Minnesota VR was excited to introduce rapid engagement and embedding financial specialists into service teams. Kim believes that it provides individuals with the information they need from the beginning so that they will know the impact of work on their benefits. She described it as, “A wrap-around focus where you’ve got everybody that’s going to be working with an individual gets on board right away and is working actively and closely with the individual customer to help them achieve their employment goal.”
Kim is the director of Minnesota’s public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. She oversees a network of 350 staff who are located throughout Minnesota and work directly with individuals with disabilities, helping them secure jobs in the community.
She believes that the mission of her Voc Rehab offices is not only to provide intensive wraparound services for clients, but to also get them off benefits and back into the workforce in jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage and are the path to a career.
Our goal is that those services will assist individuals and Minnesotans with disabilities in being fully integrated into their communities.
Integrating a financial specialist from the first coversations with a client allows those individuals to know the impact of work on their SSDI benefits. This knowledge alleviates some of the fear and hesitation that often holds clients back.
It [financial counseling] has to be real-time, it has to be made immediately available for people to overcome the apprehensions and fears that they have about what it would mean for them to work in terms of the impact on their benefits.
The quality of financial information is equally important as access. Kim explains that individuals working with their VR offices need more than a referral to another agency; they need a specialist to be present and involved in the client’s conversations. This shift in process creates a sustainable model that gives every individual access to benefits information.
The other significant shift that Kim has seen in Minnesota is the implementation of rapid engagement. VR agencies have altered their service delivery models, incorporating rapid engagement as a core element. Reducing the waiting time before an individual can develop an individual plan for employment has inspired VR clients throughout the state to re-enter the workforce. Kim states, “They [clients] want to see difference, they want to see change, they want to be working sooner rather than later.”
The desire for change comes not only from clients, but from the Minnesota VR system as well. With significant policy changes stemming from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that encourage VR to focus more on transition-aged youth, the Minnesota system has found itself struggling with fiscal constraints.
There has to be a recognition that resources are limited, and that if you are directing us to invest more of our resources and services to transition-age youth, that you will take away services that are available to adults... We can serve students, we can serve adults. Do we have the resources needed to do both?
Kim notes that while financial challenges face the Minnesota VR system, it is important that VR not become complacent. She believes that in an environment with changing demands, the VR system needs to remain relevant and to change with the world around them.
Despite a constantly evolving system, Kim keeps one mission in mind:
If Minnesota VR can help one person … fully participate in the workforce, then we’ve done our job.
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The SGA Project is funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education Grant # H235L100004