OKLAHOMA CITY – The state Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) reluctantly issued an order, effective Tues., Feb. 21, at 8 a.m., to temporarily delay vocational rehabilitation and employment services to all new applicants until funding becomes available to pay for their services.
Currently, 443 individuals are on waiting lists.
Staff will continue to serve more than 18,000 individuals currently in the system, which last year helped 2,812 Oklahomans with disabilities become successfully employed.
More than 22,300 Oklahomans have been served since Oct. 1, 2011.
DRS previously opened waiting lists for categories of clients with less significant barriers to employment on Feb. 3 and Aug. 15, 2011.
Before service delays began in August, DRS had experienced two years and three months with no waiting lists – the longest time in agency history.
“In three years, the number of customers served by our Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services divisions exploded by 38.6 percent,” DRS Director Michael O’Brien, Ed.D. “This means DRS has been incredibly successful in getting Oklahomans with disabilities on the road to employment, but this increased demand has stretched limited funding and staff capacity past the breaking point.”
On top of $7.04 million in escalating medical costs for clients, state tuition increased significantly for DRS clients enrolled in Oklahoma colleges and universities.
O’Brien explained that waiting lists are a cost control mechanism mandated under the federal Rehabilitation Act for vocational rehabilitation programs in all states at times when demand for services exceeds capacity.
“DRS must categorize clients in groups based on the impact of their disabilities on employment,” O’Brien said. “If we don’t have the capacity to serve everyone, applicants with less significant barriers to employment are the first to be placed on waiting lists.”
“In a sense, this is a cost control measure that right-sizes demand until funding and resources are available to serve more clients,” O’Brien said.
The Rehabilitation Act does not permit DRS to cap or limit services needed by current clients in order to go to work. Instead, the agency must control costs and absorb inflationary increases in client goods and services by delaying services to new applicants. Current clients will continue to be served at the same level.
Vocational rehabilitation and employment programs earn four federal dollars for every state dollar appropriated.
“We are doing everything we can to end service delays, which are a temporary budget control measure, so that applicants with disabilities can start getting the help they need to go to work,” O’Brien said.
DRS staff will continue to interview all applicants, gather diagnostic information and determine eligibility for the vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.
When funds are available to pay for services, waiting lists will open first for applicants whose disabilities have the greatest impact on employment. Applicants will be served on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on their application dates.
Approximately 656,619 Oklahomans, or 15.8 percent, ages 5 and over, have disabilities according to 2009 U.S. Census data.