Rehabilitation Services ends waiting list for jobseekers with most significant disabilities
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services has reopened job preparation and employment services for a category of jobseekers with the most severe disabilities known as Priority Group 1, effective February 15.
Vocational Rehabilitation counselors and technicians from DRS’ two employment divisions, Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, will begin immediately serving jobseekers transferred from the waiting list.
DRS must continue to defer services to clients with disabilities in priority groups 2 and 3. The opening of priority group 1 will allow DRS to serve people with the most severe disabilities first and later offer services to those in the remaining groups.
"If funds are not available to serve everyone, those applicants with the most significant disabilities are served first because they need help most to become employed," Tracy Brigham, Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired administrator, said. "Others with less significant barriers to employment have to remain on waiting lsits when we have limited funding."
Wait lists occurred in 2017 due to budget restrictions. Then unprecedented changes brought about by the COVID shutdowns extended the length of time the waitlists were in place. Since 2017, DRS has moved 20,093 applicants from waiting lists to active caseloads.
“The three pillars of resources we look at to open or close a priority group are budget, staffing and vendor resources,” DRS Executive Director Melinda Fruendt said. “Budget appropriations have remained flat, but sufficient funding is available for the current year and our analysis shows that we can absorb the influx of new clients into existing caseloads.”
DRS contracts with vendors across the state to provide clients with goods and services managed by staff to help clients reach their employment goals. Vendor resources refers to the capacity of community partners to meet demand.
Only new applicants are affected by waiting lists. Current clients will continue to be served at the same levels.
“We are doing everything we can to end delays, which are a temporary budget control measure, so that applicants with disabilities can start getting the help they need to go to work and become taxpayers,” Mark Kinnison, Vocational Rehabilitation administrator, said. “We will continue to monitor expenditures closely in order to keep serving as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”
The state earns four federal matching dollars for every state dollar appropriated for these DRS employment programs. The high match is an indication of strong federal support and generates federal revenue for the state of Oklahoma.
In 2022, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services divisions provided counseling, medical and psychological services, training, job placement assistance and other services to 11,458 Oklahomans with disabilities.
Federal reports show that 1,293 clients became employed and no longer needed DRS services. These Oklahomans earned an annual average of $26,793 and paid annual average taxes of $4,019 last year.
To reach the nearest DRS Vocational Rehabilitation or Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired office, visit https://www.okdrs.gov/office-locator or phone 800-487-4042.
For more information
Jody Harlan, DRS Communications Director