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Blended Funding Case Summaries: Knoxville, TN

Tennessee Customized Employment Partnership

From the Policy Working Paper Series, Volume 1, Issue 2, a publication of the University of Tennessee Center on Disability and Employment

Blending funding and resources from both the generic workforce system and the disability system is a critical component of the Tennessee Customized Employment Partnership (TCEP), a demonstration project expanding the capacity of the Tennessee Career Centers at Knoxville to provide customized employment services to people with significant disabilities.

Blending of funding and resources supports the potential of job seekers with disabilities and provides the generic and disability workforce systems with the funding and resources to develop, support, and sustain services for people with significant disabilities. This principle is exemplified in the foundation TCEP is building in Knoxville.

Blended funding is working for Ashton, Mac, and Jimmy! Utilizing funding from multiple sources to provide supports to meet each person’s individual needs, TCEP staff have assisted each job seeker to obtain a rewarding job.

Ashton [1] was on the DMRS Waiting List and receiving no support services. TCEP, using funding from DRS and Social Security Work Incentives, supported him to get a job at Fort Sanders Parkwest Hospital. He is a valued employee who is proud of his job.

Mac was receiving intensive supervision in a DMRS funded day program. TCEP supported him to get a job at Bellacino’s Deli. He enjoys socializing with co-workers on weekends, and he is described by his employer as “irreplaceable.”

Jimmy is on the DMRS waiting list. TCEP staff supported Jimmy to get his “dream job” at THE POINT radio station. Jimmy now works under the supervision of company staff and proudly tells everyone about his employment at the station.

TCEP’s funding by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy has paid for Customized Employment services provided by project staff. Customized Employment services are appropriate to be charged to the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), the Division of Mental Retardation Services (DMRS), and Workforce Investment Act resources. These resources will allow the project to be sustained beyond the grant period.

Ashton, Mac, and Jimmy each came to TCEP with different employment goals and support needs. TCEP accessed funding from various sources to support successful Customized Employment plans for each of them. Each placement is firmly grounded in consumer choice, one of the project’s core principles. The following is a summary of the blended funding strategies that were used in each plan.


After exiting high school, Ashton needed adult supports and services from DMRS. However, because he was placed on the DMRS Waiting List, there was no immediate prospect of DMRS funding for long-term employment services. When Ashton’s family sought services from TCEP, staff assessed the types of employment he wanted and his support needs. The project accessed DRS funding for an assistive technology assessment at the East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC). Staff also assisted Ashton’s family to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which in concert with a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) or Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE) will assist with long-term employment services and transportation. His job at Fort Sanders Parkwest Hospital was the direct result of a referral from a Career Center Specialist to TCEP. Recognizing that Ashton would require more intensive services than the project was able to provide, staff were able to arrange for DRS funding for intensive services. In his first year, Ashton has grown to be a valued employee who enjoys his job immensely. His success exemplifies the belief that a portion of the people on the DMRS Waiting List can be placed in employment without DMRS extended supports.


Mac was referred to TCEP by a local DMRS provider agency. At that time, he was funded by DMRS for intensive supervision in a sheltered day program. Mac was subsequently placed in a job at Bellacino’s Deli. TCEP staff have provided needed onsite supports. He has worked at Bellacino’s for almost 2 years. TCEP staff have been collaborating with Mac’s DMRS provider agency to shift his current day services funding to Supported Employment and for the agency to assume extended job coaching responsibilities. His success confirms that people with very significant challenges can be employed through Customized Employment services from Career Centers.


Jimmy is also on the DMRS Waiting List. Based on his choice, TCEP staff placed Jimmy in a job at THE POINT radio station. Staff also accessed DRS funding for initial costs of transportation by the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency (ETHRA). After providing initial onsite supports, staff faded and Jimmy now works with supports provided by his supervisor and co-workers. His success not only highlights the ability of natural supports to be long-term solutions but also that some people on the DMRS Waiting List can be employed without long-term DMRS funding.

Concluding Thoughts

The experiences of these three job seekers demonstrate that the Tennessee Career Centers at Knoxville have successfully developed capacity to provide Customized Employment services for people with significant disabilities. Staff have effectively implemented Customized Employment services and have accessed and blended funding from multiple sources. The TCEP model holds promise for expanding employment options for people with significant disabilities in Tennessee and replicating the Customized Employment model at Career Centers statewide.

Issues Remain

Issue for Ashton

To ensure that Ashton’s plan for long-term employment supports is sustained, TCEP will explore the possibility of accessing funds for long-term employment services for which he may be eligible under the DMRS Waiting List Agreement.

Issue for Mac

TCEP will assist in preparing Mac’s DMRS provider agency to assume responsibility for long-term employment services.

Issue for Jimmy

To ensure that there is sufficient support for Jimmy at work, TCEP will assist Jimmy and his family in accessing any DMRS funds that he may be eligible for under the Waiting List Agreement.

[1] Names have been altered to protect the job seekers’ privacy.

Copyright 2004, Center on Disability and Employment. All Rights Reserved.

This newsletter is published by the Center on Disability and Employment of the University of Tennessee on behalf of Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE. The University of Tennessee is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA institution in the provision of its education and employment programs and services. PAN: R01-1790-004-002-05. Funded under a grant supported by the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor, grant # E-9-4-3-0072. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Labor.

For more information about these case studies, please contact:
Windie Wilson
(865) 544-5200 (voice)

Julie Huber
865-974-4487 (voice)
865-974-9400 (TTY)

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