Please read through the letter. Any blanks in the letter will be replaced with your information once submitted.
- Your U.S. Senators
- Your U.S. Representative
Rest Area Commercialization
I am writing this letter to express concern about the Trump Administration’s infrastructure plan and how it could negatively impact blind people. As proposed by the Administration, the infrastructure plan would allow commercialization of the rest areas on our nation’s interstate highways. Currently, there are almost 1,100 rest areas with vending machines that are being operated by blind entrepreneurs or state agencies for the blind. The livelihoods of literally hundreds of blind people are potentially at risk. Blind individuals operate these vending sites due to a priority afforded by the Randolph-Sheppard Act. This Act has proven to be the most successful employment and entrepreneurial program for the blind ever enacted by Congress. The interstate vending has become a core part of the nationwide program with 20% of the blind entrepreneurs in the country operating vending at these rest areas. These opportunities have allowed these blind entrepreneurs to live independent lives, earn a living, support their families, and stay off of public assistance. If the President’s plan is enacted, many if not all of these individuals would see their businesses shut down and they would be without any income. With the unemployment rate of blind working age adults being almost 80%, finding alternative employment would be difficult. Welfare for many would be inevitable. We do not want welfare. We want opportunity. Since the inception of the Interstate Highway System, federal law has prohibited commercial establishments from operating at the rest areas. As recent as 2012, the Senate took up the issue and an amendment to allow such commercialization was soundly defeated by an 86-12 margin. The rest areas were created as safety breaks and commercializing them would detract from their main purpose. Grabbing a drink out of a vending machine, taking a stroll through the grassy area, or enjoying a relaxing picnic are how these sites were intended to be used. Converting them to the hustle and bustle of multiple retail establishments would actually make our highways less safe. Our blind entrepreneurs interact daily with the traveling public and these are the things they have been told by their customers as to why they stop. There is no groundswell of support from the traveling public for such an initiative. Not only have blind entrepreneurs relied on this public policy to create and sustain their businesses, so have tens of thousands of businesses that have invested in businesses at the interstate exits. If this proposal becomes law, those businesses as well will be at risk. Local governments where those businesses are located will lose tax revenue. Employees will lose their jobs. The state departments of transportation may get more revenue but they would do so at the expense of hundreds of blind entrepreneurs, tens of thousands of small businesses at the interstate exits, and local tax coffers. For the reasons cited above, I join others like the National Federation of the Blind, National Association of Blind Merchants, National Association of Truck Stop Operators, National Automated Merchandising Association, National Association of Convenience Stores, National League of Cities, National Council of Chain Restaurants, and dozens of other organizations in urging you to reject the idea of rest area commercialization. Sincerely, (First Name) (Last Name)