June 10, 2021

June 10, 2021 - Zoom

I. Call to Order

The meeting was called to order at 9:07am.

II. Attendance

Council Members Present: Erin Compton, Katie Blank, David Friedman, Robert Gould, Daniel Hawkins, LaDonna Henson, Cindy Montgomery, Matthew Fred, Barbara Moore, Julie Baker, Rahnee Patrick, Shelly Richardson, Kelsey Thompson, Hershel Jackson (joined for the afternoon)

DRS Staff present: Sherry Sparks, Francisco Alvarado, Wolfgang Arterberry, Labraya Harris, Michelle Scott-Terven

Absent: Debbie Einhorn, Melynda McKeever, Francine Bell, Meg Cooch

A quorum of the SRC was determined.

III. Agenda

Agenda attached.

It was Moved (Richardson), Seconded (Moore), and Carried to approve the June 10, 2021 SRC Meeting Agenda.

IV. Approve March 11, 2021 Meeting Minutes

It was Moved (Friedman), Seconded (Moore), and Carried to approve March 11, 2021 SRC Meeting Minutes.

V. Reports

  • Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Christina Pean) 
  • written report was submitted by C. Pean on May 26, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

Despite continued COVID-related challenges, DRS Services for People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing continues to assist individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing and Deafblind with achieving employment in an integrated setting. Noteworthy activities include:

  • Setting up Computer-based Learning opportunities
  • Working with vendors throughout the state that provide services to persons who are DHHDB
  • Attending regional meetings (National Deaf Center)
  • Working with Gallaudet, NTID, and HKNC to facilitate Illinois student participation in PTS services
  • Hosting two monthly RCD meetings - invitation extended to RCCs, RSSs, and ABCs
  • Sharing on-line training and resources available to VR professionals who work with DHHDB and B/VI persons

B. Bureau of Blind Services (John Gordon, Bureau Chief)

A written report on ICRE-Wood and the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind (BEPB) was submitted by J. Gordon on June 7, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

ICRE-Wood: The repaving of the parking lot has been completed. The Wi-fi hardware has been installed and they are now in the final phase of this project. The abatement and new flooring project started at the end of May. The new term will begin June 1st with students receiving remote training until they are able to return on site after the completion of the new flooring install.

BEPB: They won the bid for the snack vending contract at Western Illinois University, which will see about 40 vending machines expected to be operational in August.

A written Bureau of Blind Services (BBS) report was submitted by I. Halvorsen on June 7, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

The second round of the FY22 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Older Individual Blind (OIB) grant has been posted. They anticipate high need in Regions 2, 3 and 4. Two interested grantees participated in the mandated technical assistance sessions on May 27th. All applications are due by June 28, 2021. SRC members questioned whether there was concern that there were only two interested grantees in the OIB grants; Director Patrick clarified that NOFOs reach a wide audience via the Secretary's newsletter. Other opportunities were made available to those grantees who expressed interest or who not attend; thus, there is little reason for concern given that these are quite specialized services that the agency is asking for.

BBS leadership are working with personnel to fill the vacancies for field positions within the Bureau. Staff are strategizing on ways to increase services for transition age youth who are blind and visually impaired.

C. DRS Director Report (Rahnee Patrick, Director)

A presentation was given by Director Patrick, summarizing Division updates and accomplishments during this fiscal year.

The Director shared national statistics on employment for people with disabilities, noting that unemployment rates remain unacceptably high though improved from 2019. This highlights the importance of the work being done at DRS. The Director reinforced the mission of DRS, which is to assist individuals with disabilities in achieving their goals in the areas of employment and independent living. The State of Illinois is proud to be able to offer independent living services in all 102 counties, one of the few states in the country to do this.

Director Patrick reported that DRS's four schools/training centers (Illinois School for the Deaf, Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, ICRE-Wood and ICRE-Roosevelt) began offering non-remote options for students with safety precautions in place. Vaccination clinics were set up at these schools . Over 400 vaccinations were administered at ISD (70% of total employees). ISD students were also featured in the Journal Courier newspaper for their top tier finish for coding in April.

Director Patrick shared her goals for the Division:

  1. Change DRS culture. The vision is to engage all unemployed Illinoisans with disabilities by establishing a disability neutral culture that meets the needs of customers of all races, religions, and languages and adjusts to customer feedback. For example, the Division will work to ensure cultural competence in serving customers on the sexuality spectrum, including those who identify as LGBTQIIA and those living with HIV. They are also awaiting announcement of awards from the Navigator Project to reach different subgroups of people with disabilities throughout the state. DRS has connected with over 11,000 customers and other contacts to inform them about vaccination opportunities and conducted satisfaction surveys to better understand their technological needs.
  2. Support community rehab providers to create a new service model to ending the use of subminimum wage. DRS is working with the Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) and other advocates to determine how best to partner with CRPs to phase out the use of 14(c) subminimum wage certificates. This will involve investing more in Customized Employment and Supported Employment as well as milestone contracts. DRS is working with ICDD on robust and culturally competent career counseling services where staff will meet with consumers on site to inform them of the value of competitive, integrated employment and resources available to them. Director Patrick is asking the Division to go beyond the basic requirements of WIOA. Much of this depends on having accurate data, including a count of the number of people in sheltered workshops and other day programs that this will impact.
  3. Increase the competitive employment rate. The State currently has six Customized Employment contracts with four of the five regions participating. There are currently 13 customers enrolled in this program with two placements to date. The Summer Pathways initiative serving students with disabilities over the summer months supports the Division's pre-employment transition services in helping youth to find competitive employment. DRS also has one of the highest goals in the US related to Measurable Skills Gains (discussed in more detail below).
  4. Grow the Home Services program to keep people with disabilities out of nursing homes. DRS held two town hall meetings with Home Services customers in the hopes of strengthening the relationship between the state government and its customers. Customers appreciated the opportunity to be heard and to feel that their input was valued.

Other accomplishments in the Division were also highlighted:

  • The Bureau of Disability Determination Services completed over 84,000 determination cases for residents seeking Social Security eligibility in April.
  • The Home Services program has achieved a 96% currency rate relative to reassessments. The Electronic Visit Verification portal allows customers and personal assistants to see online the time in and time out of their call-in system so that DRS can stay ahead of errors before paychecks are issued.
  • DRS is developing self-employment/small business initiative to help customers develop business plans. BBS is developing a state-of-the-art Small Business Enterprise program for the blind.
  • Lastly, a former VR customer served in the East Alton office was recently recognized in a local news story for rescuing a baby in a runaway shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot where he works. This story illustrates why we do what we do and the importance of having people with disabilities engaged with employment in the community.

R. Gould inquired how outreach and outcomes are tracked related to special initiative such as career counseling and COVID. Director Patrick, F. Arterberry and Alvarado explained that DRS asked customers about any technological needs related to COVID isolation and matched 100% of these requests at no cost to the customer. To date, they have not been able to track effectiveness of the vaccination campaigns. The focus was on the work as opposed to tracking outcomes, though anecdotal evidence indicates that it was well received and appreciated. SRC believes that such positive stories are important for the public to hear. DRS is seeing great return on investment on efforts ensuring that customers have the tools to communicate with counselors remotely.

W. Arterberry shared statistics related to DRS's texting campaigns, which led to over 3.5 million dings on phones in the past year, providing critical updates about COVID shutdowns and vaccination programs. DRS showed great collaboration with public health partners during vaccination efforts in the community, at schools and in customers' homes, which undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of lives.

L. Henson noted how partnerships are critical to all of these initiatives, especially the 14(c) outreach and COVID-related communications. The SRC looks forward to seeing more data about Customized Employment and the Pathways summer program.

D. Client Assistance Program (CAP) (Julie Baker, Acting Manager)

A written report on CAP activities was presented by J. Baker.

J. Baker reviewed CAP funding as stipulated in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and what activities are covered under this provision. CAP continues to operate remotely and has been actively seeking opportunities to provide education and outreach. An average of 1-2 virtual presentations have been completed each month at DRS offices and Centers for Independent Living statewide with two upcoming virtual visits scheduled this month. Short staffing has resulted in fewer trainings, but they are hopeful to be able to complete 2-3 per month once staffing has improved.

CAP has continued the mail-out initiative to raise awareness of their services, which has reached approximately 375 DRS customers in the last quarter. CAP has also continued outreach efforts to reach Transition Specialists and special education staff at all Illinois high schools. CAP continues to provide advice, guidance, information, and referral services to individuals contacting CAP via the Intake Line and email, which has served 136 individuals in the last quarter.

CAP has worked toward resolution of cases via informal conferences, short term technical assistance,negotiation, and other methods of alternative dispute resolution as mandated. Top problems cited here remain communication and conflict about VR services to be provided. To date for FY21, Illinois CAP, at the request of the client or client-applicant, has opened 30 cases to investigate various complaints, some of which have already been closed or resolved. Three had appeals filed, all of which were successfully withdrawn because of CAP's efforts to work with the VR counselor to resolve the issues before escalating to the appeal level. The SRC noted that, in the future, additional details (e.g. number filed, number resolved) about the resolution of these cases would be helpful for the Council.

E. Bureau of Field Services (Michelle Scott-Terven, Acting Bureau Chief)

A written report on Bureau of Field Services (BFS) activities was presented by M. Scott-Terven.

The Arlington Heights DRS office has moved to Rolling Meadows. There was some delay in moving in. Staff are still working remotely. There is also a new Uptown office in Chicago, which is a small location that helps to give DRS a presence on the North Side.

DRS has attained over 3,000 competitive closures in FY21. Though the Division will likely fall short of the goal (which was 5,600), they recognize that there were unique challenges this past year and remain proud of the great work being done.

They continue to work on outreach efforts, providing technical support and increasing referrals. Because staff continue to work remotely the majority of the time, DRS needs to optimize service delivery during remote work while considering ways to safely return to some office staffing and community services.

The agency contracted with providers to offer COVID outreach and supports to customers. $10.7 million was authorized for these outreach payments, which will conclude at the end of the month with the fiscal year end.

The Summer Pathways initiative is underway. Fast Track and STEP providers have been invited to participate in this initiative, which is intended to bridge the gap between academic terms. The Pathways program helps support providers and students and works to maintain gains achieved during the school year. The initiative focused on pre-employment transition services and provides job exploration, work-based learning experiences, counseling on postsecondary education, workplace readiness and an introduction to self-advocacy.

Regarding Home Services, the Bureau remains focused on timely redeterminations and addressing referrals. The national State of Emergency allows for telephonic assessments, which staff are completing with customers. While this is less than ideal in that telephone visits don't allow staff to see the customer's home environment, it has reduced staff travel time and allows customers to continue living safely and independently. W. Arterberry contributed that overdue (i.e. taking >60 days to address) Home Services Program referrals have dropped from 5,100 to 1,130 over this past fiscal year. M. Scott-Terven discussed the impact of staffing vacancies on the Bureau's ability to ensure increased timeliness and compliance with these guidelines. The Rehab Coordinators are essential to supporting these efforts. We have seen great teamwork within and across regions. The agency continues to look for lessons learned during this challenging time.

Recruitment of counselors has improved since last report. The process still takes time, but the agency is pleased to see more recruitment efforts and increased collaboration with the Bureau of Recruitment and Selection, which has started doing a rolling, ongoing vacancy list. Testing had been an issue because facilities are closed due to COVID; however, candidates are now able to schedule the testing so the Division can start filling Coordinator vacancies soon. DRS has also been working on outreach efforts to accredited universities for recruitment of Counselors. Degree requirements are restricted in terms of what is approved, though they are adding new degrees as applicable. Overall, they are seeing improvement because of these efforts. S. Sparks reminded the council of an upcoming virtual State Employment workshop on June 17th, which is a great opportunity for customers and counselors to learn about vacancies.

SRC members inquired about guidelines for transitioning counselors from remote work back into the office. M. Scott-Terven explained that supervisors develop a schedule for their staff. Currently, offices are operating at 10% capacity, though this will likely change later in the summer and is contingent on available office space. Most counselors have been successful working remotely and do not require a great deal of office time. The Coordinators need to be on site more due to the nature of their work. CMS is taking advantage of opportunities to make building improvements while in-person staffing levels remain low. The Home Services program has ordered locked drop boxes where timesheets can be dropped off for PAs. Remote work in HSP will only continue as long as a the State of Emergency is extended on the federal level. They will resume home visits as soon as they are able to do so.

F. Bureau of Administrative Hearings (Richard Madison, Deputy General Counsel)

A written report on the Bureau of Administrative Hearings was submitted by R. Madison on June 4, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

These current numbers included below represent the lowest number of appeals in recent memory, according to R. Madison, suggesting that DRS and CAP staff has been working diligently to resolve issues before escalating to full appeal. Throughout the pandemic, priority was given to SNAP appeals (which mandate a 60-day turnaround time) as opposed to DRS cases, which must be resolved in 90 days. Some of these cases stem from unrealistic expectations as to what the agency can and cannot do, which is resolved by clarifying policies; it was noted by the SRC that the report did not specify which policies or issues were at play in these cases. There are currently six pending VR appeals, down from 16 at the start of the year. Five of the six are set for schedule and the sixth one is soon to be completed

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks will send out a link to these policies, rules and regulations to the SRC and will ask R. Madison if he can offer more information to the Council about the types of policies that contribute to some of these misunderstandings.

G. Executive Report (LaDonna Henson, SRC Chair)

New SRC Member Prospects: Brock Bush and Erin Compton (under 25 category), Julie Baker (CAP representative) and Robert Gould (Higher Education) are all pending Governor's approval. The SRC welcomed Erin and Julie today to their first meeting. S. Sparks confirmed that resumes and background materials had been sent to the Governor's Office.

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks will send new members a link to the application and continue efforts to coordinate with a representative from the Governor's Office.

SRC Vacancies: Former Vice Chair and CRP rep Michael Predmore has had to resign from the Council due to taking a new position at his organization. The Council thanks him for his service. David Friedman has agreed to assume the role of Vice Chair. The term for Melynda McKeever (Fiscal Officer) will expire at the end of this month. She has been an incredibly helpful and dedicated Council member. We also extend thanks to her. Meg Cooch and Francine Bell have also notified the Council of their intent to resign. SRC members are asked to consider potential candidates to fill these new vacancies and to contact C. Montgomery with recommendations. The Council will also need to fill the vacant Policy/Legislation Committee Chair as well as the Fiscal Officer position. The council welcomed Kelsey Thompson as the new Secretary and Cindy Montgomery as the new Member Recruitment Committee Chair.

VR 101 Training: Matt Abrahamson reminds us about the VR 101 training through the Center of Innovative Training in VR. SRC members are encouraged to take advantage of this valuable training opportunity. New members should receive the link from Matt.

Books: Two books were mailed to SRC members: Guidebook for State Rehabilitation Council Chairpersons, Members, and Administrators from the National Coalition of Rehabilitation Councils and State Rehabilitation Council-Vocational Rehabilitation Partnership Under WIOA by J. Holleran. L. Henson shared a goal of seeing our Council being the most responsive and representing the best partnership with DRS of all SRCs nationwide. These books and training opportunities give us an idea of what these best practices look like.

Strategic Planning: The SRC discussed the feasibility of scheduling a strategic planning session to coincide with the fall meeting. Ideally, this would be done in-person if this is allowed, to best facilitate the creative process.

By-laws: L. Henson noted a need to revise our by-laws and committee structures to ensure that these documents are still relevant. This will be discussed in greater detail at the fall meeting. SRC members are asked to review the by-laws before the next meeting. The Operations Committee will convene prior to the next meeting to determine how this will be approached.

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks will send out the most current member grid and committee list as well as the link to the VR101 training.

ACTION ITEM: Director Patrick will clarify any rules regarding the SRC's ability to meet in person in the near future.

(break for lunch 11:35am-12:45pm)

H. DRS Data Metrics (Wolfgang Arterberry, Program Analyst)

Report attached below.

Measurable Skills Gains: W. Arterberry explained how DRS measures and reports on Measurable Skills Gains. RSA requires agencies to report annually and quarterly on five performance targets, one of which is currently under target, which is Measurable Skills Gains. DRS's goal is 62.2%, which is the highest in the country. This would be the second consecutive year that we missed this target, which would result in remedial action from RSA. Because schools have been operating remotely, this has made it increasingly challenging to meet this goal. DRS leadership found success in working with each individual office to get these numbers up. They are pleased to report that they have reached the threshold and met the goal for FY21. The Measurable Skills Gain stat is heavily dependent on grades and other educational milestones on report cards or transcripts; some offices had fallen behind in obtaining this documentation and reporting stats.

Closures: W. Arterberry reviewed successful rehabs compared last year and this year. Although it looks as though DRS will fall short of this goal this fiscal year, the number of unsuccessful closures was down significantly more. This indicates that customers are staying in services longer and continue working toward their goals.

Referral Sources: 16,838 referrals came in last year. This number is down by about 5,000 this year, though DRS is still performing strong. Numbers indicate that the worst impact of the pandemic is past and numbers seem to be normalizing. We're outperforming all previous pandemic months even though we are not yet back at pre-pandemic numbers. They continue to work on diversifying referral sources.

Plan Status: There are more customers in plans status (i.e. actively receiving services) than we've had in years. This explains why closures are down over 1,000 as noted above. Customers are still trying to find employment or seeking training.

Average Days in Status: All of these stats are down this year compared to last (by month), illustrating a greater level of productivity and efficiency.

ACTION ITEM: The Data Committee will coordinate with Wolfgang to schedule next meeting.

I. DRS Survey Report (Wolfgang Arterberry, Program Analyst)

W. Arterberry reported that the first draft of the RFP is finished and is awaiting financial details to be added by the fiscal unit. The end date goal of the contract has been changed to the end of this calendar year or completion of project. The finished project and report must be received by the end of the calendar year. The contracted agency will be finalizing the questions. This survey will be targeting current and past customers to gauge how their experience was working with DRS.

ACTION ITEM: L. Henson and W. Arterberry will coordinate to setup a Stakeholder Committee meeting (excluding any members representing universities to avoid conflict of interest).

J. Statewide Needs Assessment (Wolfgang Arterberry, Program Analyst)

The Stakeholder Committee will need to coordinate a meeting and begin discussing next steps toward implementing the Statewide Needs Assessment. It will likely not be practical to contract it out. This survey, which is required by RSA, is more comprehensive than the satisfaction survey noted above. The Needs Assessment focuses on customers' experiences before, during and after working with DRS to explore what other services thy might need and what else DRS could have done to better serve them.

K. Committee Reports

1. Operations (vacant, Committee Chair)

This committee consists of the Chairs of the other committees. We are seeking a new Chair for this committee. The Operations Committee will continue with reviewing the SRC's by-laws as addressed above so that further discussion can take place at next meeting.

2. Policy/Legislation (vacant, Committee Chair)

D. Friedman and B. Moore discussed two recent pieces of legislation impacting transition students in Illinois. HB 40, which passed both houses and is awaiting the Governor's signature, allows transition students to stay in transition until the end of the school year that they're in instead of the day before their 22nd birthday. This will be an operational challenge for DRS and the schools given that everyone will be transitioning at the same time, though it will benefit the students by allowing them to continue to receive services through the school year. HB 2748, which is also awaiting the Governor's signature, allows those students who turned 22 during the pandemic and who had an interruption in in-person learning for three months or more to return for the 2021-2022 school year and receive education services. We anticipate an expedited signing by the Governor on both of these bills, which will go into effect immediately. ISBE is working with the school districts to help with implementation.

3. Member Recruitment (Cindy Montgomery, Committee Chair)

As noted above, the SRC is currently seeking new members to fill several vacancies: 2 in Business, Industry & Labor, 2 in Disability/Advocacy Groups and 1 in Community Rehab Programs. Members are asked to contact C. Montgomery with any prospects.

4. State/Unified Plan (David Friedman, Committee Chair)

The SRC will participate in a strategic planning session on Sept. 1st in Springfield.

4a. Ad hoc Data Committee (David Friedman, Lead)

D. Friedman will work with this committee on analyzing financial numbers so the SRC is better equipped to assess how DRS is spending money and to identify trends among regions, offices and locations. This committee will also look more closely at special initiatives to see how they're performing.

5. Stakeholder (LaDonna Henson, Committee Chair)

As noted above, L. Henson will coordinate a meeting of the committee (to include W. Arterberry) to discuss the satisfaction survey and the Statewide Needs Assessment.

L. Workforce Development Unit (Sherry Sparks, Manager)

S. Sparks reviewed outreach data of business engagement contacts included in the attached report, which are steadily increasing.

The Workforce Development Unit (WDU) currently has a staff of 9. They recently welcomed two new Business Service Consultants. Team members are engaged in a variety of training efforts, including the new Business Engagement Training Module, the Intensive VR 101 Training, and the Modern Job Development Modules. They anticipate sending three staff members to Business U this fall where they will receive the Certified Business Engagement Professional National Certification Training.

The WDU routinely interfaces with all the local field offices in MOU development. They are also active with the Business Service Teams of each Local Workforce Investment Area (LWIA) and staff statewide committees including the Professional Development Committee, Diversity Workgroup, and the Apprenticeship Committee. The Unit helped plan the WIOA Summit held in April and contributed to two WIOA Wednesdays to date.

Among the observations and trends noted, S. Sparks explained that the WDU works with businesses statewide that are experiencing high demand for workers, some with hundreds of vacancies to fill. Because many of these employment partners are new to working with the State, staff is setting up webinars for local office and counselor participation to facilitate dialog and learn about these companies and their needs. The businesses represent a variety of industries, including logistics/warehousing, custodial, medical, sales, federal employment, postsecondary education institutions, and collections. They have noted that several companies continue to offer telework positions, which expands opportunities to candidates statewide.

SRC members inquired about how the WDU tracks and measures success. It was noted that, among other metrics, DRS tracks the retention of workers at the same employer post exit for the 2nd and 4th quarter; Illinois leads the nation in that rate. They also track which industry they're in.

M. Updates from other Councils

1. Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) (Shelly Richardson SILC Chair)

S. Richardson noted that SILC recently completed a disaster preparedness webinar for people with disabilities, which is available on their website (https://silcofillinois.org/). They are currently working on a new project which will cover the same content but targeted toward people with disabilities who are immigrants or who are undocumented. SILC also remains active in advocacy and helping the Centers for Independent Living meet their goals.

2. Blind Services Planning Council (BSPC) (David Hawkins, BSPC Member)

D. Hawkins announced that the BSPC's new chairperson, Sharon Howerton, presided over her first meeting recently. It was also noted that the National Library Service (NLS) for people who are blind or visually impaired recently made changes allowing individuals to check out more materials. BSPC is concerned that some of the audiobooks currently available through this service are of poor quality; they are advocating for this to be addressed nationally.

VI. New Business

Open Meetings Act (OMA): L. Henson noted that there is no new training available, though the Governor's Office continues to require all new appointees to complete it. S. Sparks and L. Henson will continue to ensure that we meet these requirements, which include publishing our agenda in a given timeframe and providing information for the public to attend and make comment on these meetings. This is impacting other committees and councils throughout the state as well.

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks and L. Henson will continue to explore training resources for incoming and existing SRC members to complete this mandated OMA training.

VII. Public Comment

Time was given for public comments, but none were provided.

VIII. Next Meeting

September 1 (to also include strategic planning session)

November 9

IX. Adjourn

It was Moved (Hawkins), Seconded (Richardson), and Carried to adjourn. Meeting adjourned at 2:09pm. 

Workforce Development Unit data submitted by Sherry Sparks

Month  Business Engagement Contacts FY Running totals Average Contacts

January 135 549 22.5

February 86 647 17.2

March 143 810 23.83

April 152 973 25.33

May 203 1,209 29.0