The provisions in 34 C.F.R. §361.53 describe a State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency's (SVRAs) obligations with regard to comparable services and benefits. The purpose of these provisions allows SVRAs to take advantage of resources that are readily available to meet the service needs of eligible individuals with disabilities served by the VR agency.
In general terms, what must a VR agency do before providing services?
Prior to providing an accommodation or auxiliary aid or service or other VR services to an eligible individual or to members of the individual's family, the SVRA must determine whether comparable services and benefits, as defined in 34 C.F.R. §361.5(c)(8), exists under any other program and whether those services and benefits are available to the individual.
According to this definition, comparable services and benefits means services and benefits, including accommodations and auxiliary aids and services, that are provided or paid for, in whole or in part, by other Federal, State, or local public agencies, by health insurance, or by employee benefits. Comparable services and benefits must be available to the individual at the time needed to ensure their progress toward achieving the employment outcome in the individualized plan for employment (IPE). To be considered "comparable," such services and benefits must be commensurate to the services that the individual would otherwise receive from the VR agency. For the purposes of this definition, comparable services and benefits do not include awards and scholarships based on merit.
What exceptions exist to the provision of comparable services and benefits?
There are two exceptions: one relates to special circumstances and the other relates to exempt services.
In accordance with 34 C.F.R. §361.53(a), the SVRA is not obligated to conduct a search for comparable services and benefits if it would interrupt or delay—
- The progress of the individual toward achieving the employment outcome identified in the IPE;
- An immediate job placement; or
- The provision of VR services to any individual who is determined to be at extreme medical risk, based on medical evidence provided by an appropriate qualified medical professional.
In addition, as described in 34 C.F.R. §361.53(b), the following VR services are exempt from a determination of the availability of comparable services and benefits:
- Assessment for determining eligibility and VR needs;
- Counseling and guidance, including information and support services to assist an individual in exercising informed choice;
- Referral and other services to secure needed services from other agencies, including other components of the statewide workforce development system, if those services are not available through the VR program;
- Job-related services, including job search and placement assistance, job retention services, and follow-up and follow-along services;
- Rehabilitation technology, including telecommunications, sensory, and other technological aids and devices; and
- Post-employment services consisting of the services listed above.
How does the VR agency apply the comparable services and benefits provisions?
If comparable services or benefits exist under any other program and are available to the individual at the time needed to ensure their progress toward achieving the employment outcome in the IPE, the SVRA must use those comparable services or benefits to meet, in whole or in part, the costs of the VR services. However, if comparable services or benefits exist but are not available to the individual at the time needed to ensure their progress toward achieving the employment outcome, the SVRA must provide the needed VR services until those comparable services and benefits become available (34 C.F.R. § 361.53(c).
What Interagency Coordination efforts support the comparable services and benefits provisions?
Under the authority of the Governor, The SVRA must work with other public agencies to secure interagency coordination to fulfill the comparable services and benefits provisions and must develop an interagency agreement or another mechanism outlining this coordination (34 C.F.R. §361.53(d). In order to meet the rehabilitation needs of individuals it serves, the Designated State Unit (DSU) must establish these agreements with any appropriate public entity, including but not limited to the State entity responsible for administering the State Medicaid program, a public institution of higher education, and a component of the statewide workforce development system.
The interagency agreement must include the following:
- An identification of, or description of a method for defining, the financial responsibility of the DSU and other public entities for the provision of VR services and, if appropriate, accommodations or auxiliary aids and services, other than those exempt services, and a provision stating the financial responsibility of the public entity for providing those services;
- the conditions, terms, and procedures under which the SVRA must be reimbursed by the other public entities for providing VR services and accommodations or auxiliary aids and services;
- Procedures for resolving interagency disputes, including procedures under which the SVRA may initiate proceedings to secure reimbursement from other public entities or otherwise implement the provisions of the agreement; and
- Policies and procedures for public entities to determine and identify interagency coordination responsibilities of each public entity to promote the coordination and timely delivery of VR services and accommodations or auxiliary aids and services, other than those exempt services.
Finally, 34 C.F.R. §361.53(e) specifies that, if a public entity (other than the DSU) is obligated under Federal law (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) or State law, or assigned responsibility under State policy or an interagency agreement, to provide or pay for any services considered to be VR services (e.g., interpreter services), the public entity must fulfill that obligation or responsibility. If a public entity other than the SVRA fails to provide or pay for such services, the SVRA must provide or pay for those services to the individual and may claim reimbursement for the services from the other public entity.