CONCORD — A sweeping reorganization and 19 months of work have eliminated a waiting list of disabled residents seeking jobs, with help from the state’s Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Tuesday.
After a 2018 financial review, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut determined the bureau had been spending millions more than it received in federal grants for six years.
The bureau was relying on built-up surpluses to pay the bills and faced a growing deficit unless corrective action was taken, Edelblut said.
In response, Sununu ordered the prioritization of services for those with the most severe impairments and created a waiting list for the rest.
As of Jan. 1, that list was eliminated and the order has been lifted, Sununu said.
“At the time, I pledged that we would do everything necessary to end this wait list for individuals who are in need of services and that is exactly what we have done,” Sununu said.
“Very few states that have implemented an order of selection have ever ended it. Commissioner Edelblut and his staff accomplished what many thought was not possible, and delivered a win for New Hampshire families.”
At the time, clients told state officials they worried that this wait list would become a permanent fixture.
“This is a big accomplishment. We identified a real need, took action and then spent the time necessary to eliminate the problem,” Edelblut said. “This is the way government is supposed to work.”
The reorganization included reducing staff, transferring the bureau’s headquarters to a state-owned building to save on rent and consolidating three field offices while expanding partnerships with community service providers.
“I am thrilled that we can move into 2020 with no wait list for vocational rehabilitation services. Since we began a wait list in May of 2018, our staff have worked tirelessly to address the wait list by having planned releases of customers,” said Lisa Hinson-Hatz, director of the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation.
In the past year and a half, the bureau provided transition services to more than 1,500 people. Last year the agency moved 400 Granite Staters into permanent employment. The bureau currently has 27 counselors serving 3,017 people, with 143 participants working.
Deborah Ritcey, president and CEO of Granite State Independent Living (GSIL), said eliminating the wait list sends an important message to her clients.
“Every day a New Hampshire resident was on the order of selection was a day further away from a life of independence,” Ritcey said.