Putting the Disabled to Work

A county program links public benefits and private jobs.
by | December 2004

The name says it all: "You Can Work." It's San Diego County's effort to help the many disabled people in the county who think they can't take a job without losing important medical benefits.

Even though the state offers the "Medi-Cal Working Disabled Program," which allows disabled individuals to work and earn up to $47,000 without putting their disability medical insurance at risk, the program was "virtually unused throughout the state, let alone San Diego County," says Jonah Weinberg, a spokesman for the county's Health and Human Services Agency. In addition, a federal program, "Ticket to Work," which also offers employment assistance to the disabled, was underutilized.

"You Can Work" is changing that by training county and private service providers who work with people with disabilities. The providers learn about new services and benefits available at both the state and federal level, and how those benefits interact with private health insurance.

Before "You Can Work" went into effect in 2003, only 103 of the nearly 70,000 county residents receiving federal disability insurance had enrolled in the state program. A year after the training started, that had increased by one-third. "We're not talking throngs, but it's a huge percentage increase," Weinberg says.

Several other California counties plan to replicate the program. Los Angeles has already held training for 300 service providers.

The training not only will help the disabled financially but mentally and emotionally as well. "If you become disabled, you feel there's nothing you can do without putting in jeopardy your own stability," says Weinberg. "That's a big problem."

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist | mailbox@governing.com