Way No. 14: Vocational Training

Creating Jobs, Promoting Self-Reliance and Saving Money for Taxpayers

Gov. Wolf’s budget would increase state funds for vocational rehabilitation by $5 million, which would give the commonwealth access to an additional $18.5 million in matching federal funds.  

The Republican budget would increase state funds for vocational rehabilitation by $200,000.

A college-educated woman with a degree in business is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. Another woman suffers from anxiety and depression and has learning and developmental disabilities that limited her education and previous work history.  What they have in common are the pride and satisfaction that come with gainful employment and doing their jobs well.  They both received training in a vocational skills program on how to use adaptive technology and Microsoft Office. One woman now serves as executive administrative assistant to a foundation director, and the other woman handles inbound customer service calls at a health care system’s call center. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation funds counselors and contracts with local service providers, such as community colleges and the Sierra Group Academy of Philadelphia, to provide training to job seekers with disabilities. By helping their clients to secure and keep paid employment, these service providers enable them to be self-supporting and independent. The amount of state funding for OVR affects how many people with disabilities get served.

Vocational training doesn’t simply transform workers’ lives; it also benefits taxpayers. In federal fiscal year 2014, federal, state and local taxes paid by new workers employed in the competitive labor market after receiving services through OVR totaled an estimated $50.1 million.
The federal government covers most of the cost of vocational rehabilitation services, paying nearly $4 for every $1 contributed by the state. But for the past four budgets, Pennsylvania has failed to draw down all available federal funds, leaving a total of $52.7 million in matching funds on the table, because of state funding cuts. This is short-sighted for taxpayers: it means that more Pennsylvanians who need services cannot live and work to their full potential, and millions of dollars in federal money can’t filter down into communities through local service providers.

Lack of adequate funding also has caused Pennsylvanians with disabilities to endure lengthy waits for training and support due to what’s known as “order of selection” criteria: only people with two or more disabilities get services.  This criteria has meant that many Pennsylvanians with significant disabilities, such as renal failure or amputation of a limb, languish on a waiting list for vocational services because they have “only” one disabling condition. 

“It’s hard to tell a young person in their 20’s, who’s attempting to get training and work despite the need for dialysis, that they just are not ‘disabled enough’ to be funded for our training and job placement services,” said Janet D. Fiore, executive director of The Sierra Group Academy.  “Students desiring to gain technology and business skills training at our academy are facing longer-than-ever waits or being directed to settle for lower-paying jobs via shorter, less comprehensive training based on dwindling funds in the state’s OVR budget.” 

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