The Randolph-Sheppard Act: Background and Program Data
CRS Report for Congress
The Randolph-Sheppard Act: Background
and Program Data
Sidath Viranga Panangala
Analyst in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
The Randolph-Sheppard Act (P.L. 74-732) as amended, was enacted to provide
blind individuals with remunerative employment, and to enhance their economic
opportunities. Under the Act, blind individuals who are in need of employment are given
priority for the operation of vending facilities on federal property. Today the program
has expanded beyond federal facilities. In FY2000, a total of 2,729 blind vendors
operated 3,279 vending facilities, generating $471.1 million in gross income. This
report will be updated when new program data are available.
The vending facility program for the blind was established following the enactment
of the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936 (P.L. 74-732). The law was amended in 1954
(P.L. 83-565) and again in 1974 (P.L. 93-516).1 The purpose of the Act is to provide
remunerative employment opportunities to qualified blind persons through the operation
of businesses of various kinds, including cafeterias, snack bars, and other vending
facilities in public and private buildings or property owned or leased by the federal
government.2 The only exception to this requirement is when the establishment of such
a facility will adversely affect the interests of the United States, such as high security
areas. Under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (P.L. 97-424) as amended, blind
vendors are given priority in the operation of vending facilities in rest areas along
interstate highways. Today the program has expanded from federal facilities, and
includes state, county and private facilities. However, private vending facilities are not
1 For a legal interpretation of the law see CRS Report 97-801A, Randolph-Sheppard Act: Special
Services for the Blind, by Michael Schmerling.
2 Federal property is any building, land or other real property owned, leased, or occupied by any
agency or department of the United States including the Department of Defense and the United
States Postal Service (20 USC 107e (3)).
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
governed by Randolph-Sheppard Act regulations. The program is administered by the
Rehabilitation Services Administration, in the Department of Education.
Eligibility for Services
In order to obtain a license to operate a vending facility, the person is required to be
a U.S. citizen who is legally blind. In states that have an approved plan for vocational
rehabilitation pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 105-220),3 as amended,
the state vocational rehabilitation agency is tasked with recruiting, training, licensing, and
placement of persons who are blind as operators of vending facilities. However, in states
that do not have a vocational rehabilitation agency, the licensing of vendors who are blind
is performed by the agency for the blind in the state. In any state in which there is no such
agency, a designated state agency is responsible for issuance of licenses.
Since 1936, more than 30,000 blind individuals have benefitted from the program.4
In FY2000 (latest year for which data is available), 2,729 vendors managed and operated
3,279 vending facilities.5 In addition to these licensed blind operators, the program
employed 330 individuals with other visual impairments and 280 individuals with other
disabilities.6 There were 1,117 (34.1%) vending facilities located on federal property,
whereas 2,162 (65.9%) were located on non-federal property.
That same fiscal year the program generated $471.1 million in gross income, with
$93.9 million in net earnings going to vendors (Table 1).7 For FY2000, the average
national vendor earnings were $34,337, a 5.4% increase in annual earnings compared to
$32,556 in FY1999.
The Randolph-Sheppard program is funded by several sources. These include:
federal funds allocated through the vocational rehabilitation state grant program under the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, a portion of net proceeds from vending machines
on federal property8, set-aside levied by states on vendors,9 and state appropriations.
3 For further information see CRS Report RL31298, Rehabilitation Act: Summary of
Reauthorization Legislation, by Carol O’Shaughnessy and CRS Report RL31378, Rehabilitation
Act: Programs and Funding, by Sidath V. Panangala.
4 US Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Administration, Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program, Annual Report FY2000, Apr.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 Ibid., p. 1.
8 The law allows in certain cases a portion of net proceeds from vending machines on federal
property to be set-aside for program support.
9 Not all states levy a set-aside on vendors. However, a reasonable amount of funds could be set-
aside from the net proceeds generated by the operation of vending facilities for such purposes as:
Table 1. Vendors, Earnings, and Funding Sources of the Randolph-
Sheppard Program, FY1998-FY2000
($s in millions)
F Y 1998 F Y 1999 F Y 2000
Total gross incomea$425.5$448.1$471.1
Total earnings of vendors$86.4$90.6$93.9
Average earnings of vendors$29,815$32,556$34,337
Total number of vendors2,9532,8132,729
Total number of vending
f acilities 3,391 3,351 3,279
Vending machine incomen/a$15.3$16.0
Vendor levied set-siden/a$15.3$14.2
Source: Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program, Annual Report FY2000.
n/a = not available
aGross sales and vending machine income.
bFunds allocated through the Vocational Rehabilitation State Grant program.
maintenance and replacement of equipment, purchase of new equipment, management services,
and health insurance contributions among other things.