oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services

State Employment Agency to Delay Services for Some Oklahomans with Disabilities

OKLAHOMA CITY – Michael O’Brien, Ed. D., director of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), announced that a temporary waiting list for vocational rehabilitation and employment services began Aug. 15 for one group of new applicants with the least significant barriers to employment.

DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services staff will continue to serve 16,952 current clients and new applicants in two categories for those with the most significant disabilities. These clients will experience no delays or reductions in their services.

“The economic downturn has significantly increased demand for our services, while straining fiscal and staff resources," O'Brien said. "I am proud of the job our staff has done in the face of this challenge, but we’re reached the point where a waiting list must be implemented.

“In these situations, federal law requires that DRS serve Oklahomans who need our help most because they have the most significant barriers to employment,” he explained. “We will review the waiting list every 90 days with an expectation that we will be able to begin serving some people each time, depending on the number on the list and available funding.

After two years and two months with no waiting lists – the longest time in DRS history – O’Brien and the Commission for Rehabilitation Services primarily considered three factors when making the decision.

“First, the numbers of vocational rehabilitation clients have increased 31 percent from 20,359 in federal fiscal year 2009 to 26,631 in 2011, which makes it very difficult to reasonably ensure quality services and appropriate individual attention,” O’Brien said.

“Second, Visual Services and Vocational Rehabilitation must control costs because we are forced to serve fewer clients when the average cost per each case increases.”

“Third, we must continue to review cases that appear to be inactive in order to reallocate funds to cases that are moving forward toward successful employment goals,” O’Brien explained.

During the state fiscal year 2012, which began July 2011, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services divisions will invest $27.6 million to help Oklahomans with disabilities prepare for and find employment, thus creating new taxpayers and reducing their need for disability benefits and social services.

In state fiscal year 2011, an additional $10.9 million in stimulus and other one-time federal funding enabled DRS to boost the investment in employment programs and avoided a waiting list. The exhaustion of stimulus funding combined with state funding reductions and the economic downturn have stressed the available resources.

DRS earns four federal dollars for every state dollar invested in vocational rehabilitation and employment programs, so a $1 state reduction triggers the loss of an additional $4 federal dollars.

The federal Rehabilitation Act requires Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services programs to place clients into groups 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 starting with those whose disabilities which are determined to be least significant.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services 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.

When funds are identified to pay for their services, those on waiting lists will be served based on the dates of their applications.