Customized Employment Grant in Utica, NY:
Grant number, name, and location: Customized Employment Grant, Utica, NY #E-9-4-3-0105
Grant recipient: Workforce Investment Board of Herkimer, Madison, and Oneida Counties
Project lead: Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) - New York State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency
Partners: Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, BRIDGES—Madison County Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Herkimer Area Resource Center, ARISE Child and Family Services, Mohawk Valley Community College, Mohawk Valley Council on Alcoholism and Additions, Peacemaker Program, Mid-York Child Care Coordinating Council, ARC of Oneida-Lewis County, Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL), Family Services of Mohawk Valley, Working Solutions One-Stop Career Centers (Herkimer County, Madison County, Utica, Rome)
- A small amount of flexible funding, available through the grant, was extremely effective in helping individuals address barriers that have limited their ability to work.
- A tool for self-identifying needs helped individuals using the One-Stop Career Center system (One Stop) to consider the range of issues that was potentially impacting their ability to work, assisted staff in identifying appropriate referrals to partner agencies, and provided critical data to the Workforce Investment Board (WIB to identify the resource needs of their customers.
Self-Directed Accounts Pilot Project
As part of their grant application, the CEG project allocated a component of funding to a self-directed account that could be used by individuals to support their move to employment. The independent living center (RCIL), a partner in the grant, was responsible for administering these funds. Individuals under the grant could be referred to the RCIL to receive assistance in accessing the funds to address their needs. Typically, the amounts required were very small and went toward such things as payment of a phone bill so an individual could contact employers or assistance with a month's rent to stabilize a living situation. Recipients of the payments were then able to focus on their job search and become employed. Part of the strength of this flexible funding is that it can be easily and quickly accessed. Other partner resources may have been able to help address some of these issues, but typically the bureaucratic processes required to access partner funds is so lengthy that it can't be done in time to meet an individual's needs. The resource of this small but flexible pool of money was a significant factor in the success of a number of individuals. So much so that the partners are looking into funding through a foundation to continue to make this service available to their customers.
The Self-Directed Accounts Pilot Project was adapted during the first year of the grant to ensure that funds were being used appropriately. Staff found they needed to more thoroughly research the resources available elsewhere in the community, since early in the process the self-directed accounts were accessed when other resources could have addressed an issue as effectively. The second area staff felt they needed to consider more carefully was gathering information on an individual's entire situation, to determine whether or not there were factors that needed to be addressed to decrease the likelihood of an "emergency" happening repeated times.
Drive to Success Program
In implementing the self-directed funding program, it became clear that a consistent problem individuals were experiencing was the maintenance and repair of older cars. Because of the rural nature of the community and the limited access to public transportation, individuals were very dependent on the use of private cars. Individuals frequently requested funds through the self-directed accounts to assist with car repairs, sometimes multiple times for the same car. Staff grew concerned about the value of putting money into old and unreliable vehicles and explored other strategies to address individual needs for reliable transportation.
The Drive to Success Program was an innovative public/private partnership to address this issue. A local community bank (Adirondack Bank) and a local auto dealer (Carbone Auto) worked with the RCIL to assist individuals with disabilities obtain low-interest loans on reasonably priced new cars (click here for more information). Funds from the self-directed accounts were used for the down payments, but the individuals were responsible for the loan payments. Prior to participation in the program, individuals were screened, required to participate in consumer credit counseling services, and received assistance in determining if they could budget to repay a loan. In some cases, Vocational Rehabilitation funds were used to assist with other car-related costs, such as registering the car and making insurance payments, but those funds could not be used for the down payment. The car dealership has assisted individuals in obtaining insurance.
To assist in the identification of potential needs of new One-Stop customers, the CEG developed a one-page "Service Screen" on which individuals could self-report any issues they felt might impact their ability to get a job (click here for more information). When individuals first registered at the One-Stop, they were given the form and asked to complete it with the other required materials. Staff working in the resource area used a "cheat sheet" to identify in-house or external resources and partners that could address the needs indicated by the individual. Staff could make a direct referral to a partner agency or provide contact information to customers so they could make the connection themselves. In addition to identifying needs, staff felt that the Service Screen was an effective way of communicating to new customers that the One-Stop had a diverse range of partners and resources available.
The Service Screen was originally designed under the project, with a specific focus on assisting individuals with disabilities. However, the range of needs covered on it are universal, and the state Department of Labor has adopted it for use in a grant to provide more intense services to individuals applying for disability benefits. As part of the unemployment orientation at the Herkimer, Madison and Oneida county One-Stops, individuals are asked to fill out the Service Screen. After the orientation, a labor-services representative goes over the answers with them during a re-employment service orientation. One goal of using the Service Screen is to identify individuals who may have barriers to re-employment and to provide them with more intensive services early on rather than waiting until the end of their unemployment eligibility.
At the completion of the grant, the Service Screen was being used only within One-Stops, but a goal of the project was for external partner staff to begin using it with their own customers, as a mechanism to increase referrals to other One-Stop services.
Managers at the One-Stops and the WIB director were also looking into how to effectively use the data gathered through the Service Screen. It was being considered as a tool for staff evaluation and identification of training needs. For instance, if a staff member was not making referrals based on information from the Service Screen or was making inappropriate referrals, the referral-tracking system would allow managers to identify those issues. In addition, the data in aggregate was useful in identifying community-service needs. The WIB director was looking at patterns in the needs identified and at whether or not there were sufficient supports in the workforce development area to address those needs.