By David Leon, NENA Director
Deputy Director, Workforce Programs
Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services
Covid-19 has created problems and opportunities within the service delivery system when it comes to the Ticket to Work program. For many ENs and VR agencies, this has meant a switch to more virtual services, endless Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft team or Google hangout meetings. It has meant working with beneficiaries in new ways and addressing different issues. More time has been spent on calculating hours and navigating both work incentives and, in some cases, unemployment benefits. Addressing workplace safety related to helping some decide if now is the best time to begin that new job or increase hours due to workplace demands has been another new area of work with our customers. The uncertainty of when things will return to normal looms over most of us as we try to plan for future activities and opportunities.
The ability to connect with beneficiaries’ virtually is not new, and many Employment Networks have very successful business models based on this type of service delivery. It is a great time to use this success to grow in other ways. Perhaps it is through identifying resources that would help current ticket holders you are serving prepare for the next career step through the identification of free online training. Maybe it is a renewed focus on increasing partnership opportunities with VR agencies as they move towards remote service delivery. The time is ripe to provide added value to both internal and external customers due to the changing landscape. Many positions and companies that were not designed for a remote worker have been moving in this direction, opening new opportunities for the clients we serve.
A personal area of interest for me has been the addition of financial empowerment services to the VR process in Virginia. This has included the use of financial health assessments, tools from the CFPB, NDI and NextGen Personal Finance as well as referring some of our VR clients to virtual financial coaching. Financial coaching may include working to manage immediate expenses and figuring out which bills to be paid first, developing a spending plan to pay off debt and build an emergency fund. This type of service often helps to build hope and may be provided at no cost through nonprofits or financial institutions in the community. Adding this type of service for your clients not only provides additional expertise to help with critical aspects of managing increased income but may also strengthen the relationship between your EN and the client.