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Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE:
Leveraging Resources


Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE, Nashville TN, # E-9-4-3-0072

Grant recipient: The Arc of Tennessee

Project lead: The Arc of Tennessee


Subcontractors: Workforce Connections (local Workforce Investment Board for Knoxville), the University of Tennessee Center on Disability and Employment, and TransCen, Inc.

The Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE project was designed to expand the Tennessee Customized Employment Partnership (TCEP) from the Tennessee Career Center in Knoxville to other One-Stops across the state. As part of this replication effort, the Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE Grant funded TCEP hubs in Tennessee Career Centers in Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Columbia.

The project expanded and documented the capability of individuals transitioning from segregated environments to community employment using customized strategies to increase their earnings and economic power through participation in employment. This allowed people served by the Tennessee Olmstead WorkFORCE Grant to and live, work and fully participate in their communities. Another accomplishment of the grant was an employment campaign that served to heighten support among the Governor's cabinet, elected officials, employers, consumers, families, and the public.

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

All of the key partners participated in a statewide project management team. Team members shared successes, challenges, and ideas for accessing funds and services for individuals. The statewide team formed a braided funding subcommittee whose members included the state Department of Labor, the BPAO program, DMHDD, DMRS, Workforce Connections, and the state Council on Development Disabilities. The mission of the subcommittee was to develop the capacity of the project partners to construct braided funding strategies on both an individual and systems-wide basis, including identifying and pursuing new funding sources.

Letters of Understanding

Each hub (replication site) had a Customized Employment navigator to deliver services such as case management, self-determination, person-centered planning, job development, and initial job coaching. Job coaching and extended supports were delivered by designated CRPs that the One-Stop has established as eligible training providers. The hubs negotiated funding arrangements with their CRPs partners.

To create a stable funding system beyond the life of the grant, DRS and designated CRPs entered into Letters of Understanding (LOUs). The DRS supported employment LOU structured its payment points in the following manner:

Activity / Dollar Amount
Supplemental evaluation
1 community-based work site / $500
2 community-based work sites / $750
3+ community-based work sites / $1000
Job placement / $1500
Stabilization / $2000
30/60 day report / $600
Total / $5100

By the spring of 2006, each hub was in the process of setting up supported employment LOUs (see sample LOU). They anticipated that the Customized Employment navigators would provide self-determination, supplemental evaluation, person-centered planning, and placement services while CRPs provided job coaching, stabilization, and long-term supports. This relationship was initially formed with agencies that received funding from DMRS. DMRS provided payments to its partner CRPs for providing long-term employment services (beyond VR's mandated 90 days).

Unfortunately, there was no parallel support system for people with other disabilities, such as mental illness. One of the project's challenges was to collaborate with the state's disability systems to develop ways for CRPs to provide long-term support services. Recently, the Columbia hub entered into an LOU with one of the largest CRPs that supports people with mental illness in the state. The CRP agreed to provide long-term supports through its numerous other programs.

Braided Funding

One of the project's main goals was to braid funding to ensure comprehensive employment services for individuals with significant disabilities. To make this model work, relevant parties had to bring their services and/or funds to the table to enable an individual to obtain their employment goals. The project developed three policy papers discussing the concept of braided funding. Other policy papers were devoted to Individual Training Accounts and performance accountability under the Workforce Investment Act.

The project created a funding strategies planner designed to assist Customized Employment staff in gathering a range of information about each job seeker. This information helped identify the services and resources needed as well as those available to the individual. Completed shortly after the time of intake, this plan laid the groundwork for a roadmap to not only employment but to critical support services.

In one example, a job seeker who was on the waiting list for DMRS services (funding needed for long-term supports) was at great risk of losing his job. Fortunately, project staff accessed DRS funding for an assistive technology assessment at the East Tennessee Technology Access Center and necessary job accommodations. Additionally, they helped the family apply for SSI, and eventually create a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) and/or Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE) to help pay for long-term supports on the job.

In some instances, job coaching supports transitioned from project staff to the individual's day service provider, funded by DMRS. Some individuals, even those on the DMRS waiting list, were able to access Medicaid Waiver 1915(c) funds to support long-term job supports. Services were supplied through a network of community providers.

Some individuals funded for day services by DMRS were referred to TCEP by local provider agencies. In those cases, once TCEP helped the person find a job and become stabilized, the provider agency assumed responsibility for long-term supports to sustain employment. The person's previous DMRS day services funding was transitioned to fund these long-term supports. It is important to note that Tennessee, like most states, had three 1915(c) Home and Community-Based Waivers to facilitate Medicaid reimbursement for community services provided by community agencies. Each of these waivers included supported employment as an eligible service.

TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, was in crisis during the course of the project. Some people the project served lost their benefits. Because of this, a few individuals expressed the desire to find jobs that would provide health benefits.

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