Office Helping Granite Staters with Disabilities has Deficit

Apr 22, 2018

New Hampshire State House.
Credit NHPR File Photo
 

A New Hampshire state agency that helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs for years spent millions more than it took in, prompting an office restructuring and plan to prioritize services for those with the most significant impairments.

The Department of Education said Friday that the problem in its vocational rehabilitation bureau dates back to at least 2012 and was discovered during a recent review of grant spending. As a result, the bureau is being overhauled to save money, and will use a process to serve people with the most significant disabilities first. It also will work with community partners and charitable groups to ensure other clients get help, officials said.

The department said services would be seriously affected next year unless there is a restructuring that could include reducing staff through attrition and transferring workers to other agencies.

"The restructuring will better serve our constituents — who are some of our most vulnerable citizens — and also put the bureau on sound financial footing," Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said in a statement.

The bureau's director, Lisa Hinson-Hatz, has led the office for eight years, first as acting director and later as director. A spokesman said the bureau's controller retired in January and the manager in charge of oversight resigned last fall.

The bureau's services include counseling, vocational training, education and job placement.

Michael Skibbie, policy director for the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire, said he worries that some interventions will disappear, such as helping someone with a resume or providing someone with a hearing aid.

"We hope that they look at every alternative before they cut services," he said. "New Hampshire is a state with significant workforce shortages, and people with disabilities can be excellent employees given appropriate supports."

The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Republican John Reagan of Deerfield, said vocational rehabilitation is an area in need of attention and that the committee is ready to assist with any needed legislation.

 

-Holly Ramer, Associated Press