It has come to RCPA’s attention that individuals with disabilities lack choice and providers lack referrals due to the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) confusing service description for Benefits Counseling. In September of 2022, ODP sponsored 25 Pennsylvania employment support professionals representing 18 providers (five of whom are RCPA members) across the state to take part in training through Cornell University’s Work Incentive Practitioner Credential Program, which was facilitated by the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability. Of the participating providers, only one is an Employment Network, suggesting that, once certified, 17 providers would be relying on referrals from ODP and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to provide the Benefits Counseling service.
Although ODP offers the service to Pennsylvanians in the Community Living, Consolidated, and PF/DS waivers, Benefits Counseling remains an underutilized service across the Commonwealth. This is not due to a lack of certified counselors, however. Since approximately 2008, language in the Benefits Counseling service description has stipulated the following rule:
“Benefits Counseling may only be provided after Benefits Counseling services provided by a Certified Work Incentives Counselor through a Pennsylvania-based federal Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program were sought and it was determined and documented by the Supports Coordinator that such services were not available either because of ineligibility or because of wait lists that would result in services not being available within 30 calendar days” (ISP Manual updated 08/09/2022).
Please view the following document for more detailed information about this issue. Additionally, if any providers are also experiencing barriers to accessing the Benefits Counseling service due to ODP’s conditions, or for anyone interested in advocating for program participants to receive this valuable service in the manner of their choice, please reach out to Eileen Campbell, Benefits Counselor & Special Projects Coordinator at Lighthouse Vocational Services, via email or at (717) 354-0355.