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Vocational Rehab Jobs Will Be Cut in N.H.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Concord — A New Hampshire agency that helps people with disabilities find jobs soon will be downsized, after education officials identified a looming shortfall within the group’s budget.

About 20 jobs will be cut from the state Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation in an attempt to stabilize finances for the organization, which provides job coaching and educational opportunities, and also pairs disabled people with employers in the Granite State, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced last week.

Nonetheless, officials are working to continue many of those services, even with fewer staff, Edelblut said in a phone interview on Monday. They intend to partner with community organizations and area nonprofits to help fill the void, he said.

“Anybody who has a service plan, we are going to meet that obligation,” Edelblut said, referencing the custom plans made for individuals. “We will be able to meet all of the service plans that we have in place.”

State officials found that the bureau, which largely relies on federal funds, was close to spending much of its reserves during a quarterly review process that Edelblut implemented upon taking office last year, risking a deficit.

“The first review on the Vocational Rehabilitation (bureau) was done and it was clear that they were spending more than they were taking in,” he said.

About $10.1 million of the bureau’s budget comes from federal grants, Edelblut said. Another $3.2 million is funded through state sources, and it’s projected $1.2 million will come from Social Security payments this year, he said.

To prevent the bureau from running a deficit, Edelblut ordered a restructuring. Some jobs in the 93-person organization will either be lost through attrition or moved to other state departments, he said, and programs will be evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness.

“All options are on the table,” Edelblut said. “We need to restructure now to be able to provide good service to our customers in the future.”

Edelblut did not provide an exact timetable as to when the restructuring would take effect.

News of the restructuring surprised state Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, who was deputy commissioner at the Department of Education from 2004-09.

Heath, who was responsible for crafting budgets within the department, said there was never an issue with funding for Vocational Rehabilitation, largely because those funded are funded through federal sources.

“Vocational Rehabilitation is a wonderful agency,” said Heath, who sits on the House Education Committee. “I had not heard of this, that their funds were being stretched.”

The restructuring announcement comes about just months after the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation closed the doors of its Lebanon office.

The office’s three employees were transferred to posts in Claremont and Concord as a result of the December closing.

The move came as the lease expired on the bureau’s Mechanic Street office. At the time, Edelblut said the money saved on rent payments would leave more money to be spent on services, allowing staff to be more effective and efficient.

“Everybody’s going to continue to be serviced,” he told the Valley News in November.

Officials at PathWays of the River Valley, which has an office on Hanover Street in Lebanon, also said services would continue. That’s because the social service bureau contracts with the state to provide vocational rehabilitation services in the Upper Valley.

“I do not anticipate that the closing of the Vocational Rehabilitation ... office will have a negative impact on the people in the Lebanon area,” PathWays’ employment options Director Debbie Bogle said at the time. “My understanding is that the services will remain the same.”

Bogle was out of the office on Monday. A message left for Kim Henning, PathWays’ senior director of human resources, was not immediately returned.

A rehabilitation councilor ultimately was allowed to work out of Listen Community Services in Lebanon two days a week, said Lynne Goodwin, the city’s human services director.

“That has been hugely instrumental,” she said on Monday. “It means there was no disruption in services for some of my clients.”

But as the bureau restructures, more of its efforts could be transferred to community partners, such as PathWays, said Edelblut, who now is evaluating which programs should be continued in-house.

“What is the right balance of internal staffing versus work that we do with our community partners?” he asked.

Edelblut said it also is likely that staff will continue to be based in Claremont in New Hampshire Works’ one-stop center, which houses a collaboration of several state agencies and groups offering employment assistance services.

But the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation’s offices in Concord could be closed when the lease there ends in June, he said.

At that time, it’s likely vocational rehabilitation staff will move into state-owned offices, Edelblut predicted.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.