August 31, 2021

August 31, 2021- Zoom

I. Call to Order

The meeting was called to order at 9:10am.

II. Attendance

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

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

A quorum of the SRC was determined.

III. Agenda

It was Moved (Einhorn), Seconded (Friedman), and Carried to approve the August 31, 2021 SRC Meeting Agenda.

IV. Approve June 10, 2021 Meeting Minutes

It was Moved (Hawkins), Seconded (Cooch), and Carried to approve June 10, 2021 SRC Meeting Minutes.

V. Reports

A. Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Christina Pean)

There was no written report but C. Pean introduced herself and told about the work she does for DRS. 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.

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

A written report on ICRE-Wood was submitted by D. Phillips on August 27, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

In March 2021, ICRE-Wood returned to in-person learning. There is now Wi-Fi throughout the building. The program started with 32 customers, 21 of which were commuters and 11 were residents. The term ended May 26, 2021. ICRE returned to temporary remote learning due to building renovations on June 1, 2021. On June 14, 2021, ICRE-Wood returned to in-person learning with a total of thirty-four (34) customers (22 commuters, 11 residents and 1 Deafblind). The current session ends on September 1, 2021 with 13 graduates. The new term begins on September 7, 2021. Currently, there are 20 customers on the waiting list.

A written Bureau of Blind Services (BBS) report was submitted by I. Halvorsen on August 27, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

BBS is working on increasing outreach to blind and visually impaired (BVI) transition students, including through use of a contract to provide Pre-Employment Transitions Services to BVI students between the ages of 14 and 22. The Illinois Vision Leadership Council (IVLC) and BBS have begun to collaborate on serving transition aged students while in school. They also hope to address the transition from school to postsecondary VR services. Though the VR Case Management System (WebCM) BBS Rehabilitation Instructors and Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Instructors will be able to develop Blind Service Instruction Plans with BVI customers, which will outline the specific services instructors will provide to VR customers. In addition, it will track the progress made by the customer in achieving their goals. The plan gives the customers a greater sense of involvement, engagement, and participation during the instruction of independent living skills which lead to self-sufficiency.

D. Hawkins offered some insight about staffing issues at BBS. Job requirements and a lengthy hiring process can make it difficult to expediently hire well qualified staff. Many well qualified candidates will take jobs in other states before a job offer can be finalized. There is only one O&M instructor in all of Illinois. NIU has an O&M program but many graduates end up leaving the state. W. Arterberry explained that job descriptions and requirements are standardized and typically set through CMS with input from the unions. M. Cooch stressed the importance of lived experience as well as academic experience..

F. Alvarado noted difficulty establishing internships for students in master's degree rehabilitation counseling programs because of issues with bargaining unit decisions. Often times when the State takes on interns, they are not able to do actual state work, which becomes a barrier. DRS has agreements with some universities that receive RSA funding, but this is an area that needs to be explored more with the Personnel department in order to provide opportunities for masters-level students to complete practica and internships. These barriers need to be identified and addressed.

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks will follow-up on opportunities to help with promoting vacancies (noted at last meeting).

ACTION ITEM: K. Thompson will obtain more information about RC, VRT and O&M internship requirements

C. DRS Director Report (Rahnee Patrick, Director)

A PowerPoint presentation was given by Director Patrick which summarized DRS achievements for the Division and shared her goals for the Agency in the coming 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 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.
  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. She has reached out to Centers for Independent Living (CILs) for sites that would like to serve as training sites for persons leaving sheltered workshops. Trial work experiences must be provided when DRS is not sure of a customer's ability to perform work. This requirement extends the 60 day eligibility requirement. There were 47 persons listed as having disabilities too severe to benefit from DRS in 2020 but only one person in FY21.
  3. Director Patrick is working on a possible new text messaging provider.

Director Patrick asked for SRC member input on whether it is the norm for employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to work. D. Friedman stated this is the norm for those businesses and groups he works with. SIU requires full vaccinations or employees need to be tested weekly for COVID-19. CILs are not mandated to require vaccinations at this time. W. Arterberry stated that the State of Illinois union is not in favor of mandatory vaccinations at this time. D. Hawkins stressed the importance of considering what is best for consumers and avoid putting consumers at risk.

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

A written report on CAP activities was submitted by J. Baker on August 24, 2021 and presented by L. Henson.

SRC members questioned the number of closures versus the number of open cases. J. Baker will be joining later and we will have an opportunity to ask these questions. The SRC noted today a desire to see more information about outreach and number of cases opened and closed. It would also be helpful to receive more clarity about what terms such as "communication problems" and "conflict" mean.

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

A written report on Bureau of Field Services (BFS) activities was submitted by M. Scott-Terven on August 29, 2021.

DRS has achieved 606 competitive closures so far for FY22. We hope to achieve our goal of 5,600 competitive closures this fiscal year. Our staff, customers, providers, and partners have all faced considerable and unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to focus on outreach efforts to increase referrals; providing needed technology and supports to staff and customers; and optimizing service delivery during remote work.

The COVID-19 Outreach payment supports ended on June 30th. DRS authorized over $13.5M in outreach payments over the last year to support our providers and customers during the pandemic.

The Summer Pathways Initiative is winding down as the new school year gets started. Fast Track and STEP providers were invited to participate in this initiative designed to bridge the gap for students with disabilities between the end of the last academic year/term and the beginning of the new next academic year/term. This initiative focused on providing Pre-Employment Transition Services.

The Illinois CARE Connections Isolation Grant Initiative ended in the spring of 2021. The initiative provided technology devices to 3,307 socially isolated seniors and individuals with disabilities. DRS staff facilitated referrals for 1,061 customers in order to combat loneliness and increase social connectedness. The Illinois Assistive Technology Program (IATP) implemented the program, processing referrals and providing equipment to individuals referred by the Illinois Department on Aging, Division of Developmental Disabilities, and DRS (see attached Final Report for more information).

DRS Field offices are in the process of developing Office Plans for FY22, identifying strategies for providing timely and quality services to individuals with disabilities such as plans for outreach to increase referrals and networking.

VR Goals

  • Contribute to the Statewide Goal of 5,600 competitive closures
  • General Timeliness Expectations:
    • Reduction in Overdue IPE Renewals
    • Reduction in Referrals over 30 Days
    • Reduction in Applications over 60 Days
    • Increase in Entering MSG timely (62.2%)
    • Timely and accurate processing of Billings (no later than the 15th day of the month)
  • Increase Referrals and Outreach:
    • Implement statewide employment related resources, pilot projects, and service strategies for targeted populations which includes, but is not limited to:
  • rural and remote communities;
  • youth in foster care;
  • adjudicated youth and adults (i.e. criminal background);
  • culturally diverse populations (minority groups);
  • high school dropouts and functionally illiterate;
  • multiple disabilities;
  • subminimum wage employees;
  • TANF recipients;
  • individuals who are deaf, hearing impaired, blind, visually impaired and/or Deafblind;
  • individuals with mental health and developmental disabilities,
  • and SSI/SSDI recipients.
    • Expansion of STEP services
    • Williams/Colbert consent decree outreach and increased participation of class members in VR services
    • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - increased representation
    • LGBTQIA+
    • People living with and affected by HIV/AIDS (PLWH)
    • Persons with I/DD - ensuring appropriate trial work opportunities, career counseling, SEP and CE opportunities

On the HSP side, regional and statewide efforts continue to ensure increased timeliness and compliance with programmatic guidelines. Regions 1N, 1S, and 2 are currently implementing a cross-regional plan for assistance, and Regions 3, 4, and 5 are working together in order to assist areas in the greatest need of addressing the oldest referrals and yearly redeterminations.

In general news, our Personnel unit has initiated a continuous posting process for Rehabilitation Case Coordinator I vacancies for both HSP and VR in order to facilitate the grading process for potential candidates in a timely manner. The RCC title does require testing with CMS to get a grade but with a large gap from posting to testing, we are losing many candidates who originally bid. That leaves us with few (if any) candidates when interviews are being scheduled. The continuous posting works the same as the continuous posting for the Rehabilitation Counselor Trainee.

Discussion followed regarding whether DRS offers internships. F. Alvarado said the internship program stopped after receiving lots of complaints through the bargaining units that DRS was avoiding hires by using interns. Questions were asked about the backlogs and why staff were not being hired to assist. It was explained that counselor roles require master's degrees in specific disciplines. Personnel has worked hard to reduce the number of openings and to seek out potential staff at colleges and universities. A question was asked about where the most openings are. Staff are hired but the training process takes between 6 months to a year for new counselors to learn the administrative directives and the job duties and responsibilities. There are openings in all regions of the state and there is also some transferring and shifting to different geographic areas that occurs. A question was asked regarding how many cases does each counselor have. M. Scott-Terven explained that caseloads can run from 100 to over 300 cases depending on the geographic areas. It was also mentioned that it is harder to obtain staff with the necessary educational backgrounds for rural areas.

D. Friedman asked if there are viability issues for CRPs. M. Scott-Terven replied that some CRPs are already close to their milestones for the year. It was recommended to have DRS staff member Kristen Wagner speak to the SRC to discuss CRPs. If a local office is not obtaining DRS referrals, it was recommended that CRPs reach out to supervisors in their local offices or project officers as communication is key. Balanced scorecards with common matrices for CRPs are being explored.

M. Scott-Terven said her time as Acting Bureau Chief is ending but that she has enjoyed her time in this role and has learned a lot about state operations. She will return to her position as Region 3 Assistant Bureau Chief when a new Bureau Chief is hired. Director Patrick commended M. Scott-Terven for her great work and said she really enjoyed working with her in this role.

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 August 25, 2021 and summarized by S. Sparks.

Appeals are very low at the current time. There are two pending appeals, one appeal regarding eligibility to be scheduled for a hearing and one appeal in post-hearing pertaining to the cost of services. Four appeals were closed in June and one was closed in July.

G. Executive Report (LaDonna Henson, SRC Chair)

New SRC Member Prospects:

Amy Lulinski (Disability/Advocacy) and Tracy Wright (CRP) were recommended by the Council to fill vacancies. Brock Bush and Julie Baker are still pending Governor Approval. Robert Gould, Erin Compton and David Friedman were also approved by the Governor's office. Welcome to all three.

(break for lunch 12:00pm-1:00pm)

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

The Council resumed discussion of the CAP report submitted by J. Baker on August 24, 2021.

SRC noted the value of being able to compare numbers pre-COVID with the present. J. Baker noted how CAP numbers tend to ebb and flow at different points throughout the year. It is anticipated there will inevitably be new cases coming forward on questions related to tuition and payments as the new school year begins.

Baker clarified some of the frequently cited communication problems between customers and counselors. Often, customers express dissatisfaction at not being able to reach their counselor by phone (which became increasingly challenging during remote work to ensure that customers were not attempting to reach their counselors in the office). Some of these can be easily resolved. Another issue arises when a client feels as though they were promised something that did not come through. Sometimes these are personality conflicts in which CAP comes in to bridge that gap. CAP is intended to be a short-term program that works to find a workable solution.

Council members requested clarification about the numbers cited in the CAP report (41 open cases, 5 closed). J. Baker explained that 41 were opened for the FY and 5 were closed during the fourth quarter as reported. There are still 5-6 still open, many of which are waiting for information about tuition payments. For future reports, the SRC would like to see graphs for FY and quarter.

Regarding tuition reimbursement, DRS follows the Illinois Administrative Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulation. (A link to the Illinois Administrative Code can be found here: When disputes arise, CAP steps in and answers questions for customers.

Formulas vary depending on the type of school, program and family income, which is why tuition assistance is often addressed on a case-by-case basis. The VR manual explains to counselors how to follow these complex administrative codes. Codes are extensive, clear and generous.

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

Report attached below, including a review of FY21 data

W. Arterberry explained that FY21 was statistically bad due to COVID. Referrals were down, which had a ripple effect throughout other aspects of the program, including closures. One positive takeaway, however, is that DRS is actively serving more people than we were pre-pandemic (as seen by those in active plan status). It's possible that more customers are pursuing further education or training. Most individuals spent fewer days in Plan status. There could be many contributing factors to this. DRS improved dramatically on retaining customers and hoping that these patterns hold strong as intakes pick up and volume increases to pre-pandemic levels. Goals for successful closures would then be well within reach.

Measurable Skills Gains (MSG): MSG is a statistic through WIOA for which DRS is accountable. Postsecondary students who are enrolled in school or training are monitored as they reach certain benchmarks. The target is 62.2% while federal standards require DRS to meet 55.98%. If DRS misses that goal, they have one more year to hit that target before RSA takes remedial action. DRS missed it last year by a large margin. This year, by comparison, they will exceed it substantially (~70.1%). This is a great success especially considering how many schools were operating remotely and facing challenges in communicating with students. Director Patrick showed great leadership in this initiative to help encourage offices and individual counselors to record this data in a timely manner. Illinois may end up with the highest rate in the country. W. Wolfgang will share Q4 RSA dashboard that shows the different types of MSGs; GPA, grades, OTJ milestones, etc. The agency does not want to stagnate and thus are working on ways to continue progress this year, including developing new ways for offices to enter and track this data on their own. MSGs don't only apply to students, but this tends to be the most volume for most DRS offices.

Data for FY22 will be available directly. It's important for the SRC to see historical as well as current data. Ideally, the SRC should be included on other reports that DRS is already producing monthly and quarterly.

W. Arterberry reported that DRS did better on efficiency and cut down on days between Referral and Plan. In FY21, customers waited over a month less to get to Plan status than they did in the previous year. This is attributed to remote work eliminating distractions for field staff. Successful closures (down 16%) and unsuccessful closures (down 25%) are both down. The Rehabilitation Rate increased from 46 to 47%. Referrals are up this summer compared to this time last year. Progress is being made though we haven't yet bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.

Three out of five WIOA measures relate to the quality of employment and services provided. There is much attention on this. S. Sparks noted more collaboration with DVOPs to increase veteran referrals. The Workforce Development Unit (WDU) is also reaching out to other community groups (e.g. Rotaries) to increase outreach.

The Wildly Important Goals (WIG) scoreboard is tracked per office internally on a weekly basis. There is much variability between offices, which makes it difficult to make comparisons between them. Success, productivity and efficiency vary tremendously between offices except in cases of staffing shortages. They do try to look at those offices that are particularly successful to replicate their success across other offices. The Qualtrix surveying platform allows the Program Analyst to upload data which can be shared with a limited number of external stakeholders.

The DRS Navigator RFP grant was pulled back. Director Patrick can speak to why this is.

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

W. Arterberry reported that he asked for an update and hasn't received one. This project remains in the procurement process with the State.

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

W. Arterberry reviewed where this project left off. He prefers focusing on active customers and holding focus groups (15-18 in-depth interviews). The Stakeholder Committee may need to regroup and determine next steps.

L. Committee Reports

1. Operations (vacant, Committee Chair)

This committee consists of the Chairs of the other committees. The SRC is seeking a new Chair for this committee. We need to consult the by-laws and consider committees that are more aligned with what the SRC is doing. L. Henson will look into scheduling an Operations Committee meeting to review this.

2. Policy/Legislation (vacant, Committee Chair)

Nothing to report.

3. Member Recruitment (Cindy Montgomery, Committee Chair)

L. Henson noted that we have filled every open position on the Council and are now awaiting approval from the Governor's Office. We are looking forward to having new members join the Council. Some Council members will be timing out in July 2022 (Shelly, Matt and LaDonna). It is unclear if there are term limits for certain positions (e.g. SILC and CAP) requiring recertification from the Governor.

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

This committee is looking forward to the Strategic Planning session tomorrow. The results of this meeting will drive the development of the State/Unified Plan.

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

As noted above, the earlier discussion today regarding balanced scorecards and WIGs will help this committee to determine next steps for this fall.

5. Stakeholder (LaDonna Henson, Committee Chair)

L. Henson reported that the Stakeholder Committee has been working on the Satisfaction Survey, which is now under review by Fiscal. We are in our time period to do our Statewide Needs Assessment. We will look into scheduling a Stakeholder Committee meeting to begin this work.

ACTION ITEM: S. Sparks will assist with scheduling a Stakeholder Committee meeting.

ACTION ITEM: New members are encouraged to reach out to LaDonna with their committee selection, which is a requirement of service on the SRC.

J. Workforce Development Unit (Sherry Sparks, Manager)

S. Sparks reported that WDU saw an uptick in the number of business contacts between January and June 2021. They reported 318 contacts this month. They currently have a vacancy posted for the Belleville area, which will help immensely with outreach.

Four Unit members will be starting Business U Training leading to the Certified Business Engagement Professional national certification. This is a credential common among workforce development professionals. One unit member has already completed this credential.

WDU coordinated in the second annual Lake County job and resource fair held earlier this month. COVID precautions were followed. Staff has started to go out more in person. They are also planning the first virtual job fair in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

The Statewide Employer Recognition Awards will be held again this year (Employer of the Year and Partner of the Year and a new category for Innovation Award). These awards help to recognize model employers who hire people with disabilities and strive for accessibility and inclusion. Some of these will be awarded in person.

The Talent Acquisitions Portal (TAP) is a nationwide electronic job board that is restricted to VR customers. It helps to connect customers to employers, including those who are subject to federal hiring regulations to hire people with disabilities. They're helping to facilitate virtual job fairs. This forum allows for more quality interactions with employers.

The WIOA Summit (April 28-29, 2022) will offer in-person and virtual options.

III.  Updates from other Councils

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

S. Richardson reported that SILC received new funding to reach nine new counties to setup satellite offices. All 102 counties are now served by IL dollars in Illinois. S. Richardson will share information about upcoming virtual events targeted toward employers. Several noteworthy speakers from DRS, the Great Lakes ADA Center, Rush and other employers will be presenting. The goal is to help employers see the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

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

D. Hawkins noted that many of the topics addressed at SRC are also covered at BSPC. Hadley Institute, which was previously known for their Braille correspondence training, has completely changed their mission to become more of a profit-driven organization. BSPC is trying to find a way for blind people to access free Braille training remotely. Some CILs and blind training centers (like ICRE-Wood) still offer Braille training, but the benefit of Hadley was its accessibility. Braille instruction in school systems seems to be declining. The National Library Service is advocating for this by sending out free Braille displays to increase Braille literacy among students. SRC can support these efforts by advocating.

VI. New Business

No new business was brought forth today.

VII. Public Comment

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

VIII. Next Meeting

September 1: Strategic Planning session

November 9: Quarterly Meeting

IX. Adjourn

It was Moved (Hawkins), Seconded (Jackson), and Carried to adjourn. Meeting adjourned at 3:17pm. 

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

June  238 1,421 26.44