Committees on creating their respective plans. We are also happy that every single dollar is going to blind entrepreneurs and, to their credit, the SLAs recognized the dire need of their vendors and supported this approach rather than trying to use dollars for program purposes. Oh sure, there were bumps in the road but, as a whole, the process went relatively smoothly in most states.
Mini BLAST 2021 The Virtual Edition – NABM President Nicky Gacos and the Board were disappointed to have to cancel the in-person Mini BLAST which was scheduled for Atlantic City. Health and safety concerns made that decision obvious. However, NABM remains committed to providing quality training to the Randolph-Sheppard community and has shifted to a virtual platform. On September 28-30, NABM will offer 90 minutes of training each day starting at 3:00 PM Eastern Time. We are getting a great response so far. If you’d like to participate, you can do so by registering at announcing-mini-blast-2021-virtual-edition/
RSA Issues Guidance on Federal Unassigned Vending – Earlier this year, the Rehabilitation Services Administration issued Technical Assistance Circular (TAC) 21-02 related to how states are collecting federal unassigned dollars. In this policy guidance, RSA states that SLAs do not have the authority to enter into third-party agreements to provide vending services on federal properties. The only mechanism in place for SLAs to exercise their priority is the permit process and a permit mandates that a blind vendor be assigned to the vending facility. Although NABM believes RSA’s interpretation may be technically correct, it also is a practice that has grown in popularity in recent years with RSA’s full knowledge and approval. NABM believes that the arrangements entered into by the SLAs was in keeping with the spirit of the law. Congress intended for revenue from vending machines on federal property to be spent for the benefit of blind vendors and that has been happening. However, that doesn’t matter at this point. The TAC changes the game and it is blind entrepreneurs who will be impacted the most since these federal unassigned dollars were used to pay for their fringe benefits. Many vendors will lose these benefits. In some cases, SLAs use the unassigned federal funds to run their programs in lieu of having a state set aside fee. This means blind entrepreneurs who weren’t paying set aside may have to start. The good news is that all of these federal sites must be assigned to blind vendors which means some will see their incomes increase which is a positive development considering the impact of COVID which was discussed earlier. States will have the option of buying machines for the vendors to service or allowing the blind entrepreneur to utilize a third party. The bottom line is all federal sites must be assigned to a blind licensee. RSA did not dictate a date by which time this must be completed but they will probably be looking at this when they do their state VR monitoring visits so states need to be making plans to fully implement the TAC. Also, common sense must prevail. NABM believes that in emergency situations whenever an SLA must use a third party for a limited time to preserve a site for a blind person then this is permissible. RSA has recently approved state rules to this effect. But it has to truly be as a means to transition to a blind person.
We have been asked what impact the TAC has on state unassigned? This TAC has zero impact on state unassigned. However, NABM fully expects RSA to follow up with a TAC on state properties as well because they have bene looking at this when doing the VR monitoring and have apparently been giving states conflicting guidance. They will have to do something to reconcile this. Such guidance could have even a more far-reaching impact than this one. However, unfortunately, many states do not handle their state unassigned in a way that complies with federal law so we will see what RSA does. The problem here is that states have become reliant on these state unassigned dollars to fund their programs and to draw down federal dollars rather than creating opportunities for blind entrepreneurs. So, stay tuned on this one.
RSA / AbilityOne MOU – Earlies this year, RSA and AbilityOne entered into an updated agreement on how the two entities could work together to minimize the conflict between Randolph-Sheppard and AbilityOne. NABM was actually the driving force behind the original agreement in 2015 when Janet LaBreck was RSA Commissioner. Under that agreement, AbilityOne agreed that any time one of its nonprofit agencies was pursuing a contract involving food (full food or mess attendant), it would notify RSA so it could advise the appropriate SLA and determine if it was interested in it. The process has worked to Randolph-Sheppard’s benefit in two different cases. RSA was notified that an AbilityOne agency was pursuing a food contract at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York. RSA reached out to the SLA and the SLA received technical assistance from NABM and advised the Merchant Marines it wanted to exercise its priority and today Alex Demor, a blind vendor, is at that facility with his teaming partner BCI. There was a similar case in California. The updated agreement has one important change. Previously, if the SLA declined the opportunity, AbilityOne could proceed to putting the service on the Procurement List where it would remain in perpetuity. However, under this new agreement, the AbilityOne Program would only manage the contract for a normal contract period, which is typically 5 years, and then it would have to be offered to the SLA again. This is significant.
Biden Issues Executive Order on Minimum Wage – In April, President Biden issued an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay a $15 per hour minimum wage to all employees who work on federal contracts effective January 30, 2022. In July the Department of Labor released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking implementing the Order. From everything we have been told, the rule will apply to Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs. The U.S. General Services Administration is including such language in all new permits. Ironically, a few federal entities believe the requirement is not applicable to permits but that appears to be the exception rather than the rule. This has the potential to hurt vendors with lower incomes especially in the South. It is also going to be complicated for those who manage vending routes with both federal and non-federal sites. Theoretically, an employee may make $15 per hour while working in a federal site and a lesser amount when working in a non-federal location. This will make payroll very difficult. It remains to be seen if the minimum wage requirement will apply to existing permits. The Executive Order issued by President Obama increasing the minimum wage to $10.80 only applied to new agreements. This is something to consider when asked to update a permit. The impact is somewhat mitigated by the current labor market. Blind entrepreneurs, like other businessowners, are finding it difficult to find employees and are being forced to pay higher wages. $15 per hour isn’t as far out of line as it might have been pre-pandemic. This is also a nonissue in those states who already have state minimum wages at $15 per hour or higher.
To Get the Shot or Not Get the Shot? – President Biden has issued another Executive Order that changes the narrative on vaccinations. He has ordered that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated if they are working on federal property. NABM has received many calls on this one. We are not experts in this area but just like the minimum wage we are being advised that blind entrepreneurs and their employees will be required to be vaccinated if they are on federal property. Some federal agencies are already communicating this to vendors and issuing paperwork that must be provided. However, there has been no firm determination to our knowledge that specifically says blind entrepreneurs and their employees must comply. Common sense tells you that if everyone in a building is required to be vaccinated, they are not going to allow blind vendors in who have not. That would sort of defeat the purpose of the Order. Some federal agencies have moved swiftly to implement this while others are moving more slowly. It is an issue with which many of our guys will be confronted and they need to be prepared but no action is required until you are told by property management that you must comply.
Rest Area Commercialization – We need to retitle this as “The Never-Ending Story of Rest Area Commercialization.” It just won’t go away. This year the Surface Transportation Act included language that would have allowed electric charging stations at the rest areas. NABM and the coalition to which it belongs was successful in getting this language removed. So, we can relax for another year anyway. At first glance, allowing electric charging stations doesn’t appear to be that big of a deal. In fact, in the short run it may actually help our rest area vendors as people charging their cars may want a drink and a snack from the vending machines. But it won’t be long until those people are demanding more in the way of services. If they are going to be there for an hour anyway, they will want a restaurant and a convenience store. At this point, the traveling public is not clamoring for commercialization. It is an issue being pushed by some politicians. But if the voters start demanding more services, we won’t be able to stop the support that will come from members in Congress who are now on our side. Constituents matter and yes we are all constituents too but we will be outnumbered. We don’t have to worry about it now but you can bet the issue will resurface again and maybe as early as next year. President Biden has an ambitious electric vehicle agenda and having enough charging stations available is a key to its success.
Nicky Gacos Highlighted by SHFM – The Society for Hospitality and Food Management highlighted comments by NABM President Nicky Gacos as it recognized the 31st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This landmark legislation was the impetus for accessibility becoming part of mainstream thinking and it remains a high priority today for Nicky, NABM and the NFB. Here is a link if you want to see what SHFM and Nicky had to say about the ADA: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/society-for-hospitality-%26-foodservice-management_americanswithdisabilitiesact-shfmonehospitalityfamily-activity-6826934778269339649-e8fF
Answering Your Questions, No Matter How Odd They May Sound – This is where we answer your questions. In this issue, we answer: “I have heard NABM say many times that we need to expand beyond food. But what legal authority is there to do that?” Yes, NABM has said many times that if Randolph-Sheppard is to survive it must quit thinking of itself as a pop and snack business in government buildings. We must look to the private sector and to businesses other than food service. The legal authority is found in the Randolph-Sheppard Act itself at 20 U.S.C. 107a(a)(5). It states there that blind vendors may sell “newspapers, periodicals, confections, tobacco products, food, beverages, and other articles and services….” Those last four words are the important ones for the purpose of this conversation. “Other articles and services” allow Randolph-Sheppard vendors to think more than just food. It is interesting that the Act lists 6 very specific things that can be sold and only 2 relate to food. If we were limited to just food, the first 4 items would not be included in the language. So, states need to get creative and look at things like laundromats, dry cleaners, retail stores, etc. Don’t limit yourself. Throw away the box. The law is on your side.
National Convention Huge Success – The National Federation of the Blind held a very successful virtual convention in July. It is amazing how fast the organization adapted to the virtual environment and how it is able to put on a quality convention. NABM held its annual business meeting / training in conjunction with the national convention. There were some outstanding speakers. New officers were elected. The Board is as follows:
President – Nicky Gacos, New Jersey
First Vice President – Harold Wilson, Virginia
Second Vice President – Ed Birmingham, Illinois
Secretary – Sharon Treadway, Tennessee
Treasurer – Pam Schnurr, Indiana
Board – Melissa Smith, Tennessee
Board – Gary Grassman, Virginia
Board – Michael Colbrunn, Minnesota
Board – John Fritz, Wisconsin
Board – Deb Smith, Arizona
Board – Lewanda Miranda, Oregon
Board – Zach Snow, Georgia
Board – Joe Higdon, Indiana
Board – Melba Taylor, Maryland
Board – Barbara Manuel, Alabama
Hadley Entry Level Training Perfect Option During Pandemic – Just as a reminder, entry-level training for potential new licensees is still available through the Hadley Institute for the Blind & Visually Impaired. 31 states are now using the training curriculum. Over the last 12 months, 37 blind individuals completed the training. That represents over one-third of all new vendors trained in the country over that time period. This is an excellent training option during this pandemic when potential trainees cannot travel to state centers to get trained. As things stand, many states won’t be offering training the rest of the year. Why not look at the Hadley training at least as a trial during these unusual times? The training is on-line and features a top-notch curriculum with an instructor. Today, even our kids are learning virtually. So can your vendors.
Mississippi State On-Line Training for BEP Gaining Momentum – With BEP staffers working from home, it would appear many are taking advantage of the opportunity to do a little on-line training. The Mississippi State University Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision has updated its free BEP on-line training modules. The modules were developed as a training tool for new SLA staff; however, anyone can sign up and take them. There are 16 short modules including a new one on micromarkets. The modules have been or are in the process of being updated to reflect the latest Technical Assistance Circulars issued by RSA. In the first 6 months of 2019, 97 individuals enrolled to take classes. During the first 6 months of this year, 267 have enrolled. Every BEP staff member is encouraged to take these training modules. They should be required as part of any new staffer’s onboarding process. Even though the modules were designed with BEP staff in mind, blind entrepreneurs are welcome to sign up and take the modules. Enroll today at https://nrtc.catalog.instructure.com/courses/randolph-sheppard.
On the Road Again: Well Sort Of – We usually tell you here about all of the states we have visited and did training or presented at annual vendor conferences. Travel has obviously been curtailed. West Virginia was the only on-site training in which NABM participated. However, NABM has still been active in virtual state conferences. Those include Indiana, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, and others. Several more are on tap for later this fall.
Saying Goodbye to Some Longtime BEP Directors – Several State BEP Directors have moved on since the last issue of The Blitz. We said goodbye to Dan Whalen in Colorado, Zach Mundy in California, Beverly Berg in Montana, Jay Rufo in Massachusetts, , Gary Weaver in Tennessee, Ally Wullbrrandt in Pennsylvania, and Kathleen Fujimoto in Hawaii. Most of these were long tenured Directors and NABM thanks them for their contributions and wishes them the very best in the future. Another one, Corey Bresina in Idaho, is moving up in the agency but will still have oversight of the BEP. Good luck, Corey.
Say Hello to These New Directors – With several Directors leaving, that means we get to say hello to some new folks. Although as we go to press, several positions remain vacant, we do welcome David Burr in California and Troy Larson in Colorado. Welcome aboard gentlemen.
Raven Pulliam the Newest Tennessee Volunteer – Okay, this one is on the down low. Keep it to yourself. It hasn’t been officially announced. Most of you know Raven Pulliam as the long-time and well-respected BEP Director in Illinois. Well, now he is the former Illinois Director. In October, he will become the BEP Director in Tennessee. The lure of the hills of East Tennessee were too much for him. Folks in Tennessee may pump their chests and say he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to lead such a great program. In reality, it may have had as much to do with the great fly fishing in the Tennessee mountain streams. Regardless of the reason he chose to go to Tennessee, people in his new state are ecstatic while those in Illinois feel something other than ecstasy. You are going to a great place Raven and NABM wishes you well.
We Have New Committee Chairs Too – We’d like to welcome these new Committee of Blind Vendors Chairs who have come on board since our last issue of The Blitz:
April Toolooze -Missouri
Jeff Pennick – Oklahoma
Jessica Beacham – Colorado
Tim Davis – Wisconsin
Karen Blachowicz – New York
Mike Feeney – Arizona
Debbie Grace – Alaska
Frank Roberts – Connecticut
Sandy Rowland – Arkansas
In our last issue, we were remiss in not mentioning Adele LeFleur as the Chair in Massachusetts. Sorry Adele and sorry if we missed anyone else.
NABM Picks up New Subscription States – We are up to 41 states who subscribe to the training and technical assistance services offered by NABM. If your state is one of the 9 that doesn’t take advantage of NABM’s subscription services, we’d welcome your involvement. Terry Smith would be happy to discuss the services with you.
Meet our Newest Sponsors – 4 new sponsors recently came onboard and NABM is very excited to have all of them on the team. 3 Square Markets was the first of the 4 to join the NABM family. 3 Square has emerged as a favorite micromarket provider amongst some states because of their kiosks that are accessible to the blind both on the backend and for customers. Sodexo is one of the largest food service providers in the world and we welcome the opportunity to learn from them and to explore possible partnerships with blind entrepreneurs. Red Bull returns as a sponsor after a few years of absence. Red Bull is a big seller for many blind entrepreneurs and we look forward to enhancing that relationship. And last but not least, EC Management is a new sponsor. EC Management is a food service company specializing in government contracts with several locations on state college campuses. Welcome to all 4.
Check Us Out on Facebook – Like the National Association of Blind Merchants on Facebook and keep up with the latest and greatest when it comes to Randolph-Sheppard.
Trivia and Tidbits
- 365 Retail Markets and Avanti have merged.
- Minnesota was the first state to get their FRRP application approved. Thanks to The Land of 10,000 Lakes for leading the way.
- Did you know the U.S. has more vending machines than any other country in the world? There are over 7 Million.
- Here’s another fun fact. Candy coated gumball machines were introduced in the U.S. in 1907.
- Where do you think French Fries were invented? Well, the answer is Belgium.
- Did you know apple sauce was the first food eaten in space?
Money Matters – NABM sent out its annual solicitation letter earlier this year. Many of you plan on making your donations at BLAST during the Call to Action. We typically raise $25,000 each year at BLAST but we have not been able to hold a BLAST in 3 years. As you can imagine, a financial hit like this is challenging to say the least. We certainly understand that the COVID-19 crisis has impacted everyone financially and people’s ability to give may not be what it was. However, if you like what NABM is doing or want to say thank you for the FRRP funds or assistance with your Social Security, you can mail your checks to:
National Association of Blind Merchants
7450 Chapman Highway, #319
Knoxville, TN 37920
You can also donate by going to our website at www.blindmerchants.org where we have added a new way you can contribute. We can create a bank draft for you so you can sign up for monthly giving. Contact Barbara Badger at Barbara@merchants-nfb.org if you are interested in setting up bank draft donations.
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. The Blitz offers the best vehicle to keep everyone updated on what is going on out there.
Blackstone Consulting Inc.
Hadley Institute for the Blind & Visually Impaired
Brown, Goldstein, and Levy
Three Square Markets
365 Retail Markets
RSA Management Group
Southern Food Service
Keurig Dr. Pepper
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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.