OKLAHOMA CITY – The Department of Rehabilitation Services is celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October by transferring approximately 1,800 job seekers with significant disabilities from waiting lists to active Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services caseloads.
VR and VS staff began providing career planning and employment services to the most recent group of 904 applicants on September 24. Staff will begin serving approximately 900 more jobseekers on October 08. The exact number will be determined on that date.
At that time, DRS will have moved a total of 2,960 applicants from waiting lists into active status since January 1.
DRS’ Visual Services serves Oklahomans who are blind or visually impaired. Vocational Rehabilitation staff help those with all other types of physical and mental disabilities.
The divisions provide counseling, training, job placement and other services that build jobseekers’ skills and qualifications needed in the workforce.
Staff also assist Oklahoma employers with recruitment and placement, technical assistance, staff development and financial incentives in some situations.
“Empowering jobseekers to find employment in careers of their choice is our mission,” DRS Executive Director Noel Tyler said. “So placing people on waiting lists is very difficult for staff. It interrupts the work they love to do and temporarily freezes clients’ progress. This influx of new clients creates a heavy workload too, but our staff are great at putting clients front and center to ensure their success.”
“We’re thrilled to begin serving so many people who have been waiting to go to work,” Visual Services Administrator Tracy Brigham said. “This success is due to support from the Oklahoma Legislature. They match federal funds with state dollars, so we can prepare clients to become taxpayers who give back to the system.”
DRS earns $4 federal dollars for every state $1 appropriated for VS and VR employment programs. The agency can be penalized financially for failing to meet that match in lean budget years.
Even when waiting lists are in place, VR and VS staff continue to process new applications, gather diagnostic information, determine eligibility for services and place applicants on waiting lists in three groups based on the significance of their disabilities.
When limited funds require waiting lists, applicants with disabilities that have the most significant impact on employment are served first, based on the dates of their applications.
Waiting lists do not affect clients on VR/VS caseloads who currently have employment plans and are receiving employment services.
“More than 1,800 new jobseekers will be on the road to employment in October on top of the clients who were already transferred to our caseloads earlier this year,” Vocational Rehabilitation Services Administrator Mark Kinnison said. “Going forward, we want to completely clear the waiting lists of clients with significant disabilities so they can reach their goals for employment and independence.”
“The fact that we are able to begin serving not only individuals with the most severe disabilities, but also those in our less severe category as well, is really encouraging and exciting.” Brigham said. “This means more people who want to go to work are now able to become taxpayers.”
Kinnison said that DRS currently has 3,200 potential clients on waiting lists, including those who will be moved active status on Oct. 8.
Waiting lists have been in place for eligible applicants with all levels of disabilities since March 13, 2017, due to rising expenditures in case services and reductions in state-appropriated funds.
As part of the state appropriation package, DRS received $11.6 million dollars in appropriations for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. This funding is eligible to match federal funds at a 4 to 1 rate. With the restored funding, DRS is able to maximize federal and state funding to serve more job seekers.
In 2017, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services staff served 11,765 Oklahomans with disabilities and helped 2,014 clients successfully prepare for and find employment. These new taxpayers earned an average of $22,212 per year and paid $3,332 in average taxes. As a result, they reduced or eliminated their need for disability benefits and social services.
Last year, DRS served 97,864 Oklahomans with disabilities through career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits.
For more information visit http://www.okdrs.gov or phone 800-487-4042.