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Kentucky Work Matters Task Force Unveils Final Report
Kentucky Ag Connection - 05/16/2018

Gov. Matt Bevin Tuesday was joined by federal and state officials at The Council of State Governments (CSG) national headquarters in Lexington for the unveiling of the final report of the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force.

Established by Bevin last summer, this group has worked to identify tangible actions to address barriers to employment and promote workforce inclusion among people with disabilities, foster children, disabled veterans, and individuals burdened by substance abuse or criminal records.

"Thanks to the diligent efforts of the men and women on this task force, and partner agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor, we are moving ahead with a sense of urgency on a wide array of proposed policy options," said Bevin. "As I have often noted, there is a profound sense of pride and dignity that comes from meaningful work done well. This report provides valuable insights into the many opportunities to help thousands of Kentuckians become more engaged members of their communities."

During Tuesday's ceremony, Bevin signed the Employment First executive order, recognizing that competitive integrated employment into the general workforce is the preferred outcome for citizens of all ages and levels of disability. He also announced formation of the Employment First Council to continue momentum on targeted areas of the task force's report.

Highlights of the policy recommendations made by the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force include:

- Streamlining occupational licensing for veterans to ensure they are given credit for similar training/experience they received in the military or in another state. (The recently enacted House Bill 319 will expedite occupational licensing for Kentucky veterans.)

- Capitalizing on opportunities for the state to serve as model employer. (The Commonwealth is currently transitioning management of two large state cafeterias to the Kentucky Office for the Blind (OFB), providing job opportunities for the visually impaired.)

- Increasing resources for the Fostering Success program, which provides job opportunities for youth aging out of the foster care system. (This year's state budget included an increase of $375,000 per year to expand this program.)

- Increasing general fund allocations to the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and Office for the Blind (OFB) to draw down full available federal match. (This year's state budget increased total funding by more than $9 million for OVR and OFB, which will serve approximately 6,500 more clients.)

- Partnering with school systems to ensure that students with disabilities are included in career readiness and development programs.

"Promoting inclusive workforce policies requires coordination at all levels of government, with states having critical knowledge of economic and employment realities on the ground," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Jennifer Sheehy. "We appreciate Gov. Bevin's leadership on this issue and continue to encourage states to share their experience and insight."

The 23-member Kentucky Work Matters Task Force brought together every department of state government that has a hand in workforce development with members of the private sector. In addition to executive branch cabinet and agency leadership, the group includes four members of the General Assembly, a Kentucky Supreme Court designee, and four citizens at-large.

This task force has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Disability Employment and their State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED). SEED is a collaborative effort with state intermediary organizations, including the national Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments (CSG), to help state leaders effectively address policy barriers that may hinder the employment of people with disabilities.

"CSG is proud to have helped facilitate a process inspired by Gov. Bevin's leadership and a commitment to growing Kentucky's workforce and making employment accessible for all citizens of the Commonwealth," said David Adkins, CSG Executive Director/CEO. "The outstanding work of his cabinets in this process has made Kentucky a national leader in our Work Matters initiative. CSG has a long history of bringing together stakeholders to create problem-solving partnerships, and this framework is another example of leaders working together to create change in our states."

Despite recent progress, Kentucky's labor participation rate still ranks in the bottom quintile among U.S. states. Additionally, 17.9 percent of the Commonwealth's population is classified as "disabled," compared to only 12.8 percent nationally.

Bevin strongly believes that citizens with disabilities and Kentuckians facing other obstacles to employment have valuable and unique contributions to lend our society and our labor force, yet in many cases are underutilized. Employment is the most direct and cost-effective means to empower these individuals to achieve independence, economic self-sufficiency, and a greater sense of dignity and self-worth.

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