By Tatiana Peralta

As we wave goodbye to 2019, now is the perfect time to reflect upon the growth and accomplishments of the year. Our government affairs team worked with self-advocates and member agencies on advocacy and policy initiatives to build on the progress they made in 2018. We're proud of our accomplishments and the impact the team has had on professionals with disabilities this year, so we're looking back at some of the highlights!

Advocacy Initiatives
We continue to be impressed by the growth of SourceAmerica's annual Grassroots Advocacy Conference. The event is always a mission moment for our entire organization and network. This year the conference expanded virtual participation, giving more advocates nationwide the chance to raise their voices and be part of the action. Attendees participated in a bus tour that took them around Washington, D.C. This was a great opportunity for those who aren't from the area to see the city.

Social engagement surrounding the conference soared to new heights for 2019. We doubled our engagement on Twitter and Facebook for the event and hosted a social media challenge for conference participants. Shannon Green was the winner of the challenge and we were proud to share her story on all of our platforms.

The Government Affairs team also created a new advocacy center, located on the extranet (login required). The center provides new resources that member agencies can use to advocate and engage their members of Congress year round.

Policy Highlights
This year started with one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history. It impacted thousands of AbilityOne employees, their families and their communities. Our team worked in collaboration with members of our network, and with other impacted organizations in the small business community, to introduce language in the House of Representatives toward backpay for federal contractor workers. Our entire organization came together to secure media coverage and provide resources for member agencies and people affected.

The CAPABILITY ACT was a huge win for our team this year. The bill, introduced in the House, funds grants that help Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities or autism transition from school to the workforce by creating customized opportunities. Congressman Seth Mouton quoted SourceAmerica CEO Vince Loose in a media release. This bill has received broad support across the disability community and should see further action in the coming year.

The team also worked in collaboration with National Industries for the Blind (NIB), National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB) and the National Council of SourceAmerica Employers (NCSE) toward resolution of the VA "Rule of Two"—and issues that threaten 2,000 jobs across the AbilityOne network. This effort included dozens of Hill visits, a letter signed by over 300 organizations, and a separate letter of support signed by nearly 500 veterans. In mid-December, a bill grandfathering the majority of those jobs passed the House of Representatives. It will be considered by the Senate early in the new year.

The Government Affairs team was on the forefront of work related to the Panel on Department of Defense and AbilityOne Contracting Oversight, Accountability and Integrity or "898 Panel." This is a group of senior government officials established to address the effectiveness and internal controls of the AbilityOne Program related to DoD contracts. Throughout the year, the team facilitated multiple presentations to the full panel and to subcommittees as well as tours of member nonprofits. They also worked in collaboration with the NCSE to ensure the voice of the community was included in the panel's deliberations and in collaboration with the U.S. AbilityOne Commission toward the establishment of several CEO working groups to further delve into specific topics. The panel's next report is expected in January.

Building Relationships
A total of 18 Congressional Champions joined the ranks in 2019, and we look forward to continuing to build relationships with members of Congress in 2020. If you're nonprofit agency is interested in hosting a member of Congress, contact Ransom Holliday.

Outside of Congress, we continued to build relationships with members of the NCSE and enjoyed hosting our member nonprofits at the annual National Achievement and Training Conference.

The team also collaborated with the Office of Personal Management Innovation Lab to host several meeting related to the future of work. This initiative not only helped map the current employment ecosystem for individuals with disabilities, but also brought together dozens of organizations in the disability community, federal/state government, private sector, academic and philanthropic communities toward the goal of increasing employment and career opportunities. The groups report should be out early in the year.

A New Year Of Opportunities
As an organization, SourceAmerica is working toward new resolutions and goals in 2020. We're working on new resources for our member agencies. We're looking forward to new events that engage members of Congress. And we'll be expanding our reach with self-advocates and families.

Collaborating with all our stakeholders continues to be an area of focus, and we can't wait to see what the new year brings!