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LEAD Center Hosts First Annual Policy Roundtable to Improve Employment and Economic Status of Individuals with Disabilities

September 30, 2013

On July 17 and 18, 2013, the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center) hosted its first annual Policy Roundtable in Washington, D.C., that brought together federal agency leaders, state and local agency policymakers and practitioners and subject matter experts on cross-system collaboration.

The purpose of the roundtable was to build a progressive vision that promotes the effective leveraging of resources to improve employment and socioeconomic advancement of youth and adults with disabilities. The current federal approach is fragmented by individual agencies directed to work under distinctive policies and regulations, each critical to the support of individuals with disabilities but few coordinated across systems. Each system has a specific set of rules to determine eligibility for services and support, define scope of services and allocate resources. No single source or resource is able to respond effectively to the diverse needs of each individual with a disability, who often faces multiple barriers to employment. Coordination across systems is critical, but is seldom required through policy.

In the last decade, the federal government has sponsored numerous efforts to improve coordination of public funding across service delivery systems. Two concepts, “blending” and “braiding,” have been designed to use resources in more coordinated and flexible ways.

Blended funding occurs when dollars from multiple funding streams are combined to create a single “pot” of dollars that is then used to purchase one or more specific services that support an individual with a complex employment situation in pursuing, obtaining or maintaining integrated employment. 

Braided funding occurs when multiple funding streams separately and simultaneously purchase and provide specific services that support an individual with a complex employment situation in pursuing, obtaining or maintaining integrated employment.  

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the LEAD Center set three objectives for the first annual Policy Roundtable:

·         Increase understanding of effective strategies for cross-system collaboration and blending and/or braiding resources;

·         Identify policy and practice options with government at all levels to overcome barriers to the blending and/or braiding of resources;

·         Develop recommendations for government to increase scalability of effective practices and accelerate individual and systems change.

Participants joined in a presentation and discussion of the roundtable background paper, which identified challenges from multiple case studies and common elements of success with blending and/or braiding public resources. Participants also broke into small workgroups to develop policy recommendations and built roadmaps to take successful models of blending/braiding to scale. Second-day opening remarks were delivered by Assistant Secretary of ODEP Kathy Martinez followed by roundtable participants meeting with a federal agency reactor panel with leaders from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration, the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to highlight discussions and policy recommendations. The event closed with a presentation from LEAD Center Policy Team Co-Chair and National Disability Institute Executive Director Michael Morris.

Challenges Identified

The myriad of disability-focused programs funded primarily by the federal government currently has no centralized consensus-based strategy to support individuals with disabilities to become economically self-sufficient. 

Few federal programs reward cross-system efforts or evaluate performance based on an integrated service delivery model. The examination of rules and guidance from multiple federal agencies, such as the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), reveal restrictions as “payer of last resort” that is inconsistent with a resource coordination and cost-sharing approach that is needed.

Call to Action

Assistant Secretary for ODEP Kathy Martinez pledged to utilize the recommendations from the first annual LEAD Center Policy Roundtable to engage other federal agencies in a coordinated effort to improve integrated employment outcomes and economic advancement of youth and adults with disabilities.

The LEAD Center will work collaboratively with Assistant Secretary Martinez and ODEP staff to develop specific requests for next-step activities to be negotiated between ODEP and other federal agencies that implement roundtable recommendations. A report summarizing the roundtable discussions with recommendations will be issued by the LEAD Center shortly. For more information on the Policy Roundtable, discussions and individual and organizational participants, please read the LEAD Center Policy Roundtable executive summary and additional materials on to the LEAD Center website.