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OHH Monthly Focus on Employment: Understanding Benefits – A Look at Oregon Health Authority

This monthly focus on employment, provided by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing (OHH), describes how the Oregon Health Authority integrated an employment focus into their core services and incorporated knowledge regarding benefits into its vocationalizing process.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) serves as an example of how HIV/AIDS service providers can broaden employment options for their clients by educating themselves on the impact earned income can have on benefits. Not only did OHA integrate an employment focus into their core services, but it also incorporated knowledge about benefits—as they relate to employment— into its vocationalizing process. This holistic approach to employment services helped OHA succeed.

Vocationalizing Around Benefits

The OHA administers the Oregon Housing Opportunities in Partnership (OHOP) Program which serves about 160 households through four regional housing coordinators, covering 31 counties including several rural areas. This large geographic catchment area presented a clear challenge to service delivery. Additionally, the OHA could not pay for employment services with Ryan White Program funds and could not hire new staff or re-assign current staff to employment-related activities. For the HOPWA Getting to Work Employment Initiative (GTW), OHA focused on increasing current capacity through staff training and the development of new employment oriented tools and procedures.

To start, OHA integrated employment into the core services offered to clients. Staff participated in training on employment services and resources with a particular emphasis on the impact of paid employment on benefits, including SSI/SSDI, SNAP, and housing subsidies. As a result, case managers are better informed about how to counsel clients on topics such as wages and public assistance. And, a benefit planning tool is now part of OHOP’s standard assessment format.

Snapshot of OHA’s Clients…

  • 40 percent receive SSI or SSDI benefits.
  • 10 percent receive housing subsidies.
  • 17 percent think of employment as a possible threat to their stability.

OHA also created an Employment and Living with HIV/AIDS Resource Guide covering employment services throughout the state of Oregon and a brochure for clients. In July 2012, OHA made changes to their assessment format and documentation protocol used within their CAREWare system, the Ryan White data collection software. Vocational questions are now a part of the assessment they do with clients, and all employment referrals are documented in CAREWare.

OHA developed an effective approach to offering access to employment services and opportunities within a large geographic area. Their strategies include integrating an employment focus into case management positions and supporting staff through training, resource guides and client-focused brochures. In addition, incorporating vocational assessment and referral activities into standard documents and reporting procedures prompts and encourages staff to address these issues.

Benefits Highlight: Did you know…

  • Individuals on SSI will not automatically lose their SSI benefit when they return to work. Rather, when an SSI beneficiary returns to work, income and earnings (after allowable deductions) are counted to determine the monthly payment amount.
  • SSI and SSDI are two different programs of the Social Security Administration. Each program has significantly different work incentive programs, and additional factors apply for individuals who receive both SSI and SSDI (called “blended benefits”).

Learn more now:

GTW Benefits Planning Webinar

SSA “Red Book” (SSI and SSDI Work Incentives)

Disability Benefits 101

Medicaid Employment Initiatives

Using Medicaid Funding to Support the Employment of People with Disabilities: A Federal Framework

And, stay tuned for a three-part online training series focusing on employment options for people living with HIV/AIDS.

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