By: Gina Haupt, NENA Director
VR Specialist, Wisconsin DVR
In Wisconsin, I work with multiple Employment Networks (EN) that are Partnership Plus ENs. I have found working with this program to be helpful, rewarding, and enjoyable. However, during my time working with different ENs, I have also found there can be some confusion as to what it means for an EN. In this article, I hope to clarify some of this for you.
- Every state VR agency will run its Partnership Plus program differently. This means you need to find out how the state or states you are working with run their program. There can be multiple reasons the Partnership Plus program runs differently from state to state. This could be due to staffing, state policy, case management systems, Partnership Plus agreements, etc.An example of this is in Virginia, where they reach out to individual VR consumers who are candidates for Partnership Plus as soon as the consumer starts working. In Wisconsin, we reach out to the consumer the week after their file closes. There are two simple reasons why this is. First, in Wisconsin we currently do not require counselors to put consumers in what is called employment status, meaning the consumer is working. This means there is no simple way to figure out when an individual starts employment. Secondly, getting an ever-changing cast of staff to notify me when an individual starts working is also not reliable.
- State VR agencies are not going to provide you with a direct referral. In the world of VR, we must give consumers informed choices; meaning we have to give them options and all the supporting information we have for them to make the choice that works best for them. This means we cannot tell a person who they are going to work with or even that they have to work somewhere. We can however, provide the consumer with the names of the Partnership Plus ENs that we work with, and point out if they have worked with one in the past either before coming to VR or while with VR in a vendor status. For an EN this means you have to actively pursue those potential referrals. I have several things I encourage my ENs to do, and if they follow through great, but if they don’t I’m not going to force it. In the end it falls to the EN to get the consumer. In Wisconsin, if an EN is a vendor, I highly encourage them to work with whoever provides the VR services at their agency (if it is not them) and figure out who they touch as a vendor that is working at SGA. I stress they should be selling their EN services to the beneficiary during their time working with them as a vendor for VR. I then suggest that they follow up with the consumer every few months to see how things are going, show off that customer service, and remind the beneficiary that they are still there as an EN to work with after VR file closure. I have a very small EN that does it, and it is very successful. It is also encouraged that the EN attempts to get into a staff meeting in their local area to tell the counselors what services they can provide as an EN and how these services will help the consumer and the VR staff. In addition, I cannot stress enough—effectively managing your intake process. Answering phones, returning the initial calls, and being able to describe to the beneficiary what services you can provide them and how this will help them. I often hear from ENs that they are getting calls, but if they are not fast enough the consumer goes with the first person they actually talk to.
- The State VR cannot give you a list of Social Security beneficiaries it just closed or are currently working with. This would be like asking the EN to give out a list of past clients. As you are all aware, there are very strict rules in place to protect consumer PII.
- Don’t rely solely on referrals from the state VR for your Employment Network. This is never a good business model. Partnership Plus can provide some great leads; however, this should never be the soul basis for your EN, but instead a supplement to your EN.
- Individuals receiving SSI and SSDI oftentimes leave VR working, BUT not working at SGA. The reason I bring this up is at times ENs feel they can get a lot of referral work with a State VR in a select county. Although doing this is fine, the EN should realize when VRs get individuals who are on SSI or SSDI due to their own disability, we are required by law to work with them. This means we often get those individuals who currently are not seeking SGA level work. If looking at a number of individuals VR works with, those who are getting benefits may make it look as if a state VR has a lot of individuals to refer over. However, this oftentimes is simply not the case. Whenever possible, I encourage my ENs to cast their service net as far as they can instead of limiting it to a county or two. Truth be told, in some of the more rural areas of Wisconsin I have some counties that have never produced a candidate for Partnership Plus, while in other counties I get several candidates a week.
I hope this provides you with a better idea of what to expect when you become a Partnership Plus EN. If you have further questions, please feel free to reach out to one of us on the Partnership Plus Committee.