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Edelblut: 20 jobs to be cut from Vocational Rehab Bureau to curb millions in overspending

State House Bureau

April 22. 2018 8:53PM
NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut 

CONCORD — The Department of Education is reorganizing the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Bureau to deal with millions in overspending dating back to at least 2012, according to Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut.

The reorganization will result in the elimination of about 20 positions in a 96-person department, which Edelblut hopes to accomplish largely through attrition, reassignment or retirement.

Other cost-cutting options include consolidation of leased office space and a reduction in referrals to community partners such as Granite State Independent Living.

“We know that Health and Human Services is going to be hiring a number of counselors in DCYF, so there may be opportunities for employees to go to those agencies,” said Edelblut. “We are exploring internal options to create opportunities to right-size our workforce in vocational rehab.”

The program currently serves about 3,600 clients, ranging in age from 14 to senior citizen, with some form of disability impeding their entry into the workforce.

The program assists them in obtaining job opportunities through services like counseling, therapy and other types of support. “For example, if someone is visually impaired, we get them reader technology that will allow them to work on a computer,” said Edelblut.

There’s no suspicion that any money was misspent or misappropriated, according to the commissioner. The program was spending more money than was coming in and headed for a fiscal crisis, although it is not currently running a deficit because the problem was caught in time, he said.

None of the existing clients with a service plan in place will be affected by the financial shortfall, but new enrollees will have to be prioritized for service on the basis of need, with some left to wait.

The program operates on an annual budget of about $14 million, with $10 million authorized by Congress from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Social Security provides more than $1 million and the state kicks in $3 million.

Edelblut said financial managers operated the program in recent years without accommodating cuts in funding, eroding a surplus that stood at about $5 million in 2012 and has now evaporated. Factors included a decrease in federal grant money and lower Social Security reimbursements.

The problem surfaced during the Education Department’s quarterly review of grant program spending, a process Edelblut introduced when he became commissioner in 2017.

“As we began to dig deeper, not only did we realize they were overspending, but were on a trajectory that would jeopardize services in the next fiscal year,” said Edelblut, a CPA and former business operations consultant. “So we put a plan together to manage the process so we don’t have a disruption in services.”

Edelbut said each counselor in the program once managed about 150 clients, but today each one manages between 90 and 100.

The controller for the program left in January.

Lisa Hinson-Hatz has been director of N.H. Vocational Rehabilitation since 2010. She and Edelblut have already met with the leadership of the state Rehabilitation Council seeking help with the transition to a more stable financial model.

“Lisa is very disappointed that this happened,” said Edelblut. “She felt that she was able to manage the programming, but did not have a lot of visibility into the financial aspect of the grants.”

“We’re just trying to get ahead of this thing and manage our way through it,” he said.

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