Panel Paper: Early Findings from the Wisconsin Promise Project: Implications for Policy and Practice

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Catherine A. Anderson, University of Wisconsin, Madison and Ellie C. Hartman, University of Wisconsin

A recent study released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO, May 2017) indicates the number of individuals with disabilities under age 18 receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits increased by 44 percent between 2000 and 2016. The report also noted that less than 1% of youth receiving SSI benefits were working with their state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program in 2015.

The public VR program is a state-federal partnership designed to assist individuals with disabilities enter, re-enter, or remain in the work force. Competitive integrated employment and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with significant disabilities are key objectives and approximately 1.2 million individuals are served through this program annually. Individuals who receive SSI benefits as young as age 14 are considered to be presumptively eligible to participate in VR.

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) program is an interagency collaboration between the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Social Security Administration. Under this grant program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects that provide coordinated services and supports to youth with disabilities receiving supplemental security income (SSI) benefits and their families to improve education and career and financial self-sufficiency outcomes.

Wisconsin PROMISE is one of the six model demonstration sites. Over a 24-month period, 2,024 low-income youth with disabilities between the ages of 14-16 y/o receiving SSI benefits and their families enrolled in the study. Participants were assigned to Treatment (PROMISE Services) and Control (Usual Services) groups using randomized control design. A total of 1,018 participants have been engaged in the PROMISE Services group since April 2014.

A robust service intervention package including work incentives benefits counseling, financial literacy and coaching, self-advocacy skills, career exploration, and employment supports is being provided to youth and their families in the PROMISE Services group through September 2018. All intervention services are coordinated and offered through the State of Wisconsin’s public VR program and subsequently, all Wisconsin PROMISE participants are also enrolled in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).

Early data indicates positive results regarding engagement, employment, and earnings outcomes. Wisconsin PROMISE youth employment rates went from 1% in 2013 to 58% in 2017 (a 13-percentage point higher increase than observed with the control group). In addition, youth who received benefits counseling are more than twice as likely to have a job, and youth who received financial coaching had double the weekly earnings.

This paper will share an overview of early findings from the Wisconsin PROMISE project site related to VR engagement, employment, and earnings outcomes of youth and family participants. Furthermore, information will be shared about how Wisconsin DVR is actively integrating elements of PROMISE service interventions into statewide service policy.