July | August 2017


 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentucky Task Force Seeks to Improve Employment Outcomes for Disadvantaged Populations

By Carl Sims
On June 13, 2017, Gov. Matt Bevin announced the formation of the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force, a 23-member group tasked with bolstering the commonwealth’s workforce participation rates for the disabled, veterans, foster children, and those with criminal records and a history of substance abuse. The first-of-its-kind task force has met six times since its inception in June to review the workforce training and support needs of those falling under the group’s purview, and the current barriers they face towards attaining and sustaining employment, and to formulate recommendations for the state to achieve better personal outcomes.
Kentucky officials initiated this process to change the way the state can better include those with disadvantages into the workforce using a framework from the National Task Force on Workforce Development, convened in 2016 by The Council of State Governments, in collaboration with the National Conference of State Legislators. The task force, comprised of state leaders and policy experts, was tasked with identifying ways states can reduce barriers to workforce entry for people with disabilities. The task force concluded its work last December when it released its findings and policy recommendations in its Work Matters report.
At the Kentucky Work Matters’ Sept. 8 meeting, the group heard from task force member, Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, about the foster care system in Kentucky and what policy options could be considered to improve the results of those transitioning out of the program as they enter adulthood and the workforce. Data provided to the task force showed that children exiting the foster care system are more likely than their peers to drop out of high school, become parents before they are ready, experience homelessness or end up in jail. Further, only 50 percent of foster children who have aged out of the system will have some form of employment by the age of 24 and less than 3 percent are likely to earn a college degree at any point of their life.
Secretary Glisson shared with the task force information about the recently launched Fostering Success Program, a training initiative that targets young adults transferring out of foster care by providing them work and skill building experiences.  “Hearing from the Fostering Success Program was valuable so we can replicate these efforts and work as a state to help foster care children who have so many barriers as they transition to adulthood,” said Adam Meier, deputy chief of staff to Bevin and co-chair of the task force.
In an effort to engage its membership with experiential learning, the task force visited the Kenton County Detention Center in September to study the correctional facility’s drug rehabilitation program. The meeting displayed the impact of the growing epidemic of substance abuse and showed ways that treatment during incarceration can lead to positive outcomes post-release.
“One of the most valuable takeaways from the Kenton County Detention Center visit was the hands-on interaction between the task force and the people impacted [by substance abuse] in Kenton County,” said Meier. “Hearing those things first hand, seeing the challenges they face, and learning what led them to their situation is invaluable to the task force’s efforts.”
“How critical it is to refine reentry and connect former inmates to meaningful employment,” said task force member John Tilley, secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. “Doing so will allow us to fill gaps in the workforce, reduce recidivism, and is a win for the economy and improving safety of the state.”
At its most recent meeting on Oct. 10, the task force explored the condition of the state’s disabled and veteran populations and the barriers to workforce entry they encounter. Kentucky reports a 4.2 percent higher population percentage and a $7,300 lower median annual income of individuals with a disability than the national average.
Of particular interest to the task force was the role of Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability for the state’s population. Data presented by the Kentucky Department for Income Support revealed that the state ranked second  nationally in state population percentages receiving disability benefits. One of the particularly challenging aspects of the issue is that only 3.7 percent of Social Security Disability beneficiaries and 5.5 percent of Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries make a successful return to work after a benefit award.  
“The information on Social Security Disability Insurance was impactful, eye opening and revealing for the task force to learn of our state’s much higher rates of disability and the impacts of addiction, incarceration and disability, particularly in Appalachia,” said Tilley.  
The October meeting also underscored the need to further engage the private sector in connecting those with disabilities to opportunities in the workforce. Meier emphasized the importance of, “Educating employers that it’s advantageous to the business and that it can bring a lot of the value to the organization” to hire people with disabilities. He added that it was the task force’s goal to “change the perspective by identifying the assets that those with disabilities can bring. This is one of the key learning points that the task force is taking home, along with the need to continue to push for support from advocacy groups like Chambers of Commerce in order to access this untapped segment of the workforce.”
The Kentucky Work Matters Task force will continue to meet until the end of the year, after which it will draft and publish a report recommending ways the state can ease barriers to entry in the workforce for its targeted populations. The envisioned results will mean both a more productive Kentucky and a more inclusive approach to helping those with disadvantages.
“It is the mission of the task force to find solutions and reverse the trends and dive deep into the issues,” said Tilley. “That is the critical nature of this group.”