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Montana Choice, Control, Career:
Leveraging Resources

07/2007

Project Overview

Grant number, name, and location: Montana Choice, Control, Career (MCCC), Helena, MT, E-9-4-3-0123

Grant recipient: Montana Job Training Partnership

Project lead: Montana Job Training Partnership

Subcontractors: Roberts Consulting; The Rural Institute at the Univeristy of Montana; Lone Eagle Consulting (a training and TA resource and four One-Stop Career Centers (in Butte, Cut Bank, Glasgow, and Hamilton)

Key Lessons/Accomplishments

Montana's innovations have been particularly successful in dealing with issues related to braided and self-directed funds. In most situations in Montana, an individual seeking to establish a business determines his or her needs for equipment and support and then approaches various agencies for the support of each item based on the funding available from the agencies in question.

Grant Funding

A large percentage of the MCCC grant funding was allotted directly to customers. In many cases, this funding filled the gap for individuals who had expended their public benefits or who had not registered for them in the first place. However, in many cases, funding still affected various state systems.

In most shared-funding situations, flexible grant funding, which can be applied quickly and largely at the direction of local implementers and customers, was the first "cash on the barrelhead" in self-employment ventures. When other systems saw that some money had already been applied to the start-ups, they were more likely to contribute as well. This strategy reduced objections from agencies who would otherwise have considered the ventures an unsupportable risk.

PASS Funding

Many of the businesses supported by the MCCC project used PASS funding, through the Social Security Administration, as their cornerstone. PASS monies are often cited as the most underused form of support, and accessing them can be a complicated process. First, applicants must be recipients of Social Security benefits (SSI or SSDI). Second, participants must write up a plan for how the funding (essentially a re-allotment of the cash benefits they would have received otherwise) will assist them in becoming economically self-sufficient (click here for more information). Lastly, continued use of the funds requires that the individual be making strides toward this goal, though adjustments can be made if expectations established in the original plan prove unrealistic.

Typically, the funding is carved out of standard SSI cash benefits and allowed to accumulate in an account that is not counted as part of the individual's resources (a consideration when it comes to eligibility for benefits). However, in Montana, individuals are able to take out loans to purchase equipment and then use the PASS funding as payment against the loan. In this way, they don't have to wait for sufficient cash resources to accumulate before getting on with the business of starting a business. What's more, many community banks in Montanawill take an approved PASS plan as a sort of "guarantee" on a loan and are accustomed to working with SSA to facilitate loans.

PASS plans are particularly useful for the purchase of expensive or large-ticket items, such as equipment or technology. PASS plans can typically be used more flexibly and extensive than funding fromother systems such from the Workforce Investment Act, Vocational Rehabilitation, or grant-based funding.

One key to Montana's success with PASS plans was the close relationship built between grant representatives and the region's PASS cadre. The Social Security representative is key to the decision to fund plans and will also act as a source of assistance to those who are new to the process of writing them. An open relationship with this individual At Social Security will help applicants in writing and refining their plans and ensuring that a plan is either likely to be accepted or, if initially rejected, that it can eventually be approved once requested changes have been made.

Workforce Investment Act Funding

Workforce Investment Funding for flexible purposes, and for the acquisition of equipment, is variable. And for self-employment projects, use of these dollars is even more difficult, as WIA performance measures tend not to track self-employment as a viable success. However, in some instances, Supportive Services dollars, which are not tied in the same way to performance measures, were used to provide for an individual's life needs (food, shelter, transportation, etc.) while a business was being developed.

Vocational Rehabilitation Funding

VR funding for self-employment in Montana appears to be determined on a case by case basis. Because funding a small-business venture is perceived as carrying more risk than standard employment searches supported by community agencies, funding requires that VR staff know and trust the support and development staff involved. Also, in Montana, local partnerships are prevalent, whereas state-level partnerships are almost nonexistent.

In-Kind Resource Braiding from Sheltered Workshops

In limited cases, sheltered workshops provided staff and service support to help individuals achieve their self-employment goals. Though initially hesitant to participate, the Milk River Workshop has begun providing transportation and job-coaching support to individuals who have established their own businesses through the project.

Examples

One customer, working out of the Glasgow Job Linc, received funding from the grant the local Vocational Rehabilitation services, and from WIA Supportive Services Funding to buy various pieces of equipment (including a new truck) required to start his hauling business (click here for more information). Another individual benefited from these same services to fund his start-up, and also used 'Extended Support' funds offered under the Workforce Investment Act to pay for living expenses while his business grew. A third person used funds from the project and Vocational Rehabilitation to leverage a small business loan that she put toward opening a cyber cafe in Poplar, MT.

Coordination with Sheltered Workshops

In Glasgow, the grant's project coordinator for local efforts served on the advisory board of a local sheltered workshop. Through her connections, the coordinator arranged to visit the shop and speak directly with the individuals employed there. The first positive result of this intervention was an individuals start-up with Secure Shreds, an independent shredding company begun by one of the shelter's longest-standing employees. Though he continues to spend some time in the shelter through his own choosing and as a social outlet, Palmer now spends his afternoons at a number of outside work sites, where he works under direct contract with the agency in question. The sheltered workshop, after some coaxing, has even begun to provide transportation and job-coaching support to that individual, as needed.

Not only was this support a monumental change for one person, but the workshop as a whole benefited as well. Many of the individual's social contacts at the shelter pushed to be given the same opportunity. As a result, others in the shelter have started businesses and the idea that working outside is a positive and important goal has become prevalent among workers in the workshop.

In addition, the Glasgow One-Stop acquired a second, smaller grant, to accomplish similar goals with its clients. It applied for and received a grant from RESEED, a rural self-employment grant from the University of Montana, which allowed it to augment the person-directed funding it applied to individuals in the project. Lastly, the project's involvement with the sheltered workshop set a trend in the management of the sheltered workshop itself.

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