Sneak Preview: ED Clarifies Its Vocational Rehab Program Policy

Jerry Ashworth
March 13, 2020 at 08:04:17 ET
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(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Department of Education (ED) recently clarified and updated its current policy regarding how states must use a portion of federal funds under the State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program (VR program) for pre-employment transition services.

In federal fiscal year 2018, ED awarded almost $3.2 billion in grants to states under the VR program. Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) (Pub. L. 113-128), states are required to reserve at least 15% of their federal VR program funds to provide pre-employment transition services to help eligible and potentially eligible students with disabilities progress from high school into employment.

WIOA lists five required pre-employment transition services — covered under the 15% reserved funds — that designated state units (DSUs), working with local educational agencies (LEAs), must make available to students with disabilities in need of these services. They include: (1) job exploration counseling; (2) work-based learning experiences (e.g., internships); (3) counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary education programs at institutions of higher education; (4) workplace readiness training; and (5) instruction on self-advocacy (e.g., peer mentoring).

Because ED has received numerous questions from program recipients pertaining to the allowable use of the reserved funds for auxiliary aids and services needed by students with disabilities to participate in required pre-employment transition services, as well as other types of VR services, the agency issued a policy interpretation in the Feb. 28 Federal Register to address this issue. In addition, ED revised its policy with respect to additional VR services needed by eligible students with disabilities that may be paid for with the 15% of federal VR grant funds reserved to provide pre-employment transition services, and the circumstances under which those funds may be used to pay for those additional VR services.

ED noted that “it has been the department’s interpretation” that DSUs may use the 15% reserved funds to cover the costs of pre-employment transition services to pay for needed auxiliary aids and services for students with disabilities with sensory and communicative disorders. Therefore, these aids and services can be deemed an allowable pre-employment transition services cost. For example, for a student who is deaf, DSUs could purchase interpreter services or video-based telecommunications products to ensure access to information and activities related to job exploration counseling or other pre-employment transition service.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time here.)

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