State Rehabilitation Services Agency Announces Second Waiting List for New Applicants
OKLAHOMA CITY – Michael O’Brien, Ed.D., director of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), announced that a second temporary waiting list for new applicants for vocational rehabilitation and employment services began Friday, Feb. 3.
Priority Group 2, consisting of new applicants with significant barriers to employment, is now closed until further notice due to increased demand for services for individuals with the most significant disabilities and budget constraints. Client information will be taken, but services will not be provided until funding is available.
O’Brien mentioned the possibility of requiring a second waiting list at the Jan. 9 Commission for Rehabilitation Services meeting. He had hoped that changes to accounting practices could make up the shortfall, but the changes weren’t enough to prevent this action.
DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services staff will continue to serve almost 19,000 current clients already deemed eligible and new applicants for Priority Group 1, those with the most significant disabilities. These clients will experience no delays or reductions in their services.
“I have had many sleepless nights reviewing this decision. Closing a priority group is never easy or enacted lightly,” O’Brien said. He said DRS staff will continue to provide hope and opportunity to clients within the limits they face.
Priority Group 3, which includes individuals with disabilities that are not significant barriers to employment, was closed August 15, 2011.
At that time, O’Brien said, “The economic downturn has significantly increased demand for our services, while straining fiscal and staff resources. I am proud of the job our staff has done in the face of this challenge, but we’ve 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.
Before the closure of Priority Group 3 last August, DRS had experienced two years and two months with no waiting lists – the longest time in agency history.
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.