OKLAHOMA CITY – The Commission for Rehabilitation Services was advised today (January 9) by Noel Tyler, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services interim director, that waiting lists will begin at 5 p.m. on January 9 for all but the most significantly disabled new applicants for vocational rehabilitation and employment services.
Prior to this action, DRS implemented severe administrative cost-cutting actions beginning in September 2015 to limit personnel actions, equipment purchases and travel. The agency has worked to delay the impacts of state funding shortages on job-seekers and students with disabilities.
During the 2016 legislative session, DRS shared in the State’s revenue woes and received a 4.61 percent reduction of $1.3 million in state funding. The loss in state revenue was compounded by a four to one loss of associated federal match funds totaling $4.9 million dollars for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
Other state-funded programs were not included in these reductions because Oklahoma School for the Blind, Oklahoma School for the Deaf and the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped have not received additional funding since state fiscal year 2009. Since 2009, additional state funding for DRS has been linked to the receipt of federal match funds. In state fiscal year 2016, however, the legislature was unable to find the funding to fully maintain the program.
DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services staff will continue to serve 12,419 job-seekers already on caseloads. New applicants with the most significant mental or physical disabilities limiting three or more functional capacities will not be placed on waiting lists. These clients will experience no delays or reductions in their services.
Qualified new applicants with less significant barriers to employment will be placed on the waiting lists until funds are identified to pay for their services. They will then receive services based on their application dates.
Staff will continue to process new applications, gather diagnostic information, determine eligibility for services and place applicants in groups based on the significance of their disabilities.
“In these situations, federal law requires that DRS prioritize Oklahomans who need our help the most because they have the most significant disabilities and greatest barriers to employment,” Tyler explained. “We will review the waiting lists monthly and begin serving our applicants as soon as possible, depending on the number of people on the lists and available funding.”
When Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services programs have more demand for services than available funding, the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act requires that all states serve clients based on significance of their disabilities as barriers to employment.
DRS is not permitted to cap or limit services needed by current clients in order to reach their employment goals.
“Instead, DRS must control costs, implement state budget reductions and absorb inflationary increases in goods and services by delaying services to new applicants whose disabilities are determined to be least significant under the law,” Tyler explained.
During the state fiscal year 2016, which ended October 2016, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services divisions helped 2,125 new Oklahomans with disabilities prepare for and find employment. These new reduced their need for disability benefits and social services, earning an average of $20,052 per year and paying $3,144 in average taxes.
For more information about DRS, Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services, visit www.okdrs.gov or phone 405-487-4042.