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State offers bonus to lure disabled into jobs

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 08. 2012 10:41PM
Jason Tucker of Concord holds his gas gift cards as he stands by his truck. The cards are from the Social Security Ticket to Work program, administered by Granite State Independent Living in Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Determined to lure the disabled into the workforce, a New Hampshire agency is offering a bonus for people who go through a job-skills program and land a job.

A $50 gas card; one a month.

The gas card is just the start for NH at Work, a program by Granite State Independent Living that targets the thousands of disabled people in New Hampshire who could be working.

'Everyone's employable. It's just finding their unique situation,' said Chris Purington, business development administrator at Granite State Independent Living, which announced the gas-card incentive this month.

More than 45,000 adults in New Hampshire receive Social Security payments because of a disability and are eligible for job-skills programs and incentives such as the gas card.

The U.S. Social Security Administration offers the Ticket to Work program, which pays organizations such as Granite State Independent Living to develop job skills for the disabled.

'It's a lot of work around soft-skill development,' Purington said. Coaches work on productivity, interactions with others and interview techniques.

'It's someone gathering themselves together, presenting their strengths and being productive,' he said.

One person to benefit from the effort is Jason Tucker. The 34-year-old Concord resident hadn't worked for three years until he linked up with Granite State Independent Living.

Since August, Tucker has been employed by the Hooksett Kohl's in the clothing retailer's shipping and receiving department.

'I've always liked working,' he said. 'Working and living on my own give me a sense of empowerment that I can do things on my own without a lot of help.'

He received his first two $50 gas cards last week. They will buy gas for his 2002 Toyota Highlander.

Tucker said he has high-functioning autism and some speech and language challenges. Granite State Independent Living helped him use the Internet to find the job, he said.

He said he earns anywhere from $70 to $220 a week, depending on how many hours he gets from Kohl's.

As part of the program, Tucker pledges to set an initial goal of $720 a month, which income Social Security allows him to earn without reducing his benefits. Eventually, participants are expected to earn $1,010 a month or more, a threshold where benefit reductions kick in.

But Purington stressed that the transition is slow, and Granite State Independent Living provides financial advisers to help people adjust to the smaller checks. The Medicaid for Employed Adults with Disabilities program maintains health benefits for those in the program.

Purington said the participants who lose their job can have their benefits restored without the usual red tape that a new beneficiary faces.

'There is no cliff to fall off,' he said.

Tucker said he is trying to save some of the money he makes; he also uses it to pay bills. Tucker said he doesn't worry about an eventual loss of benefits, and he would actually like to find another part-time job.

Meanwhile, Purington said Granite State has seen a slight improvement in job placements, especially in the restaurant, hotel and retail fields.

He said many employers don't know their new workers are disabled.

'We never try to make it a charity case,' Purington said about job placement. 'It's always the value the employee is bringing to the table.'

He said NH at Work finds employment opportunities for all types of disabilities, such as mental health, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and physical impairments.

The effort is the outgrowth of a multi-year grant from Medicaid to state government that encouraged employment of the disabled, Purington said.

He said NH at Work, which has a website of the same name, is a rebranding of the effort. The gas card is just the first element.

Purington said a reverse job listing is being developed. Another idea is to provide clothing for interviews and the first day on the job.

'We're looking at stressors of returning to work,' he said, 'and how to ease those.'

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