Community Partner Update: July 2010

DHS Budget Update

DRS and our sister Divisions continue to work on what the FY11 Budget means for the agency. HB 859, passed by both the House and the Senate, woefully underfunded both the DHS Operations and Grants appropriation lines. The Senate left Springfield without passing the $3.7 billion borrowing package that the House had passed. While the Governor has been granted authority to expend a lump sum allocation to meet the state's needs, at this point in time it remains an uncertainty how this will affect DHS programs and providers. Stay tuned . . .

Fletcher Arbitration News

DRS is moving forward to replace the 200 contractual positions which Arbitrator Fletcher deemed to be covered by the AFSCME Collective Bargaining Agreement. At this point in time, nearly 100 individuals have been hired to replace these contractual staff. More than 50 Rehabilitation Case Coordinators and 40 Rehabilitation Counselor Trainees have been hired across the state as of this writing.

Competitive Employment Outcomes 

With a floundering economy for most of this past fiscal year, competitive outcomes have been harder to come by for our Vocational Rehabilitation customers. With the unemployment rate around 10%, the competition for job openings is unlike anything the agency has experienced for several decades. While DRS will have considerably fewer than 5,000 competitive closures in FY10, we expect a significant increase this fiscal year with the economy beginning to rebound.

ARRA Funding Update 

In June, DRS awarded funding to 50 community provider agencies in response to the RFP issued earlier in the spring for job placement services to adults with disabilities. These projects are funded through August 2011, with a total award value of $6,032,600.00. The purpose of these projects is to enable community providers to hire direct service staff workers who will in turn assist VR customers in becoming employed. The contract development process has begun, and we look forward to beginning to work with our providers on these important projects. DRS anticipates that award notices will be made shortly in the other RFP category, services to transition age youth with disabilities.

ADA Celebration 

July 26 marks the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In recognition of this, DHS is sponsoring a celebration at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago on July 22. Part of the day-long activities will include a job fair with approximately 20 private sector employers, who will be reaching out and hiring some DRS customers. DRS will also be sponsoring an Employer Recognition Breakfast as part of this historic event.

Office Reconsolidation Efforts 

DRS has been diligently working to decrease office rental expenses. Several office co-locations have occurred this past fiscal year. Our Benton DRS office relocated with the Human Capital Development (HCD) office right across the street; our Decatur DRS office moved in with the present HCD office; and our two East St. Louis DRS offices merged into one site. In August there are plans for both Rockford DRS offices to move in together at a separate location. We will keep you updated on these moves.

Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

DSDHH reached out to transition age customers and local businesses for a most unique training opportunity. Teamwork creates an effective learning opportunity for transition customers who are deaf and hard of hearing. DSDHH and the Employment Resource Unit visited five area high schools and conducted sixty practice interviews. Several employers, including multiple representatives from Walgreens and a representative from Hyatt Hotels, provided written feedback on all of the interviews. At one school, Walgreen's staff joined the transition customers for lunch and provided a "question and answer period" to learn from each other.

The transition customers and the school staff both expressed what a great opportunity it was for them to learn and to understand what Walgreens' management teams are looking for when hiring. The transition customers were very impressed that the 'bosses' wanted to learn from them. The purpose of this event was to provide transition customers who are deaf and hard of hearing the experience of participating in a job interview. The experience was designed to be as real as possible, which included utilizing a licensed interpreter.

Interview assessment worksheets were provided to teachers, RCDs and Transition Specialists to review with each student. Students received feedback related to the areas in which they performed well along with areas that they should continue to improve. Feedback included the following comments: "Thank you very much for coming. This was a fantastic experience for our students." "Great experience - hope we can collaborate again in the future."

The Ticket-to-Work Unit 

This has been revived with the hiring of a new staff person, Eric Mitchell. Eric is the first of three staff to be hired. With additional staff and growth, the Unit will be able to better track outcomes so that DRS can accrue more SSA reimbursement dollars for future customers.

State Plan for Independent Living 

The SPIL has been submitted to RSA for final approval. If approved, the new SPIL will go into effect October 1, 2010. There was significant involvement and input from SILC, DRS, INCIL, and several other community partners during the development process. As a result, a very pro-active and outcome-focused SPIL was developed. Thanks to all for your time, effort and commitment to people with disabilities.

Bureau of Home Services 

New service parameters and asset limits will be coming to HSP. We just are uncertain about when it will happen. The budget that was passed does assume implementation. However, the budget implementation act with changes necessary to move forward has not been signed as of this writing. Once that bill is signed, DRS will draft and submit emergency rules to implement the changes. The law will allow for rapid approval, but before the changes can be implemented, staff will have to be trained. Once they have been trained, we will move forward.

Community Reintegration Program 

CRP within the Home Services Program has served 137 persons to date and is expecting more transitions. Housing continues to be the number one barrier to reintegration. Currently there are 28 individuals waiting on housing.

HUD has a NOFA due in July for Housing Vouchers specifically for deinstitutionalization. There are eight entities in Illinois that are eligible for these vouchers that are specific for individuals transitioning out of long-term care facilities.

Because of the Fletcher Arbitration decision impacting contractual employees, many of our HSP offices have vacancies waiting to be filled. Naturally, we are very concerned about ensuring that MFP/CRP operates efficiently and that there are no gaps in service. Please contact Cathy Buchanan or Kris Smith regarding any casework/staffing issues.

Jo Ancell Retirement 

Jo Ancell announced her retirement from state government effective June 30, 2010. Ms. Ancell has 32 years of service in various positions including Rehabilitation Counselor, Rehabilitation Supervisor, and Assistant Bureau Chief. Ms. Ancell also excelled at writing policy and providing training on policy for staff across the state of Illinois. Ms. Ancell has been a very talented and dedicated employee, and she will certainly be missed.

Lottie Freeman Condolences 

DRS regrets to announce the passing of Ms. Lottie Freeman on June 9, 2010. Ms. Freeman began her state service with the Bureau of Blind Services in November 1992, where she served as a Rehabilitation Case Coordinator. In August 1995, she left to take a position as a Human Rights Investigator with the Department of Human Rights. In May 2000, Ms. Freeman returned to the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Bureau of Field Services, where she began her career in counseling as a Rehabilitation Counselor Trainee. At the time of her passing, Ms. Freeman was a Rehabilitation Counselor Senior in the Bureau of Field Services' Chicago Heights Office. Lottie will be greatly missed by all of her customers and colleagues here at DRS.