New York state is failing to promote and increase use of a key system designed to assist people with disabilities find employment services, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit found that the state Office of Mental Health (OMH), which oversees the New York Employment Services System (NYESS), needs to do much more to make sure state agencies, and their contracted employment service providers, make use of the system — and better serve New Yorkers with disabilities.
“New York created the employment services system to improve competitive employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. It is disappointing that this system is underutilized by state agencies and employment service providers,” DiNapoli said. “Efforts to increase employment among individuals with a disability have fallen short. Better management and collaboration can help expand the system’s use and help people overcome the inequities and barriers they face when they look for employment.”
There are approximately 1 million working-age adults with a disability in New York, according to the American Community Survey (ACS). Only 33%, however, are employed, compared to the 74% employment rate for working-age adults statewide. In addition to increased likelihood of unemployment, adults with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty (28%) compared to working-age adults (12%). The COVID pandemic greatly impacted employment among all New Yorkers, but from April 2020 to March 2021, the unemployment rate for people with a disability averaged 16.2%, an increase of 8.9% over the prior year, according to Department of Labor data. This was significantly higher than unemployment in the general population, which averaged 11.3%, up 7.5%, during the first year of the pandemic.
In March 2015, New York’s Employment First Commission established goals to increase employment by 5% and decrease poverty by 5% among New Yorkers with disabilities. Insufficient progress has been made, however. According to ACS data, between 2013 and 2020, the employment rate of individuals with a disability increased less than 1% while the number of individuals with a disability living in poverty decreased by 3%.
Despite the promise of NYESS to improve competitive employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities, DiNapoli’s audit found it is badly underutilized. Just one of seven state agencies responsible for licensing or contracting with employment service providers — and only about a third (199) of those 621 providers — use NYESS.
NYESS is also an employment network under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work (TTW) program. TTW is a voluntary program funded by the SSA to help individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance reach their employment goals and reduce their reliance on benefits. Program providers earn revenue by providing services such as case management, job preparation, job assistance, and training to eligible individuals that meet earnings and employment milestones. Since 2016, SSA has paid more than $12.1 million to providers in NYESS’ TTW program and 11,833 customers have been enrolled. However, since 2019, the number of enrollees employed and generating revenue, as well as revenue received by providers, have declined.
OMH has not undertaken a strong proactive campaign to promote the benefits of both NYESS and TTW among State agencies and employment service providers. Better communication and outreach to these entities, as well as solicitation of feedback on how to improve the system based on users’ needs, could facilitate collaboration and increase utilization of NYESS and participation in TTW toward meeting the Commission’s goals.
Auditors also identified OMH’s lack of set policies to guide NYESS and the TTW program, which creates the risk of inconsistent, ineffective and inefficient management, and potentially impacts the delivery of supports and services.
Among its recommendations, DiNapoli’s audit called on OMH to:
- Increase utilization of NYESS by informing state agencies of its capabilities and benefits so agency officials may educate their employment service providers about NYESS; and collaborating with agencies and employment service providers to assess their needs.
- Ensure TTW provider affiliates are familiar with and able to use NYESS to monitor the TTW program.
- Develop written policies and procedures related to NYESS and the monitoring and administration of the TTW program.
- Monitor and verify data entered in NYESS to ensure its completeness, accuracy and validity.
OMH was generally receptive to DiNapoli’s recommendations and expected that recent changes to NYESS, and enhanced benefits to participation, will help reinvigorate efforts to expand partnerships and enrollment.
DiNapoli’s Executive Order on Inclusion of People with Disabilities
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