Congratulations! Richard Jonathas, Rehabilitation Counselor in the Waukegan Office, was named the state Interagency Committee on Employees with Disabilities' (ICED), 2013 State Employee of the Year for his outstanding achievements both on and off the job and was recognized at a ceremony on May 22. ICED was impressed with Richard's good work that supports people with disabilities.
Counselor Series Changes
An initiative that began quite some time ago will be implemented July 1. The entry level job title for counselors in the DRS Field Offices is the Rehabilitation Counselor Trainee title. Currently, the requirement for this title is a master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling or a closely related degree. These education requirements have been the same for both the Vocational Rehabilitation Program and the Home Services Program. As of July 1, this title will be updated to add an option for each of the programs. The option for the federally-funded Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program will now be Option V, with the education requirements further streamlined to meet the federal requirements of the program. The option for the state-funded Home Services Program (HSP) will be Option H, which is the same as Option V, but also includes a master's degree in the related fields of nursing, social work, and/or sociology. We are hopeful this will give us a larger pool of qualified candidates for both programs and the ability to fill position more quickly.
Legislation and Policy
The following is an update on School rules submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR):
- Part 751 Definition of Terms (Adopted June 11, 2013)
- Part 755 Admission Procedures (First Notice Posted in June 14, 2013 Register)
- Part 765 Admission Procedures (Presented at May JCAR Hearing)
- Part 795 Identification, Evaluation, and Placement of Students (Adopted on June 11, 2013)
- Part 815 Special Transportation (Adopted January 23, 2013)
- Part 828 Impartial Due Process Hearing (Adopted April 25, 2013)
- Part 829 Sex Equity (Adopted April 25, 2013)
The following is an update on legislation the Division monitored during the Spring Session.
Senate Bill 63 has been sent to the Governor. This measure revises the statute pertaining to the State Rehabilitation Council in order to more closely align the State requirements with the federal Rehabilitation Act requirements.
House Bill 2591 has been sent to the Governor. This measure creates the Employment First Act which seeks to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
House Bill 948 has been sent to the Governor. This measure creates the Adult Protective Services Act which transfers some duties of the Office of the Inspector General to the Department of Aging.
House Bill 1231 and Senate Bill 38, both of which pertain to insurance coverage for hearing aids, have been re-referred back to their respective rules committees.
Budget and Fiscal
The DHS Community Service Contracts are available for providers to download from the CSA Tracking System. All contracts were due to the Office of Contract Administration by June 28. The Community Service contract final reconciliations are due to the DRS Contract Unit by July 16. This means the date due to project officers will be earlier. The final reconciliation should include the June payment and the June group billing, if applicable.
FY14 Final Budget Details: The 2013 Spring Legislative Session has come to an end. The FY14 Budget looked much like the Governor's Introduced Budget, with the exception of the following changes:
- General Revenue Funded Operations throughout DHS were lumped together and then reduced by $25 million, or 2.5 percent. "Operations" includes such line items such as Personal Services and Fringe, Travel, Contractual Expenses, Telecommunications, and Commodities and Equipment. This impacts all state-operated facilities for mental health, rehabilitation services, and developmental disabilities. Despite the reduction, DHS received the flexibility to manage the cut in a way that will cause the least possible harm to our services. There are no layoffs associated with this reduction in Operations. The Department is in the process of determining allocations for all impacted areas.
- Various State-funded grants were reduced by approximately 1%. These include the Community Reintegration Program and State match supporting the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, the federal Independent Living Older Blind Program, and the federal Migrant & Seasonal Farm Workers Grant.
- Funding for the Home Services Program was reduced $69.5 million from the Governor's Introduced Budget. This reduction is not expected to impact the program; rather, the appropriation was revised in order to be more in line with the program's projected liability as a result of the decline in the net new growth.
The Illinois Framework, the Governor's initiative to bring together state agencies to provide better services for customers through linking services and resources, will be addressed at the upcoming August DRS Supervisors Meeting. This meeting will give supervisors the opportunity to participate in the discussion and then take ideas back to staff, so all understand how services might be provided in the future.
Helping the Community
DHS/DRS offices were used across the state as sites to help citizens affected by the recent flooding. Offices were used exclusively for one day to assist citizens to come in and apply for federal flood assistance. Staff in many of these offices did not schedule customers in the office the day their office was being used. Staff met with customers in community sites, and no services were delayed. Staff demonstrated the ability to be flexible to ensure customers got the services they needed. We were able to still pay PA time sheets, and no PAs lost income over this period.
DHS/DRS continues to be an active participant in the Illinois Joining Forces Behavioral Health Workgroup that assists Illinois veterans receive the necessary health and employment related services. Lou Hamer, Bureau Chief for Field Services, is now a permanent member of this group and will continue to attend workgroup meetings.
After 42 years of service, Bettye Odem-Davis, Bureau Chief, retired from state service on June 28. Bettye began her career in 1971 and was a constant visionary for services in the field of blind rehabilitation. Throughout her career, she served on several executive committees and received numerous awards. Bettye impacted the lives of many individuals during her tenure with DRS by promoting training and by raising the bar for customer advocacy. She will be missed by all. We wish her congratulations and best of luck on this milestone.
Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
DeafQuest, a non-profit organization in Illinois, seeks to recognize individuals, organizations, or agencies that provide quality services to Illinoisans with a hearing loss. The nominations come from individuals throughout of the state who are deaf and hard of hearing. Award nominees are invited to attend a banquet where the eventual winner is announced. This year's ceremony will be held in August.
The Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education-Roosevelt (ICRE-R), the Chicago Transition Planning Council, and the Artfully Gifted Foundation held the third annual Entrepreneurial Jumpstart Fair at ICRE-R on June 8. The purpose of the Fair is to promote the viability of business ownership by people with disabilities. The Fair highlighted the entrepreneurial efforts of persons with disabilities and business owners with disabilities. In addition, educational sessions were offered to parents, students, and families on the opportunities for young entrepreneurs as well as identifying the processes and resources available to begin a business. Four business owners spoke on their experiences of establishing a business and how it has enriched their lives and increased their opportunities. A Spanish-speaking session was offered to families and was well attended. This year's Fair attracted 28 vendors and 126 attendees. The businesses owned by people with disabilities ranged from web design, art, published authors, business software training, and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. The Fair was sponsored by the Artfully Gifted Foundation, the Chicago Association for Students in Transition, ICRE-R, IDHS/DRS, Equip for Equality, Walgreens, the Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, Chicago Public Schools, and Level 21 Design. All sponsors have agreed to participate in this annual event in the future so that it continues to grow and reach as many people as possible.
Training and Strategic Planning
The 2013 Illinois State Individual Placement and Supports Supported Employment (IPS) Conference brought communities together when 50 DRS VR staff joined over 200 attendees for their annual conference held in Springfield on June 17 and 18. The conference was sponsored by the DHS' Division of Mental Health (DMH) with the support and assistance of DRS. The conference participants heard presentations on how this extremely successful vocational rehabilitation practice is helping veterans, transition-age youth, persons with severe mental illness and other disabilities, persons with criminal backgrounds, and persons from minority backgrounds achieve the work careers and the lives they desire and deserve. One conference attendee and seasoned employment services professional stated that the conference was "the best workforce development conference he had ever attended," and that the gathering "effectively brought DRS, DMH, and diverse providers to the table in a learning collaborative."
In 2013, DRS conducted an online training needs assessment survey for all field office staff, including supervisors, counselors, and case coordinators. Staff were asked about their own training needs as well as their perception of training needs for individuals working in other field positions. The top training requests for field office supervisors were in the area of stress management and dealing with difficult people, as well as disciplinary procedures. For case coordinators, the top requests were in the areas of teambuilding and customer service. For VR counselors, the top requests for training were in the areas of counseling skills, caseload management, and time management. The DRS training unit is developing a plan to prioritize the training requests, develop training events when possible, and arrange for external training providers, if needed.
In June, DRS began collaborating with Penn State University on a research and training project designed to improve the clinical supervision skills of DRS VR program supervisors. The research component of the project involved the random selection of participants during the first phase of the training, which was held over three days in Springfield. A major focus of the training is on how field office supervisors can do a better job of interacting with VR counselors concerning issues involving customers. Training included both one-on-one supervision techniques as well as methods for working simultaneously with groups of counselors. Another research component involved VR counselors completing an online survey to indicate the impact of the training on the office environment. Follow-up training events will be held online during the next few months. Next spring, the Penn State team will provide training to the supervisors not originally selected so that they, too, can benefit from the training.