The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, and the National Restaurant Association, the largest organization of restaurant owners, urged the U.S. Congress to reject legislation that would allow the commercialization of highway rest stops. Currently, the only commercial activity permitted at such rest stops is the operation of vending machines by blind entrepreneurs under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Commercializing rest stops would also jeopardize the business of restaurants and convenience stores that operate at highway exits.
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a prepared statement: “This legislation would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of blind entrepreneurs in the United States who depend on revenue from rest-stop vending machines. With an unemployment rate among blind Americans that exceeds 70 percent, such a move is deeply irresponsible, since these entrepreneurs will lose their businesses and be forced to rely on public assistance. We urge Congress to reject this ill-considered and reckless proposal.”
Brendan Flanagan, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, said: “This legislation threatens private businesses of all sizes and their employees who rely on drivers exiting the highway in order to purchase food and conveniences. It is an attempt to take money away from these businesses to fill state coffers. It is anti-competitive and will kill jobs.”
Annette Lutz, who operates a vending facility at an interstate rest area on I-75 in Auglaize County, Ohio, said: “I do not know how I will contribute to supporting my family if this legislation passes, since I rely on the income from the vending machines that I’m permitted to operate to pay our bills and raise my child. My vending machines can’t compete with state-financed full-service food operations, so my business will disappear. My blind daughter is also interested in becoming an entrepreneur but if this legislation passes that opportunity will not be there for her. I hope Congress will remember people like us and shut down this effort to take money away from entrepreneurs and give it to the state government.”
The legislation, which is part of a transportation bill being considered in both houses of Congress, has been put forward by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Congressman Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio. The legislation is also opposed by the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), among others.