The Blitz, Holiday Season 2021
The Blitz, Holiday Season 2021
On behalf of NABM President and his Board of Directors, season’s greetings go out to everyone in the Randolph-Sheppard community. Nicky has said this is the time of year we celebrate a new birth and it is time Randolph-Sheppard does the same. It’s time for a new birth for this grand old program that has been so good to so many over the last 85+ years. This year, more than any other, we need to reflect on the past and remember those who came before us, the ones who blazed the trail. We should be thankful for the many blessings this program has bestowed upon us. But more importantly, we must begin to think seriously about how we build upon our rich history and create more and better opportunities for blind persons who come after us. But for the next couple of weeks, let’s set all of that aside and focus on our friends and families. Love them. Hug them. Laugh with them Do something kind for them. Pause long enough to appreciate your blessings and the people in your life who care about you Then in 2022, roll up your sleeves We will work together to chart a new future for our program
We keep getting questions about a regular BLAST. If plans go as we hope, we could have a full-blown in-person BLAST right after Thanksgiving. There are still details to work out but think warm weather.
BLAST LIVE HUGE SUCCESS – NABM was originally scheduled to hold a BLAST Live event in Atlantic City in September but it had to be cancelled due to health and safety concerns. NABM quickly shifted to a virtual format and registrations had to be cut off when we hit our maximum number of 500. The response we got for the training which was held for 2 hours per day on 3 consecutive days was very positive People keep asking for more and NABM will continue to try to deliver quality training.
NABM ATTEMPTS TO SECURE DOLLARS TO MODERNIZE THE PROGRAM – NABM has been shouting to the heavens that Randolph-Sheppard must be modernized and it needs money to do so We were having conversations with members of Congress about this when we learned that state vocational rehabilitation agencies returned to RSA $177,000,000 in unused federal dollars. We immediately reached out to the Department of Education’s newly appointed Assistant Secretary Katy Neas and requested that some of that money be used for grants to SLAs to modernize their BEPs. Some of the things we wanted to see was money for states to convert outdated cafeterias to micromarkets, purchase food trucks, open non-traditional facilities, create opportunities in the private sector and more Unfortunately, our proposal got little traction. However, that has not deterred us. We continue to have dialogue with key members of Congress about the need for funding to reinvent our program. We may not get any money this year but there is nothing preventing us from trying for next year. NABM understands that innovation is needed or the program will die on the vine. We are committed to fighting for a strong future.
GSA CLARIFIES VACCINE REQUIREMENTS SORT OF – President Biden’s Executive Order requiring all federal contractors and their employees to get vaccinated created quite a stir. NABM did not take a stand on the get vaccinated or not issue. However, we joined our state agency friends in expressing concerns about the potential unintended consequences of requiring SLAs to amend permits. If one reads the EO, it essentially requires all SLA employees who may have involvement with a vending facility plus all state employees with whom they may have contact to be vaccinated if they agreed to amend their permits. Our fear was that Randolph-Sheppard would become a political football. Many governors would not allow an agency to sign such amendments. Our fears were realized in several states. However, there were two twists. First, the General Services Administration did an about face when their attorneys determined that the Executive Order did not apply to Randolph-Sheppard permits because they did not reach the required procurement threshold. And next, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the government form imposing such a requirement on federal contractors. So, the issue has resolved itself for the most part, at least as far as Randolph-Sheppard is concerned at least pending the outcome of the litigation. However, there are two points to keep in mind. First, although GSA has made the determination that the EO is not applicable to permits, there are some federal agencies who have not adopted this interpretation so we are still seeing some federal agencies trying to amend permits The second thing to keep in mind is that these developments do not preclude a federal agency from implementing health and safety standards for those entering their buildings. They may very well require blind entrepreneurs and their employees be vaccinated or have a negative COVID test. So, as a practical matter, the to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated question is still very much alive.
FRRP DOLLARS MAKE IT TO THE BLIND ENTREPRENEURS SLOWLY BUT SURELY – One of NABM’s major accomplishments last year was working with the National Federation of the Blind’s National Office to educate Congress about the impact of COVID on blind entrepreneurs. Congress ultimately appropriated $20,000,000 to provide direct relief to blind entrepreneurs. States started applying to RSA for funds in March and most state agencies were quick to get out the money to their blind entrepreneurs. The money was literally a lifesaver for many. As we go to press 9 months later, blind entrepreneurs in at least 3 states are still waiting on their dollars. We won’t name the states because the delay is not necessarily the fault of the SLA but this needs to be rectified.
RSA ISSUES GUIDANCE ON RULEMAKING – The Rehabilitation Services Administration recently issued Technical Assistance Circular 22-01 regarding the process and requirements for SLAs to develop and implement rules for their business enterprises programs. First, a tip of the hat to RSA. This is the third Randolph-Sheppard related TAC issued by RSA in the last 12 months. The first 2 addressed active participation and federal unassigned vending. NABM has advocated for RSA to provide needed guidance on key areas and, although we may not agree with their interpretation all of the time, the fact they are taking their responsibility to provide guidance seriously is appreciated This latest TAC outlines the process states should follow to develop rules, areas that SLAs are required to address in their rules per the Code of Federal Regulations, and areas where they see consistent problems. You can read all 3 TACs by going to https://rsa.ed.gov/about/programs/randolph-sheppard-vending-facility-program/legislation-regulations-and-sub-regulatory-guidance
RSA ANNOUNCES CHANGE – At the fall NCSAB meeting, RSA announced a change in an effort to be more responsive to SLAs. Effective immediately, the states are being divided between Jesse Hartle, Christine Grassman, and James McCarthy at least for the purposes of reviewing and processing amended rules. It is assumed the 3 will also serve as a liaison to states on other matters requiring technical assistance although this is not clear. RSA may have shared with the SLAs which of the 3 will serve as their liaison but NABM has not been provided such a list However, it appears Jim will handle the West, Christine more of the central and southern part of the country, and Jesse the East. NABM believes this to be a positive move and commends RSA for trying to be more responsive.
PUSH FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES PICKS UP MOMENTUM: IMPACT ON REST AREA COMMERCIALIZAATION – Wouldn’t it be great to read a Blitz without rest area commercialization being mentioned? Unfortunately, it is one of those issues that isn’t going away. Although full scale commercialization isn’t on the table, the push to install electric vehicle charging stations at the areas is gaining momentum. The infrastructure bill includes dollars to create a network of EV charging stations along our nation’s highways. It only makes sense that they’d want to include interstate rest areas in that network. Although NABM and the coalition with which we participate are not necessarily concerned with charging stations themselves, the issue is whether or not that would crack the door for full-scale commercialization? The good news is it appears that these charging stations cannot be placed at rest areas without Congressional approval. That means we will continue to have the opportunity to engage with our elected officials on this issue. In the meantime, NABM President Nicky Gacos presented on this issue to the White House and further conversations are scheduled with the Department of Transportation after the first of the year. We continue to educate ourselves on the issue and work in conjunction with the NFB National Office to advocate in the best interests of our blind entrepreneurs.
UPDATES ON DOD ARBITRATION CASES – Arbitrations and court cases between SLAs and the Department of Defense have become a way of life. Here is an update on some of these cases:
Hill Air Force Base (Utah) – This case has been heard and a decision expected after the first of the year. This is a critical case because of the dangerous precedent it could set. The Air Force’s position in that case was that the contract was set aside as small business and the priority only allowed the Utah agency to submit a proposal and be judged against other proposals. In order to get the contract, where they ironically were the incumbent with their teaming partner FSIG, they had to be the low bid The SLA’s bid was very competitive but not the absolute lowest so the SLA did not get the contract.
Shriever Air Force Base (Colorado) – Here, the Air Force takes another curious position. They argue the law allows the contracting officer to set the competitive range. If the SLA’s bid is within that competitive range, the contract is awarded to the SLA. The contracting officer sat the competitive range at 1 meaning low bid. The SLA was again the incumbent with Jack Riley and FSIG but its bid was not the lowest so it was not awarded the contract. This arbitration case will be heard in early 2022.
Marine Corps – The Marines awarded a multi-state contract for food service in the Eastern United States. South Carolina bid on behalf of itself, North Carolina, and Virginia. It teamed with FSIG and did not get the contract based on pricing It filed for arbitration. That case is expected to be heard in March
Guantanamo Bay – This is one of the more interesting cases out there. Guantanamo Bay is a military installation in Cuba. When it solicited proposals for its food service, the South Carolina SLA submitted a bid. It was rejected by the Navy who claimed the priority did not apply since the base is not located in a state. South Carolina argues it is federal property nonetheless and the Randolph-Sheppard priority applies to all federal property. RSA to this point has declined to convene the panel. RSA faces an interesting dilemma. It could deny the convening of the panel siding with the Navy but, in doing so, it is effectively deciding the case. It could risk being sued by the State of South Carolina for denying it the right to arbitration which is guaranteed by the Randolph-Sheppard Act. But the bigger question is does RSA plan on deciding other cases without a hearing? If so, then many arbitrations will not be necessary. Stay tuned on this one.
Schofield Barracks (Hawaii) – At the risk of oversimplifying things, this case revolves around the whole question as to whether or not the Randolph-Sheppard priority applies to dining facility attendant contracts. The courts have decided this in favor of Randolph-Sheppard in other jurisdictions. This case is in federal court now and NABM is in the process of filing an amicus brief in support of the SLA. A decision could be forthcoming in the spring.
IN OTHER DOD NEWS – We have good news, bad news, and some wait and see news:
Ventura County (California) – The Navy is bidding its new contract there. It is a dining facility attendant contract and the Navy is recognizing the Randolph-Sheppard priority. This is good news!
U.S. Coast Guard (Connecticut) – There is actually good news and bad news here. For the first time ever, NABM successfully convinced the SLA to go after the dining facility contract at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The bad news is their proposal was not in the competitive range and they did not get it. They apparently will not be pursuing arbitration.
Fort Lee (Virginia) – We wait. We are still hopeful that this contract will be awarded to the SLA but things are as slow as Christmas. Well, Christmas is almost here so maybe we don’t have that much longer for the blind entrepreneur Jimmy Cunningham and his teaming partner BCI to wait.
Fort Devons (Massachusetts) – Still waiting here too. Had expected what we hoped would be good news The SLA for the first time bid on this contract, at the urging and with the assistance of NABM, but no word yet on an award. The blind entrepreneur will be Adele LaFleur and her teaming partner is BCI. We remain confident.
Merchants Marines (New York) – This one falls in the Oops category. In the last issue of The Blitz, we incorrectly identified the blind entrepreneur who was awarded this contract along with his teaming partner BCI. It is Alex Demoris. Sorry about that, Alex.
West Point (New York) – Speaking of the Empire State, this one is still in the selection process. In the solicitation, the Army refused to recognize the Randolph-Sheppard priority; however, the SLA and its teaming partner BCI submitted a proposal anyway. We are hoping the priority will be applied as required and the SLA will get good news soon.
TRADOC – We do not know what to think of this one. The Army’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence is evaluating the dining services at all of the Army’s training bases. This includes Forts Jackson, Benning, Gordon, Huachuca, Leavenworth, Lee, Eustis, Leonard Wood, Rucker, Sill, Meade, Monterey, and Sam Houston. Almost all of these are Randolph-Sheppard. On the surface, this is no big deal. However, the last time we heard anything from TRADOC, they were trying to consolidate all of these contracts into one contract much like the Marines have done with their dining contracts. We also heard that this review may have been prompted by problems at one of these bases. At this point, there is no reason to think the Army is up to some sort of mischief. We are confident that this evaluation will actually reflect positively on Randolph-Sheppard. But we need to be mindful of the past and watch this closely.
REVENUE VERSUS JOBS – The COVID pandemic has brought to the surface a budding controversy as it relates to third party vending. Many states have grown accustomed to using third party dollars to fund their programs in lieu of state appropriations or better yet to draw down federal dollars to help run their VR program. Some people in the Randolph-Sheppard community resented this but blind guys were working so it wasn’t so bad that the SLA was benefitting too. Yes, good jobs were being sacrificed but many were buying into the scenario that we don’t have blind guys anyway who want to run these facilities. So, using third parties was just fine. But when the pandemic hit, people were put out of work. Many are still out of work while third-parties continue to operate some very nice locations most notably interstate rest areas in some states. This begs the question. Is it acceptable to have third-party sighted companies continuing to operate profitable sites while blind people sit at home? Is it acceptable to place a higher priority on funding for the agency than jobs for blind people? NABM had a conversation with a state administrator recently. We won’t disclose the state but it was not the BEP Director. Anyway, this administrator said our number one priority is identifying more revenue. Seriously? Look at the first paragraph of the Randolph-Sheppard Act. It says the purpose is to create employment opportunities for the blind. Nowhere does it say the priority is to generate revenue for the program. We do not want to persecute this well-meaning state official because they are actually a friend to the blind. But that exchange summed up a major problem that somehow must be addressed. RSA, in issuing its TAC on federal unassigned vending, addressed this issue in part although not for the reasons we discuss above. But federal unassigned funds were never used to supplement a program’s budget or to support VR like state unassigned income. Let’s cut to the chase Is it illegal to use third-parties on state properties? It could be argued that it, in fact, is illegal to do so on rest areas, but for the most part it may be legal. But it is only legal as long as the intent of the Randolph-Sheppard Act is being fulfilled and jobs for blind people are not being sacrificed. We can delve into this whole issue at a later date. It’s way too complicated to fully address here.
ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS, NO MATTER HOW ODD THEY MAY SOUND – Earlier we talked about electric charging stations. Is an electric charging station a vending machine? Hmm! Excellent question. We are not going to answer this question in the contest of the rest area discussion above. There is a lot more involved there. We just want to focus on the simple question of whether or not in general an EV charging station is a vending machine. And we’d have to say yes. If you look at the definition of vending machine found at 34 C.F.R. 395.1(y), it states that a vending machine dispenses “articles and services.” Wouldn’t electricity be an “article or service?” We think so. So, you might be tempted to get excited about a new potential income opportunity. Before you get too wound up, consider that a charging station will cost you between $70,000 and $100,000 to install. So, we are not looking for many charging stations to be installed by SLAs. But it is a good question
NATIONAL CONVENTION SET FOR NEW ORLEANS IN 2022 – The National Federation of the Blind was forced to hold its 2020 and 2021 national conventions virtually. However, as of now, plans are underway for an in-person convention July 5-10 in New Orleans. NABM will be conducting its annual business meeting / training in conjunction with the convention. If circumstances change and meeting in-person becomes unrealistic, we will still be meeting in a virtual format but right now plans are full speed ahead for July 5th in the Big Easy. Mark your calendars.
NFB TO HOLD HYBRID WASHINGTON SEMINAR – The National Federation of the Blind’s Washington Seminar will be a hybrid event February 7-10, 2022, in Washington, D.C. A limited number of delegates from each state will participate in person while most Congressional meetings will likely still be held virtually. Most states will only be allowed 2 delegates although the larger states may get a few more. This format does not lend itself well to NABM’s normal Monday afternoon training so we will not be doing anything in conjunction with the Seminar. However, we do look forward to all of us being together at the national convention in New Orleans.
SAD NEWS FROM OKLAHOMA – It is with great sadness that we report the death of Aletha Wright who was a long-time vendor in Oklahoma and recently served as the Cahir of their Elected Committee. NABM’s condolences go out to Aletha’s family and friends. She will certainly be missed.
YOU SAY HELLO AND I SAY GOODBYE – We saw some movement amongst the ranks of the State BEP Directors. We reported several departures in the last issue of The Blitz. Here is a quick update:
Tennessee – We were accused of shoddy journalism for reporting unsubstantiated rumors in the last issue of The Blitz that Raven Pulliam was leaving Illinois to take over in Tennessee. Well, they were not unsubstantiated and Raven is the new Director in Tennessee. Welcome to the Volunteer State, Raven
Illinois – So who took Raven’s place in Illinois? Well, here’s a blast from the past for you. Paul Drake, who retired from the same position before Raven came onboard, has returned on an interim basis to hold things together. Welcome back, Paul. A permanent replacement is expected to be named after the first of the year.
Massachusetts – Here’s a familiar name for you. Jim McManus is the new BEP Director in Massachusetts. He was previously the Director in both Maine and DC. Yeah, he moves around a lot but he’s a good guy and we know he will do well in the Bay State.
South Carolina – Say hello to Ryan Skinner who is assuming a new position that they call Business Services Director. He will be responsible for BEP as well as other areas. We look forward to getting to know Ryan.
Missouri – James Brinkman, who previously served as the BEP Director, has been promoted into another position in the agency. Congratulations, Jim. His replacement has been announced and it is Melissa Anderson. She was previously the Assistant Director. Welcome Melissa!
California – David Burns has retired. We wish him well as he takes on this new chapter in his life. There is no truth to the rumor that Jim McManus has applied for the job, (SMILE!).
In addition to the above, there are still positions to be filled in Pennsylvania and Hawaii.
WE HAVE NEW COMMITTEE CHAIRS TOO – Two new Committee Chairs of note. First, James Cheney returns in Michigan replacing Rob Essenburg who retired And in Pennsylvania, a hearty welcome to Stan Ingram.
NABM PICKS UP NEW SUBSCRIPTION STATES – NABM would like to welcome aboard West Virginia and Texas as the 2 latest subscription states. That gets us to 42. 43 may come onboard soon It’s easier to tell you who is not a member than to tell you who is not. That is very exciting.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN; WELL THE VIRTUAL ROAD – Over the last few months, NABM has continued to connect with states in this new virtual world in which we live. We have been limited in travel but did travel to Iowa for their annual training and went to Colorado to present at the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado state convention. We have also participated in virtual state trainings in Oregon, Idaho, North Carolina, and Ohio. Hopefully, in 2022 we can make it out to more of the states.
NEW RANDOLPH-SHEPAPRD PODCAST – Look for the brand new We R Randolph-Sheppard podcast coming your way in January. Nicky Gacos and Terry Smith will be launching the new podcast where they will discuss all things Randolph-Sheppard It will be available wherever you get your podcasts. More to come on this in the coming weeks
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
- Congratulations to the West Virginia BEP, the blind entrepreneur Jimmy Akers and the teaming partner Southern Foods for securing the contract for the cafeteria at the large FBI complex in that state. It includes a full-scale cafeteria and a micromarket.
- Our nation’s interstate system that provides employment for 400 blind entrepreneurs turned 65 this year.
- Did you know there are 3 locations in Beverly Hills, California where you can find a vending machine that vends caviar? Probably wouldn’t be a big seller in state offices.
- A famous London department store has a vending machine that sells champagne. Again, not recommended for state offices although there is no prohibition to selling alcohol in a Randolph-Sheppard vending facility.
- Do you know your Randolph-Sheppard history? From what states did Randolph and Sheppard hail? Try West Virginia and Texas?
Money Matters – It’s not too late to make that last minute tax deductible donation to NABM before the year runs out. Much of what NABM is able to accomplish is due to the generosity to many of our readers. Please send 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.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS? SEE YOU IN 22
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.