Reform 2020 promotes empowerment

People with disabilities and the challenges they face with employment was the topic when Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner when Lucinda Jesson met with a group of employers and employees in downtown St. Paul to talk about a part of Governor Mark Dayton’s 2013 budget.

Among the employees was Scott, a 17-year employee at Securian Financial Group. “I keep myself pretty independent but I have help when I need it,” Scott told Jesson.

Scott is able to live in his own apartment in downtown St. Paul and walk to work. Over the years, Scott has received help in meeting his goals from Lifework Services. Lifework provides employment opportunities and other services for people with disabilities. Lifework has had an employment partnership with Securian since 1997.

Helping more people live and work as Scott does is a proposal titled “Work: Empower and Encourage Independence.” It is part of a package of Reform 2020 legislation proposed by the governor to reform Medical Assistance (MA) for the future. This particular proposal envisions a future in which more people with disabilities, like Scott will be able to hold a living wage job, have their own place to call home, enjoy an active social and community life, and be able to have access to help when it is needed.

Upon federal approval, the proposal would create a demonstration project providing navigation for a targeted group of MA recipients. The focus would be on young people with disabilities looking to enter the workforce.

“Navigation” and “navigators” are the buzzwords for the help needed to access services from different systems and organizations. The Reform 2020 proposal invests about $400,000 in the next biennium in health care and employment services provided by navigators employed by community organizations. The navigators will help participants find and keep competitive employment, plan for health insurance and benefits, act as a liaison between the participant and their health care provider when necessary, and help participants integrate other services they receive into their life.

Eligible participants, primarily young adults, would include MA expansion recipients with a potentially disabling severe mental illness, MA for Employed Persons with Disabilities or MA recipients exiting foster care. All of these participants must be between age 18 and 26. Others who could benefit from the program would include MA recipients in transition from the Department of Corrections, and parents in the Minnesota Family Investment Program who have turned to cash assistance as minor parents or because of the demands of caring for a seriously ill family member.

The proposed employment and navigation supports are designed to help people achieve personal goals, increase income and decrease loss of health care services while also delaying or reducing application for Social Security disability benefits. Success of the program will be measured by participants’ success in maintaining housing and employment, which will in turn help them get and keep housing. About $543,000 in savings is projected for the state’s 2015-16 budget as a result of participants needing fewer and less expensive services.

The proposal builds on other efforts and developments to promote employment and earnings for people with disabilities. It is modeled after the Stay Well, Stay Working program implemented by our agency with federal funding from 2006 to 2009 as a Demonstration to Maintain Independence and Employment. That demonstration also created a coordinated set of behavioral health care and support services for employed people with serious mental illness. An evaluation of that program showed that, compared to a control group of non-participants, program participants had significantly increased earnings, showed greater improvements in functioning, had greater access to and higher use of health services and were less likely to apply for Social Security benefits.

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DHS has taken steps to help make work a part of a life plan by supporting the Disability Linkage Line and its Disability Benefits 101 (DB 101) information as an interactive online benefit estimators tool. DB 101 offers people consistent information in real-time. It helps people make informed choices about their work, their income and benefits and maximize their potential.

These initiatives demonstrate strong support for people with disabilities to work and fulfill their goals, as well as a commitment to invest in the help people sometimes need.

Reform 2020 is an initiative to reform Medical Assistance to meet the challenges of rising health care costs and a growing aging and disabled population while still providing the services Minnesotans need to lead fulfilling lives.

Learn more about Reform 2020 on the DHS website at dhs.mn.us. For more information about DB101 and employment supports for people with disabilities, contact the Disability Linkage Line® at 1-866-333-2466.

Alex Bartolic is director of the Disability Services Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

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