Changes in State Government
Former DHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler has been reassigned as Chief of Staff in the Governor's Office. Several weeks ago Grace Hong Duffin was named Acting Secretary of DHS. Hong Duffin's previous position was as the Chief of Staff of DHS. DRS wishes Chief of Staff Saddler the best in her new role and forwards similar regards to Acting Secretary Hong Duffin!
Bureau Chief Standerfer to Retire in December
Every now and again someone leaves the Division which will have a profound impact on what we do as an agency. This is such an occasion. Jeff Standerfer, Bureau Chief of Field Services, has announced his retirement from state government effective December 31. Jeff had a three decade tenure with DRS, initially as a counselor, then as a Supervisor, and for more than a twelve years in the critical position of Bureau Chief over the field. The Division of Rehabilitation Services will miss Standerfer's leadership tremendously, and we wish him the best in his new, private sector life.
Effective September 1, 2010, Marybeth Lauderdale, Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Deaf, also assumed superintendent responsibilities for the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. DRS looks forward to working with ISVI under this new administrative structure and believes Superintendent Lauderdale will bring the same level of advocacy and attention to detail that she has exhibited over the past five years at ISD in this newly expanded role.
Reallotment Funding for VR
The Division of Rehabilitation Services will be receiving an additional $5 million for their Vocational Rehabilitation Program. This funding is made available when other states are not able to spend their allotment of federal funds. This infusion of cash should help the agency place nearly 1,000 VR customers with competitive jobs this fiscal year.
DHS Holds Successful ADA Celebration
On July 22, the Department held a celebration in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Division of Rehabilitation Services was instrumental in the planning and execution of this event: arranging Vocational Rehabilitation customers to have access to Corporate Business Partners, holding an employer recognition breakfast, and sponsoring various workshops and related employment activities. There was a similar ADA event held in Springfield on July 21.
ARRA Funding Update
In July DRS awarded funding to 42 community provider agencies in response to the RFP issued earlier in the spring for transition services to youth with disabilities. These projects are funded through August 2011 with a total award value of $4,715,703. The purpose of these projects is to enable community providers to hire direct service staff workers who will in turn assist youth with disabilities to obtain or retain employment. Contracts have been developed with a start date of August 1, 2010. Also, the Contract Unit recently processed contracts for two Request for Proposals (RFP). These RFPs included Job Placement to Adults with Disabilities and Transitional Services to Youth with Disabilities. Both initiatives are funded through ARRA.
DRS has developed a Community College Initiative designed to increase enrollment in community colleges for people with disabilities. The first year of the initiative will be supported with funds from the federal VR ARRA grant. DRS anticipates that up to 1,500 individuals will take advantage of the opportunity to obtain postsecondary training leading to a degree or technical certificate through the initiative. Those individuals who remain in school after the ARRA grant ends will continue to receive support using regular VR funds. The initiative will be promoted beginning in November through radio commercials as part of DRS' ARRA-funded public awareness campaign.
DRS Bureau of Field Services
We are proud to announce two new office supervisors are on the job. Robert Rainey is the new Supervisor for the Ford City office and Michael Dittmer is the new Supervisor for the Hiawatha office. Both men are catching on fast, and we expect great things from their offices.
Jason Dansby is the new Human Relations Specialist for DRS Region 1. In that job, Jason will be involved in all matter of responsibilities pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement, staff discipline, grievances and the like. Barbie Dash also has been hired for the same position in Regions 2 and 3. Welcome to both Barbie and Jason!
Community Reintegration Program/Money Follows the Person Program
DRS-DHS Staff held a recent CRP training in Springfield. Sixteen CIL staff attended the training. Cathy Buchanan, CRP/MFP Program Manager, has continued to provide support and services to each CIL to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions with regard to CRP and MFP.
Collaborative efforts with the Department on Aging, Department of Mental Health and Healthcare and Family Services have continued with the progression of the Money Follows the Person Program. The DRS goal for this calendar year is 60 transitions via MFP.
Case note training for the Centers for Independent Living has been developed and is being provided to the CILs in an effort to standardize their notes on consumers. HSP is looking toward web-based training to deliver this presentation.
Executive Order 10-10
DHS/DRS takes this Executive Order very seriously and is in the process of reviewing the components of the Executive Order to determine how we can be proactive in identifying cost saving measures and activities.
Within the next few weeks, there will be a series of changes that will occur in order to reduce expenses. One area that we are reviewing focuses around how staff travel to conduct business, advisory council activities and how this can be more cost efficient through the use of videoconferencing, web based training and phone conferencing.
DRS Office Relocations
Continuing to address the need for cost savings, the two Rockford Offices moved into one office on August 10th. The new address is 107 North 3rd Street. This office will now serve VR, BBS and HSP customers. Although they are located in the same building, each will have separate phone numbers. The phone numbers for HSP are: (815) 987-4964 (General), (815) 967-3768 (FAX) and (888) 340-1006 (Nextalk). The phone numbers for VR/BBS are: (815) 967-3725 (General), (815) 967-3722 (FAX), (888) 472-0931 (Nextalk) and (815) 977-7163 (Video Phone).
Bureau of Blind Services
Recently, implementation of the Blind Vendors Act appeared to be in jeopardy. A handful of private vending operators in southern Illinois contacted their legislators informing them that the new law was not being implemented properly because vending services for the Department of Corrections would no longer being bid. The lawmakers went as far as to send a letter requesting an immediate suspension of the implementation of the law due to a conflict with Senate Bill 51. SB 51 pertains to state procurement policy. DHS' Legal Unit responded that the Blind Vendors Act does not conflict with Senate Bill 51 and that DHS is required by the Act to give blind vendors priority in these operations.
We are close to establishing agreements that will enable the vending program to acquire correctional facilities. In the coming years, the BEPB will operate virtually all of the correctional facilities within the state. This will create at least 15 new positions for blind managers.
Staff from various units within DRS review administrative rules to ensure they are up-to-date with current program practices; that obsolete information is removed; that language usage is correct; and that rule and statute citations are correct.
Four section of the VR rules have been amended and are undergoing a final DHS executive review. Once completed, they will be filed with the Joint Committee on the Administration of Rules (JCAR): Part 521-Definitions, Part 562-Customer Financial Participation, Part 572- Individualized Plan for Employment, and Part 590-Services.
The following VR rules have been amended and are progressing through the JCAR rule adoption process: Part 553-Assessment for Determining Eligibility and Rehabilitation Needs, Part 557-Application, Part 567-Comparable Benefits, Part 595-Closure of Rehabilitation Case.
All of the school rules have been amended and are undergoing a final DRS and Legal review. Once completed, they will undergo a DHS executive review and then will be filed with JCAR.
The Division is in the process of making revisions to Part 650, Vending Facility Program for the Blind to ensure the language and rules are consistent with the Blind Vendors Act (Public Act 096-0644). Once the revisions are complete, the rules will be shared with the Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors and other appropriate parties for their input and review.
Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
This fall workshops on employment strategies will be offered to high schools that have programs for deaf and hard of hearing students. Last Spring's "Practice Interview" experiences were so well received by teachers and students that DRS staff members saw the need to offer more opportunities to collaborate with school staff. These activities will expand the outreach to our transition age population. Based on the needs of their students, teachers will be asked to select a topic from an extensive list of workshop titles. The workshops will be designed to fit the student's unique needs and address their abilities. By DRS and school staff working together, the students will acquire clear and consistent information about employment and will be better prepared to compete during a job interview.
Annual Employer Training
On September 30, DRS is sponsoring an Employer Training at the NIU campus at Naperville. More than 40 businesses in Illinois are registered to attend. This is a benefit of being a Corporate Business Partner with DRS, and we thank Employment Resource Specialist Tom Lowery and his team for their leadership in coordinating this annual event.
Independent Living Unit
Through the federal competitive grant process, six non Part C CILs were awarded ARRA Part C funding through 2013. Those six CILs are: Advocates for Access (Peoria), DuPage CIL, Illinois Valley (LaSalle), IMPACT (Alton), PACE (Champaign), and Springfield CIL. Congratulations to all!
DRS Media & Advertising Campaign
The Division of Rehabilitation Services is getting ready to launch a media and advertising campaign throughout the State of Illinois. The goal of this campaign is to create and produce PSAs that help DRS to promote a partnership with employers in order to increase employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities. At the same time, we want to make individuals with disabilities aware of services provided through DRS that can assist them in preparing for, securing and maintaining employment. The PSAs will be viewed on television and/or heard on the radio for a minimum of three months during "prime time" listening and viewing hours (6:00 a.m. - 11:59 p.m.) in all 102 counties in Illinois.
Bureau of Home Services
Elluminate-ing the Future? HSP has been challenged by a number of things in recent years. We went almost two-years without a permanent Bureau Chief, with the Bureau's only trainer filling in as Acting Bureau Chief. The Fletcher Arbitration decision has resulted in more than half of field staff being replaced with mostly inexperienced new state employees. Many changes, large and small, are being undertaken to modernize the program. The state's financial difficulties are presenting challenges to everyone. All of this has made the need for training, meetings and other communications more critical than ever before. However, HSP central office continues to be short of staff and travel restrictions to limit spending mean severe limits on in-person training and meeting opportunities. To address the needs of the program within our limited resources DRS is testing a webinar software product currently leased by DHS called Elluminate. We believe this technology will allow us to fill the gap. The expectation is that webinar technology will be used to improve training and communication for all sections of DRS, not just HSP.
On September 30th, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Illinois is one of nine states to receive a federally funded "Disability Employment Initiative" designed to improve education, training, and employment opportunities and outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities who are unemployed and/or receiving Social Security disability benefits. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will be receiving $1,839,588 through this initiative and will focus on increasing employment and retention outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities in Northern Cook County, Chicago, Stark, Marshall, Peoria and Woodward Counties, and Ford, Iroquois, Platt and Champaign Counties. DRS will be one of the key partners in this initiative along with local and regional Chambers of Commerce, Easter Seals, IL Dept. of Employment Security, Healthcare and Family Services, SIU, and others.
Carl Suter Retires
About nine years ago, Carl Suter left DRS to lead CSAVR. Carl retired yesterday, September 30. Some may know that after college, Carl worked as a country music disc jockey. Each day when "Country Carl" signed off, he said a short goodbye, "till we meet again, here is hoping for blue skies and green lights. So long everyone…." This morning, I had an email waiting for me from Carl entitled "turning out the lights" that read "I have closed the door and turned out the lights…the skies are blue and the lights are green." Best of luck to him on his well deserved retirement. He will be missed.