The Blitz

2020 Spring Edition

It’s been awhile since we last mailed out The Blitz.  With everyone being pretty much grounded, it seemed like a good time to catch all of you up on everything Randolph-Sheppard.  It’s been an eventful few months with COVID-19 dominating the news of late. We be reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on our members, but we will be reporting on other news as well.  Let’s get started. 

Coronavirus Wreaks Havoc –  Two short months ago, most Americans had never heard of COVID-19.  Today, it is the number one thing on everyone’s mind and rightly so.  Let us first say we value our entire Randolph-Sheppard family and want everyone to stay healthy and safe.  We will all come back from this.  The picture right now is bleak as most of our vending facilities are closed.  Many of our blind brothers and sisters are without any income.  With that said, we are proud of how some state agencies and vendors have come together to tackle the problem.  NABM, as a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has been actively advocating on Capitol Hill on behalf of our blind entrepreneurs.  With the support of John Pare and Jeff Kaloc at the NFB Jernigan Institute, the national headquarters,  we pitched to Congress a relief plan specifically aimed to provide direct financial support to the men and women who feed government workers everyday. We generated literally thousands of letters to members of Congress.  Unfortunately, our proposal didn’t make it into this latest relief package passed by Congress.  We are not discouraged nor are we giving up.  We knew it was a long shot, but we planted the seeds for help in the next round.   From all indications, another relief bill will be coming shortly and we will continue to tell our story.  This bill will travel a more conventional path which gives us a better chance to utilize our relationships on The Hill.  We have tweaked the language of our proposed bill and stand ready to go.  You need to be too as we will be calling on you again to contact your representatives.  By now, most of you have seen the details of the relief bill signed by the President. It will help all small businesses including blind entrepreneurs.  There is much to be excited about especially the provision allowing small business owners who were forced to close to draw unemployment.  In addition to our legislative efforts, we’ve provided guidance to state licensing agencies on options to provide relief, using set aside or unmanned vending dollars.  We are proud of those states who have already acted to assist their folks.  We continue to serve as a clearinghouse for information and are sponsoring weekly calls with Committee Chairs.  In concert with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, we co-sponsored a special webinar on how to deal with the coronavirus while your business is closed.  Under the leadership of NABM President, Nicky Gacos, we are working extremely hard and will continue to plug away as we strive to change what it means to be a blind entrepreneur in this country.   

The pandemic has forced the cancellation or postponement of many events. Out of concern for our attendees, we chose to postpone BLAST which was scheduled for April 14-17 in Chicago.  It was going to be an amazing event with 600 people in attendance.  But we will have to wait.  We are exploring all of our options at this time and will announce our plans as soon as we confirm them.  BLAST was not the only victim.  The National Council of State Agencies for the Blind cancelled its Spring Meeting in Bethesda.  NAMA cancelled its May Show in Nashville and has not announced plans to reschedule.  Several states cancelled their annual vendor training conferences.  Many state affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind were forced to postpone their annual conventions.  Like we said, this little virus is wreaking havoc.  But we will survive it with the knowledge that better days are ahead. 

Hadley and NABM to Do Virtual Micromarket Training –  President Gacos had an idea to offer Micromarket Certification Training at BLAST.  It was an idea that caught on fast with almost 200 people registered to participate in the special 4-hour workshop.  When BLAST was cancelled, it first appeared that the opportunity to offer this training was lost.  However, many who had registered asked about doing the training virtually.  We talked with our friends at Translucent who were scheduled to do the training in Chicago. We are happy to report they are willing to take on the challenge.  We will be offering a series of 5 one-hour sessions beginning on April 7th.  Those who were registered for the Chicago workshop have been contacted. They will be given first shot at the limited number of slots.  If we have any spots remaining after we have heard from those already registered, we will send out an announcement.  We are very excited to be able to do this and perhaps it will pave the way to more virtual training in the future.  

Washington Seminar Offers Solid Training – Before the coronavirus had really hit the U.S., the National Federation of the Blind held its annual Washington Seminar in D.C. on February 10-12.  Over 500 blind people converged on Capitol Hill to educate our elected officials about issues that prevent blind people from living the lives they want.  As always, NABM held its annual midyear upward mobility training session on the first day of the event.  President Gacos planned an outstanding agenda with several presenters including RSA, GSA, NAMA, Fooda, Nayax and more.  Over 60 people attended.  Feedback from attendees was extremely positive. 

DoD: There’s Good News and There’s Bad News – Isn’t that the way it always is?  Here is a very brief update on some of the comings and goings with military troop dining and other Department of Defense challenges: 

  • Fort Dix – Let’s start with the best news of all.  The State of New Jersey has been awarded the contract for full-food service at Fort Dix.  You may recall the State had this contract and lost it last time it was bid out.  A federal arbitration ensued and the SLA prevailed.  When it was re-solicited this time, the SLA won.  Frank Collepardi is the blind vendor and FSIG is the teaming partner.  Congratulations to all and good luck! 
  • Fort Knox – There’s more good news at Fort Knox in Kentucky.  The SLA, which was the incumbent, was awarded the new contract for full-food service.  The SLA and blind entrepreneur, Fay Autry, changed teaming partners for this solicitation.  Southern Teaming Partners is teaming up with the blind entrepreneur on this contract.  Congratulations to the SLA, Mr. Autry, and Southern. 
  • King’s Bay Submarine Base – It took awhile but the SLA is finally in at this facility.  Bob Matuszak is the blind entrepreneur and FSIG is the teaming partner.  This is significant for several reasons.  First, it was a DFA solicitation that actually came out with a Randolph-Sheppard priority which may be a first.  Secondly, it is the first case where RSA offered mediation to the parties.  Christine Grassman led the mediation effort and a settlement was reached.  The only negative here is that the COVID-19 virus has prevented the blind entrepreneur from going on base.  The facility is virtually on lockdown with no one new being allowed on base.  FSIG was the incumbent so they are already on-site providing services.  In the meantime, Mr. Matuszak will be involved from off-site. 
  • Fort Bliss – As you may recall, the issue here is whether or not the Army can split out the DFA portion of a contract and award it without the R-S priority. The case is in the Federal Court of Appeals and oral arguments were heard in the case last month.  Peter Nolan is representing the State.  This is one of the more significant Randolph-Sheppard cases ever.  A victory will set precedent for other courts and could solidify our position that the priority applies to DFA contracts.  A decision is expected by June although we don’t know the impact the COVID-19 virus will have on that projected timeline.  With most court cases halted, it may give the judges an opportunity to get out a decision sooner. 
  • Fort Riley – This case is also in the Federal Court of Appeals but a different circuit.  The issue is complicated but the underlying question to be resolved is the same as in the Fort Bliss case.  Does the priority apply to DFA contracts?  That’s why the decision in that case is so important.  Oral arguments in this case are scheduled for early May with a decision likely in early summer.   Again, we don’t know the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on this expected schedule. 
  • Fort Lee – This is beginning to seem like the arbitration that was never meant to be. After it took the Department of Education over 2 years to convene the panel, the hearing was finally scheduled to be heard.  But suddenly the panel member appointed by the Virginia SLA stepped down.  The SLA quickly got a replacement.  Then the panel chair resigned.  So, it’s back to square one.  The two panel members will have to select a new panel chair delaying this case even further.  Andy Freeman is representing the State in this case.  At issue is the Army’s determination that the SLA’s proposal was out of the competitive range. 
  • Fort Sill – The arbitration hearing was held in this case.  The Oklahoma SLA was the incumbent, but lost the contract when its bid was determined to not be within the competitive range. A federal judge refused to grant an injunction, so the SLA is out and Mitchco is in pending arbitration. Briefs are still to be filed and a decision is not expected until early summer.  This case is unique in that a third party, in this case the winning bidder Mitchco, was allowed to intervene in the case.  This could be a precedent that creates problems on down the line. 
  • Fort Wainwright – This is an interesting case. It is a DFA contract.  The Alaska SLA argues the priority applies.  The Army says it does not.  The SLA filed for arbitration.  During pre-hearing settlement discussions, the Army proposed that the case be put on hold pending the decisions in the Fort Bliss and Fort Riley cases.  The issues are the same there.  If Randolph-Sheppard prevails in those two cases, there is a chance the Army will concede the priority applies and agree to recognize the  R-S priority to the Wainwright solicitation.  This is just one reason the Fort Bliss is so important. 
  • Hill Air Force Base – This one is the shocking one – a real head scratcher, you might say.  The Utah SLA was the incumbent with FSIG as the teaming partner.  When the contract was re-competed this last time, the SLA’s proposal was ruled to be out of the competitive range,  The Act says if the SLA’s proposal is within the competitive range, it gets the contract.  However, the Army said the contracting officer has great latitude in setting the competitive range and, in this case, they set the competitive range at one.  In other words, low bid would win.  It was a remarkable stance and a new twist in the Army’s ongoing effort to avoid the R-S priority.  The SLA went to court to seek an injunction until such time as an arbitration panel could be convened.  Surprisingly, the judge denied the motion which resulted in the contract being awarded to another entity.  The blind vendor is out.  We said the Fort Bliss case is very important.  This one is too – maybe even more important.  If it is allowed to stand, it could effectively mean the end of the priority.  All solicitations could simply be low bid. 
  • Merchant Marines – AbilityOne is at it again.  There is an opportunity for a Randolph-Sheppard vendor at the Merchant Marine facility in New York.  It is a full-food contract so there is no question about the priority.  The Merchant Marines wanted to award the contract to AbilityOne without bidding it out.  The New York SLA said it intended to exercise it priority.  That should have been the end of it; however, AbilityOne continues to move forward with placing this contract on the Procurement List. This would take it out of the realm of competitive bidding and deny the SLA an opportunity to bid on it.  This is standard operating procedure for AbilityOne and they must be stopped. 
  • Army Nutrition Care Contract – The RFP for this multi-state Nutrition Care contract was issued earlier and bids are all in. The contract will cover the cafeterias and patient feeding in Army hospitals in 5 states – Georgia, New York, California, Missouri, and Kansas. The 5 states agreed that Georgia will take the lead in bidding and Georgia has selected Selrico as its teaming partner. The SLA has submitted its proposal.  If awarded the contract, a Georgia licensed blind vendor will oversee the service at all 5 hospitals. This could be a huge win, if the SLA is awarded the contract, as it will demonstrate that Randolph-Sheppard can compete for these multi-state contracts.  Good luck to the Georgia SLA, the blind vendor, and Selrico. 
  • Coronavirus – Many have inquired about the impact the current pandemic is having on our blind entrepreneurs with troop dining contracts.  They have not been able to completely the avoid the impact but all are still open.  Most are serving only carryout and limited numbers are allowed in the mess halls at one time.  We are very proud of our blind entrepreneurs who serve our troops during this time of crisis. 

Dialogue Continues with Education – NABM has reached out to RSA Commissioner and Acting Assistant Secretary, Mark Schultz, to begin dialogue about a number of concerns.  To give Mr. Schultz credit, progress has been made in terms of convening arbitration panels.  The whole prior approval issue is at least now manageable.  There has been some movement on approving state rules although not enough.  The good news is Mr. Schultz told us that a new attorney has been hired which should help further reduce the backlog.  However, we still have concerns about the lack of guidance on important issues.  We submitted a long list of policy areas where RSA could help by providing policy guidance.   In the DoD update above, we noted 8 or 9 cases that have gone to arbitration and some on to the courts.  The price tag on these litigations is literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Litigation could have been avoided in most, if not all, of them if RSA would offer would offer simple guidance on how the priority is to be applied to troop dining contracts.   NABM is also extremely concerned about public statements being made by staff that are creating all sorts of problems for the Program.  By erroneously taking the position that RSA does not have the authority to interpret its own regulations, the Program, and the blind individuals it serves, has basically been abandoned.  And finally, it most recently came to light that RSA had “retired” the manual it created to instruct federal agencies on how to comply with the Randolph-Sheppard Act.  No one at RSA can explain why.  This is concerning because it provided detailed direction as to the federal entity’s obligations.  RSA staff have committed to explore the possibility of reactivating the manual and putting it on the RSA website.  This would be of tremendous benefit.  Mr. Schultz has been accessible and open to listening to us.  We have confidence in him and believe, if given the opportunity, he can provide greater support so that the Randolph-Sheppard Program can achieve its legislated purpose, which is to enlarge the economic opportunities for the blind.

GSA Addressing NABM Concerns –  There have been some differences of opinion between the General Services Administration and the Randolph-Sheppard community on a number of fronts.  Demetria Summers, who is the Concessions Manager with GSA, has been working to resolve these differences.  A task force that includes RSA, 3 SLA representatives, and NABM was created to tackle some of the issues.  The first task was to review the template for all new GSA permits.  There were many objectionable sections to the original draft; however, GSA has addressed most concerns and a new permit will soon be implemented in the field.  Next up for discussion is exactly what GSA must provide when it makes space available.  Does it have to install electrical outlets? How about running plumbing lines to the sinks?  Who pays for the flooring?  These are all important especially considering RSA’s stance that SLA’s cannot use federal dollars  to do some of these.  Also, there need to be conversations about how much space the federal entity must provide and who determines the location and type of vending facility.  NABM is optimistic that the differences can be resolved.  GSA is Randolph-Sheppard’s second largest customer and blind entrepreneurs are the sole source of food for GSA tenants.  Therefore, it makes sense that the two work together. 

Crossing the Line of the Employer / Employee Relationship – For sometime now, NABM has been concerned about a handful of states whose practices tend to treat blind vendors more like employees than independent entrepreneurs.  It has always been a fine line because of the nature of the relationship.  However, some states have regulated the vendors to the point that unintended consequences are emerging.  Some states set hours for vendors.  In fact, one state’s rules say that if the Agency makes an unannounced visit to a facility and the vendor is not there, the vendor is subject to discipline.  Permission has to be obtained to be away from the facility.  Vacation time must be approved in advance.  Disciplinary procedures read more like one would typically find in an employee handbook.  NABM retained the services of a nationally recognized labor attorney – one who represents employers.  We asked them to review  the rules and operating agreements in two states.  The conclusion in both instances was that an employer / employee relationship had been created.  The ramifications of this are unimaginable.  And for those states who think they are okay because their operating agreement says there is no employer / employee relationship, they are wrong.  They can’t avoid an employer / employee relationship simply by saying one doesn’t exist.  Our purpose here is not to bring the weight of the law down on these states.  Our purpose is to better educate everyone so we can move the program more toward an entrepreneurial model.  If the states choose the status quo, then the blind entrepreneurs in those states should be entitled to all of the benefits of an employee.  NABM is happy to provide states with technical assistance on this issue and make suggestions on how to change your rules and practices to avoid this trap. 

NAMA Strengthens Public Health Commitment – In case you missed it, the National Automatic Merchandising Association, working in concert with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, has committed to encourage members to increase the percentage of “better for you” offerings in their vending machines to 33%.  This goal is to be achieved in the next 3 years.  “Better for you” products must meet at least 2 nationally recognized public health standards developed by the American Heart Association, Center for Disease Control, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Partnership for a Healthier America, or the United States Department of Agriculture.  NAMA plans to publish a list of products that meet the requirements and provide regular updates.  This is not a replacement for FitPick but just the next evolution.  Blind entrepreneurs are encouraged to make every effort to meet the standards to which NAMA has committed.  Downloadable labels are available at www.namanow.org.  NAMA is retiring the physical labels it used to have available.    

Mississippi State Updates on-Line Training for BEP – While BEP staffers are working from home, it would be the perfect opportunity to do a little 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.  Enroll today at  https://nrtc.catalog.instructure.com/courses/randolph-sheppard.

Micromarket Accessibility Still a Priority – Keeping in line with the accessibility goals of the National Federation of the Blind, making all micromarket kiosks accessible is still a major goal of NABM President, Nicky Gacos.  Most recently, he had a team at Parlevel’s headquarters in San Antonio.  Previous to that, they were at Three Square in Wisconsin.  His message to these companies is that it makes good business sense not to mention it’s the law.  Lack of accessibility is one thing holding back some states from getting into the micromarket arena. 

Welcoming a New Sooner – Let’s welcome Tannica Binder on board as the new BEP Operations Coordinator in Oklahoma.  An Army veteran, Tannica previously served as the BEP Business Manager.  She has a background in marketing, business administration, psychology, and education. 

Answering Your Questions No Matter How Odd They May Sound – NABM gets some really great questions which is a testament to the creative thinking of some of our blind entrepreneurs and SLA staff. We’ve decided we are going to share some of these actual questions with you. In each issue of The Blitz, we will pose a question that we have actually received and give you our answer. This issue’s question is:   Does the Randolph-Sheppard priority apply to military bases located abroad?  We have not done legal research so there could be aspects of the law that are applicable that would negate the Randolph-Sheppard Act.  However, strictly from a Randolph-Sheppard perspective, it is easy to make the argument that the answer is yes.  The same could be said for U.S. embassies.  Any military base or embassy is considered to be U.S. soil.  Therefore, they are federal property.  And the priority applies to all federal property.  But who is “the” SLA?  This is a tough one but any state could conceivable  submit a proposal and exercise the priority.  Is this a far-fetched scenario?  Not necessarily.  In fact, recently a teaming partner approached an SLA about submitting a proposal pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard priority at an unnamed site not located in any of the 50 states or U.S. territories.  The SLA declined.  It would have been interesting if they had moved forward with a proposal just to see what the contracting officer would have said about the priority.  Maybe next time.   

There May be Hope in Guam Yet –  In the last issue of The Blitz, we reported that Guam had refused to pursue a Navy site despite the urging of NABM and blind people living in the U.S. Territory.  Guam has gone through the process of being designated as an SLA, but it refuses to create a program.  Now, the Congressman from Guam has gotten involved.  He contacted both NABM and the Department of Education recently.  So, there is still hope.  NABM has been trying to nudge the government in Guam in this direction for at leas the last 8 years.  And we aren’t giving up just yet.     

Committee Chairs Are Still Talking – As reported in the last issue of The Blitz, NABM President, Nicky Gacos, began conducting monthly calls for Elected Committee Chairs. The calls are held the second Tuesday of every month at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. If you are a Committee Chair and you not getting notices about the calls, contact President Gacos at President@Merchants-NFB.org. Zach Snow of Georgia and Michael Talley of Alabama chair the calls.  There is also a text chat line which is a great way for Committee Chairs to stay connected. 

Speaking of Committee Chairs – Welcome to Virgilio m Armaral (New York), Adele LaFleur (Massachusetts), Mike Sparks (Texas), Michael Colbrunn (Minnesota), Brenda Beaty (D.C.), Kevin Botke (Iowa), and Richard “Dick” Saperstein (Nevada) as recently elected Committee Chairs. 

National Convention on the Horizon – Many people have asked if there are any plans to cancel the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention which is scheduled to be held in Houston, Texas on July 14-19.  Contrary to some speculation, National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono tells us the convention is still a go.  The situation with the coronavirus is fluid so contingency plans are being made, but the hope is the convention will be held as planned.  The registration site went down for technical reasons which has led to increased speculation.  However, the site is anticipated to be back up by April 3rd.  It’s a good thing because a huge crowd is expected.  Mark your calendars now to join and be part of something very special.   There’s nothing like 3,500 blind people coming together to learn and take part in convention business.  NABM will hold its meeting on July 16th.  Last year over 125 showed up for the Merchants Meeting.  NABM President Gacos is already working on what will be an outstanding agenda.  He hopes to see you there. 

Introducing You Again to Melissa McCarthy – In the last issue of The Blitz, NABM introduced you to Melissa McCarthy with BOOKMYGROUP. She has been assisting NABM with securing hotels for various events. She arranged for our BLAST event at the Downtown Chicago Hyatt.  She books a lot of group travel so the COVID-19 virus has been especially hard on her.  She is a hard worker and does a terrific job. She’s available to help state BEPs find just the right property for your event. Reach out to her at MMccarthy@bookmygroup.com.

Sign Up to Be Part of the Movement – In past issues of the Blitz, we haven’t really emphasized membership in the organization; however, we really would like to have you as a member. Dues are only $10 per year. You help the cause but more importantly you will be part of the nABm and the national federation of the blind. Join now by going to

Upcoming Events – Here’s a look at events coming up over the next 9 months:

  • July 14-19 – National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Houston
  • July 20 – 22 – NAMA Advocacy Day and Fly In in Washington, D.C.
  • November 9-11 – NAMA Coffee, Tea, and Water Show in Orlando
  • November 11-13 – National Council of State Agencies for the Blind Fall Meeting in San Antonio

Check Us Out on FacebookLike 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

  • Did you know that the first vending machine was created 2,000 years ago and dispensed holy water?
  • Congratulations to NABM Board Member, Melissa Smith, for being elected to the board of directors of the Tennessee Automatic Merchandising Association.  She joins Lance Morris as the second blind entrepreneur on that board. 
  • Did you know there are over 4 million vending machines in the U.S.? 
  • Congratulations to West Virginia Committee Chair Chad Keeney for becoming a grandfather.  There’s more to the story, but we will stop there. 
  • Happy retirement to Carole Ewing who  retired in February from the Nevada Program after many years.  She recently served as Committee Chair. 
  • A Utah vendor recently told us he converted his vending site to a micromarket.  Sales increased from $14,000 per month to $33,000, yet, we still have venders and SLA’s alike that do not believe. 
  • Cannabis use is up amongst adults over 65.  Must be the hippies from the 60’s going back to their roots. 

Money Matters – NABM sent out its annual solicitation letter a month ago.  Many of you had indicated you planned on making your donation at BLAST during the Call to Action.  We typically raise $25,000 each year at BLAST and based on what we were being told expected that to double this year.  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 had planned on giving at BLAST and are still in position to help, 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.

If your state is one of the 13 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. 

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. 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.