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Welfare Reform: Linking TANF and VR.

Through implementation of welfare reform, a considerable amount of attention has been given to what factors contribute most significantly to long-term welfare dependency. As many of us in the vocational rehabilitation (VR) field have known for years, one factor that appears to have serious implications for those labeled "hardest-to-serve" is the presence of disabilities. As welfare reform advocates move away from labels that seem to indicate a problem or deficiency with the participant and toward a redesign of program response, a closer look at the connection between a participant's disabilities or those of a family member and that participant's long-term welfare dependency is imperative. The state/ federal VR partnership has, for almost 80 years, addressed the specific barriers to employment facing individuals with disabilities. With a growing acceptance of data that indicate between 30 and 40 percent of welfare recipients have disabilities, states have begun to call on the expertise and infrastructure of state VR agencies to partner in providing services to welfare recipients with disabilities.

Given its long history in providing employment services to individuals with disabilities, VR is, in many respects, a valuable asset to welfare reform efforts on the state and local levels. In fact, many states around the country have begun to build partnerships between the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program (which replaces the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, program) and VR. While it may be too early in most areas to gauge the success of these partnerships, indications are that they are proving beneficial to the overall success of welfare reform.

There are many ways in which VR and TANF can partner, but in an effort to provide information about some of the types of partnerships that currently exist, RSA has compiled abstracts from a few state VR agencies. They were chosen for their representative characteristics and should not be considered an exhaustive list of states with effective models of coordination. I hope that if your state agency conducts an innovative partnership that you will pass this information along to me.

Within some or all of these partnerships, there are several characteristics that stand out:

* Organizational Structure of TANF and VR--In several examples, TANF and VR are located under the same umbrella agency of state government. While this does not necessarily dictate a close working relationship, it appears to foster cooperation between the two entities.

* TANF and VR Co-Location of Personnel--Where co-location of agency personnel exists, it seems to stem from local conditions, such as involvement in one-stop employment and training centers or similar systems. The co-location appears to make referral of TANF recipients who are likely to be eligible for VR services easier. Also, co-location has meant a better means of addressing the needs of "walk-ins" with disabilities than might otherwise exist.

* Contracts, Cooperative Agreements and Protocols--In some states, the VR agency is unable to serve all eligible individuals with the resources available for the VR program. In those instances, an order of selection for services, serving first those individuals with the most significant disabilities, must be established. Individuals who cannot be selected immediately for services are placed on a waiting list.

For those TANF recipients whose disabilities do not meet VR eligibility criteria or criteria for open categories in a state VR agency's order of selection, formal agreements seem to be one solution to the problem of how to ensure the provision of specialized services. These agreements allow for the formal recognition, by both TANF and VR, of the requirements of their programs, and the contracts, where they exist, allow the use of TANF funds by the VR agency to provide services for which there are insufficient VR funds.

* VR and TANF Requirements--One of the biggest obstacles to VR and TANF cooperation, according to front-line personnel from both entities, is the time limit associated with TANF participation and the lack of any such limits in the VR program. A solution that seems to be working in some states is an agreement on the part of both programs that once an individual is determined eligible for VR services and a vocational plan is written the execution of that plan is considered a fulfillment of an individual's work requirement. The average length of time that a VR client receives services is 2 years. Consequently, most TANF recipients receiving VR services should complete their VR plan prior to losing TANF benefits.

Following are abstracts of how this partnership is constructed and works in several different states.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, the relationship between VR and TANF is contractual (VR is the contractor) and covers the process of referral, evaluation and possible VR services for TANF recipients. Those TANF recipients who, based on a disability or medical condition, have received a deferral from the work requirements of Welfare-to-Work and those recipients applying for deferrals based on disability or medical condition will be referred to VR for evaluation and possible services.

The local county TANF case manager is responsible for making referrals to VR. VR and TANF personnel are not presently co-located. VR counselors are responsible for visiting TANF offices on an established itinerant basis. VR and TANF are working to establish an agreed upon computer database of information and commonly agreed upon referral, reporting and billing criteria.

The language in the contractual agreement addresses such issues as TANF time limits and VR requirements for informed choice. The language of the contract states that when a customer has been determined eligible for rehabilitation services and either refuses to participate or declines to complete a [rehabilitation plan] without sufficient reason, a copy of the case closure documents will be forwarded to TANF Such information will substantiate decisions for TANF to impose sanctions. This policy is to be clearly conveyed to each TANF recipient referral.

At this time, the VR agency is under an order of selection that limits the agency's ability to provide services to non-severely disabled clients. The TANF contract will provide additional resources to VR that will allow for services to be provided to a significant number of new clients.

Colorado

Before the TANF law was passed in this state, Colorado VR and the Denver Department of Social Services began to develop a pilot project to help meet the employment needs of TANF recipients. VR and Denver TANF staff agreed that a number of clients on TANF were people with disabilities. Both VR and Denver TANF began discussions to initiate a pilot project to coordinate efforts.

The VR counselor brings expertise about disability-related employment issues and services to the project. The social services caseworker brings expertise about the TANF program and child care services to the project. Through the pilot project, the social services caseworker is educated about the VR program, and the VR counselor is educated about TANF With this information, a TANF caseworker knows which clients to refer to VR. This simplifies collaboration and coordination among the TANF caseworker, the VR counselor and the TANF recipient to ensure progress toward the same goal. This coordination makes sharing information and coordinating employment goals simpler, avoids duplication and allows for special services when necessary.

VR expanded the concept to five other Colorado counties--three are in the Denver metropolitan area (Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas); the others are El Paso (includes Colorado Springs) and Pueblo Counties. Those TANF agencies contribute 25 percent of the VR counselor's salary and almost all of the diagnostic and training costs for the jointly served clients. As a result of these projects, it is expected that 290 disabled TANF clients will become employed this year, 711 next year and 1,103 during the third year of the project.

Kansas

Kansas is one of the states in which TANF and VR organizationally reside under the same umbrella agency. There is some co-location of services, particularly on the local level, and statewide there is a strong knowledge of cross-programmatic requirements. Through the one-stop employment and training centers, some VR and TANF offices share intake and assessment functions.

Kansas has addressed the TANF time limit and its conflict with the more flexible nature of VR services. The TANF office counts most activities called for in individuals' VR employment plans as job skills training for the purposes of meeting the TANF work requirement. That cooperation and understanding solve one of the more contentious issues facing these partnerships.

Oregon

VR and TANF reside under the same umbrella state government entity here, facilitating a strong relationship, but one which is more informal than contracts or other mandates. Referrals are made at the staff level, with some VR offices co-located with TANF. In addition, VR has out-stationed staff in the State Employment Department and other partner offices. TANF and VR can generate computer lists of mutual clients and plans to create a common computer database through the one-stop system.

TANF clients who are mutual VR clients with a VR plan are exempted from the TANF time limits. In addition, Oregon's TANF agency has tapped private nonprofit contractors (e.g., Goodwill Industries) which have a history of working with individuals with disabilities. This should facilitate effective service provision for those individuals with less severe disabilities who might not be able to receive services under an order of selection and prevent a deluge of VR referrals from TANF.

Washington

A voluntary relationship between Washington VR and TANF exists; however, because of the way the two programs are structured within the same umbrella agency of state government, coordination is required. A written interdivisional protocol for referral and coordination of services is under development by the two agencies. Both agencies have agreed that referrals to VR will be managed to ensure that the agency is not deluged with TANF referrals.

While some VR and TANF offices are co-located on the local and regional levels, staff believes that this is not necessarily the key element for success. Instead, the quality of the relationships--trust, cooperation and communication--among key players at the local level are most important. A database is under development that would allow VR and TANF to identify common clients.

The draft protocol specifies that referral from TANF to VR will be voluntary, based on the wishes of the client not as a mandate from a case manager. Once VR eligibility is established, it has been agreed by both agencies that elements of informed choice will prevail in development of a plan of service and that a VR employment plan will also serve as an individual's TANF work plan.

Conclusion

As has been demonstrated by the examples above, there are some partnerships between TANF and VR that are already in place and, while it may be a little early to evaluate completely, indications are that they are working. Issues such as TANF's time limits, VR's eligibility requirements and other programmatic limitations have presented challenges to the agencies, but some have found ways to confront them.

There are programs in other states that are working well. In a future column, I hope to report on some of the states that were not included here due to space limitations. Rest assured that I will continue to pass along information on this topic in the coming months.

Fredrick K. Schroeder Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration
COPYRIGHT 1999 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; vocational rehabilitation
Author:Schroeder, Fredric K.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Words:1860
Previous Article:News.
Next Article:Supporting Disability: An Historical Perspective.
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