By Gina Macris
In two months – from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1 – a total of 392 job hunters with disabilities have added their names to a waiting list for assistance from the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) at the Department of Human Services.
ORS established the waiting list for rehabilitation services because of a dramatic reduction in so-called federal vocational “reallocation funds” distributed solely at the discretion of the federal government.
Of the 392 individuals who were waiting for services Feb. 1, 336 have significant disabilities that make them “priority one” clients, according to a spokeswoman for Ronald Racine, the ORS director.
Within the highest priority category, 23 individuals are protected by a 2014 federal consent decree which requires the state to find jobs for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have been isolated in sheltered workshops or day programs, according to Racine’s spokeswoman. The decree takes its name from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which spelled out the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Those protected by the consent decree are being referred to employment-related services offered through the Division of Developmental Services (DDD) at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH.)
According to a BHDDH spokeswoman, Tracey Cunningham, the Chief Employment Specialist at DDD, confirms clients’ eligibility and refers them to DDD social workers who help them find private providers of employment services.
Racine has emphasized that those clients who were receiving rehabilitation services before December 1 are not affected in any way by the waiting list.
For the past several years, Rhode Island has received an average of about $3.6 million in rehabilitation reallocation funds, which are given up by states that don’t meet their obligations for local support of job-related services and are re-distributed by the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).
In the most recent round of redistribution, the federal RSA awarded $33 million to Texas because of the economic effects of Hurricane Harvey, with Rhode Island and other states receiving much less than they had expected.
The re-distribution went into effect for current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Rhode Island sought $5 million in reallocation funds for the current fiscal period, but was awarded only $532,000.
Rhode Island still receives a regular grant for rehabilitation services under provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - $10.4 million for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1, according to Racine.
The ORS waiting list does not affect high school special education students who seek separate ORS-sponsored pre-employment transition services intended to acquaint them with the world of work.
These services include job exploration and internships, training in social skills and independent living, as well as counseling on opportunities for more comprehensive transition programs or post-secondary education, Racine has said.
A total of about 665 students have signed up for pre-employment transition services during the current school year, according to ORS figures.
Detailed information about the list is on an ORS webpage here.