Comunity Partner Update: March 2006

The following "Community Partner Update" was electronically disseminated to community partners, DRS Central Support Leadership Team, and DRS supervisors at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 3.

Governor Blagojevich Announces 2007 State Budget 

Before a joint session of the General Assembly, Governor Rod Blagojevich introduced the FY '07 Budget on February 15, 2006. The division fared pretty well in the budget proposal, increasing its Home Services Program by $33 million over last year's spending and increasing its GRF Match for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program by more than $800,000. These increases will allow HSP to grow at a rate of 100+ net new cases per month; the increase for VR will help in offsetting the lack of adequate federal increases in the past several years.

Legislative Update: SB 2330 

Senate Bill 2330 creates the Blind Vending Act (the bill sponsor is Senator Jacobs). The measure replaces the existing Blind Persons Operating Vending Facilities Act which pertains to the Business Enterprise Program for the Blind within DHS. The new Act requires state agencies to give priority, instead of preference, to qualified vendors who are blind or visually impaired to run vending operations on all state owned or leased property.

Negotiations are ongoing with the bill sponsor, the Illinois Committee of Blind Vendors, various state units, and other interested parties. Several amendments have been added to the measure. The majority of the discussions have focused on the percentage of profits a state agency will receive from the blind vendor in state owned facilities. In many instances, a state owned facility receives a percentage of the profits and uses those funds to provide extras to customers that cannot be provided for with state or federal funds.

Appropriation Hearings 

As you are aware, appropriation hearings will be held next week on the 2007 State Budget. The House hearing will be held on Monday, March 6 at 10:00 a.m. in the JRTC Auditorium in Chicago. The Senate hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 7 at 4:00 p.m. in Room 212 of the Capitol.

Interpreter Rate Increase 

DRS is increasing its rates for sign language interpreters effective April 1, 2006 [no joke]. These rates have not increased since 1992 and the higher rates will make it much easier to accommodate DRS employees and customers who are deaf. Within the last 13 years, several changes have occurred in the field of interpreting. As the pool of interpreters has remained much smaller than the demand for services requires; costs have continued to rise. Video relay services have also depleted the reservoir of interpreters. Many of the highly skilled interpreters are working for these services where they have regularly scheduled hours, no outside travel, and fringe benefits. With the opportunity to earn much more than DRS is able to currently offer, interpreters are accepting our assignments less and less.

Rates for interpreters holding ISAS levels 1, 2 and 3 or NAD levels 1, 2 and 3 will remain the same. Interpreters holding the following credentials will be paid hourly as follows: ISAS Level 4 and NAD Level 4 at $31.50; ISAS Level 5 and NAD Level 5 at $33.00; RID: IC or TC at $34.50; RID CI or CT or IC/TC at $40.00 and RID CSC or CI/CT at $45.00. These higher rates will make it much easier to accommodate DRS employees and customers who are deaf.

Community Forum 

DRS held a Customer Forum at Progress Center for Independent Living on February 27. In all likelihood, the large attendance at the forum was a result of the timing of the event (the budget address and DHS Appropriations hearings are imminent), and the fact that it has been two years or so since we have convened such a meeting.

During this forum, DRS staff in attendance attempted to garner feedback for the program, got ideas and communicated with stakeholders about the program, and followed up on individual complaints from Customers. The issues raised were almost uniformly HSP in nature. The questions asked by stakeholders, which were interesting and well thought out, included: "How does DRS publicize its programs and services?", "When does the state pay for augmentative communication devices?", "Why did the DRS Office reduce my personal assistant hours?", "Can you send me some newsworthy stuff in braille?", and "Under what circumstances would HSP make an individual whose primary disability was Bi-Polar Disorder eligible for the program?"

Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disability Training 

Do you know what Orthostatic Hypotension is? What about Autonomic Dysreflexia? Which disabilities are likely to encounter these physical issues? These and other questions will be answered as Scott Forbes of Region V Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program begins training DRS staff on The Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disability. This training will help participants review and refresh their knowledge of the systems of the body and disabilities related to those systems. The disabilities selected are those disabilities most frequently reported by DRS customers in the past fiscal year.

This training will utilize Problem Based Learning to focus on the possible functional limitations of disabilities and the impact of the psychological and sociological factors of these disabilities. The Problem-Based Learning design will empower participants to use reference materials available to them in their offices and give them practice in gathering information. This much needed initiative will benefit both HSP and VR staff.

Future of VR 

Jeff Standerfer, Bureau Chief of DRS Field Services, recently represented the state at a "Future of VR" Meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. More than 100 advocates and VR staff from around the country participated. The meeting was hosted by the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR).

Over 130 participants attended the first full-day session which provided an opportunity for the VR community, including advocates, community rehabilitation programs, parents and other stakeholders, to present testimony on the state of the past and present VR program. The second day was a closed session for VR directors and staff who shared their reactions to the testimony offered during the first day and discussed varied themes that had emerged around five key questions which CSAVR had asked everyone to consider.

We anticipate that CSAVR will provide a synopsis of this discussion as well as an analysis in the near future. It was an eye-opening, thought provoking two days, which could lead to several important changes in the way the VR Program serves customers in the years ahead. Additional information from this meeting is posted on the CSAVR website.

RFP Update 

DRS issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in January to establish a new methodology for purchasing job placement services from community rehabilitation program agencies. The current method provides a lump-sum payment to the community agency when all steps in the job placement process are completed. The new milestone method provides for incremental payments when various steps in the process are completed. DRS believes that more individuals will receive services and that community agencies will have a more secure funding base using the milestone method.

DRS received 21 proposals from community agencies in response to the RFP. A total of $150,000 in new funds is available to applicant agencies, with a maximum award of $50,000. DRS anticipates funding three new provider agencies when the process is completed in May. Proposals are currently being reviewed and scored by review teams. Each proposal is scored by a team of three reviewers. Each team includes DRS staff as well as one external reviewer.

Interagency Committee on Employees with Disabilities Annual Legislative Reception 

The Interagency Committee on Employees with Disabilities (ICED) will host its Second Annual Legislative Reception on March 28. The reception will take place from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at the State Library in Springfield. This event is designed to provide opportunities for employees in state governmental agencies to meet and interact one-on-one with their legislators. Last year's event, attended by Senators DeMuzio, Cronin and others, was considered a successful first step.

Workforce Investment Act Update 

We continue to hear from our contacts in Washington that there still may be action on the WIA Reauthorization this year. There may be an impending meeting between Senators Durbin, Enzi, and Kennedy to discuss what would need to happen to have S. 1021 receive a vote on the floor of the Senate this spring. Thanks to all who called and wrote to our U.S. Senators, your advocacy may still result in a bill passing the Senate and going to conference committee this year. Stay tuned!

State Rehabilitation Council Update 

The State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) held its quarterly meeting and legislation day in Springfield on February 22 and 23. Director Kilbury met with SRC council members and gave an update on the selection of impartial hearing officers, the appeals process, and talked about the impact of the Governor's proposed budget on DRS programs. In addition, SRC members developed their 2006 Legislative Priorities and discussed them with elected officials at the Capitol. For more information concerning SRC or meeting dates, please contact Matt Abrahamson, staff liaison at 217/782-2280 (v/tty).

Quarterly Regional Consortiums of Transition Planning Committees 

DRS is facilitating Quarterly Regional Transition Planning Committee (TPC) Consortiums throughout March. These consortiums provide a forum to address transition issues, provide networking opportunities, and facilitate information sharing among local TPC members, VR staff, educators, post-secondary schools, consumers, community partners, parents, and state agencies. Invited guest speakers include: David Spacek, Illinois Department of Transportation; Kevin Dill, Champaign Special Education Cooperative; Gary Hake and Renee Lumpkin of local Southern Illinois Case Coordination and Community Services Options, respectively; and Myra Christian of Family Resource Center on Disabilities.

Goal Ball Anyone?

Marjorie Olson and Rob Kilbury attended the second ever goal ball contest at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired on February 21. Goal ball is a fast-paced game that includes an auditory ball, a goal the width of a basketball court, and three defenders with blindfolds per side. While both the boys and girls teams lost to Missouri School for the Blind, the competition was spirited and the participants and observers had a great time.