Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
November 16, 2017

Julie Naughton, Public Information Officer, Communications and Legislative Services, (office) 402-471-1695 or (cell) 402-405-7202, 
DHHS Divisions Team Up For Supported Employment

LINCOLN - Supported employment services through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can be life-changing. Just ask Michaelle.

“Three years ago, I hadn’t been employed in 20 years, I was homeless and I had problems with alcohol and narcotics,” she said. “With the help of the DHHS Division of Behavioral Health and its programs, I now have my dream job as a peer support specialist, and it’s phenomenal – I feel like it gives me a sense of purpose in my life.”

After seeking help from DHHS, Michaelle, who lives in Omaha, was matched with a supported employment specialist with the Division of Behavioral Health.  She was guided to receive assistance through SSI/SSDI* Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR), which helps adults with a mental illness, a medical impairment and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder with funding assistance with living and medical needs. Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation program matched her with suitable business clothes, and WorkSource helped her, through these efforts, to find a job. Michaelle then got her first job in 20 years as a waitress at a sushi restaurant. 

“Not only does a job provide a salary, it increases social contacts and support and gives a consumer a sense of purpose,” said Courtney Phillips, chief executive officer of DHHS. “And when our consumers are successful, Nebraska is successful.”

DHHS’s Divisions of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities both provide supported employment services for Nebraskans with special needs.

“Supported employment is based on the premise that work should be accessible to everyone, regardless of disability,” said Courtney Miller, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). “By providing the necessary support, individuals with disabilities are increasing their opportunity for community integration, independence, and productivity.”

“Research has shown that supported employment helps individuals achieve and sustain recovery,” added Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “People should be viewed in terms of their abilities, strengths and interests, rather than their disabilities.”
Supported employment through the Division of Behavioral Health includes community-based services for individuals and also includes education with employers in supporting individuals with mental health disorders on the job.

In the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), supported employment services are ongoing supports to participants who, because of their disabilities, need intensive ongoing supports to obtain and maintain an job in competitive employment, defined as a position at or above minimum wage in an integrated setting within the general workforce. Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation also works with DDD and implemented supported employment services through a new payment structure in May of this year. The priority during the first year is to work with students who graduate and individuals who are in sheltered workshops funded by DDD.

Another success story is that of Travis Schaffer, a Norfolk resident who receives supported employment through the Division of Developmental Disabilities and Norfolk-based Employment First. He credits DD supported employment for his job at Hair Expressions in Norfolk. “Without the job counseling I’ve received, I don’t think I would have this job,” Schaffer said. He works on Wednesdays and Fridays as a laundry assistant for the salon. “They helped me look for the job, and once I started my job, they gave me job coaching. They provide transportation if it’s necessary. They are always there for me.”

Schaffer is also president of the board of directors for People First of Nebraska, a statewide disability rights organization run by and for people with all types of disabilities. The organization advocates for community inclusion and self-determination for all people with disabilities.

“Travis is always a delight to talk to,” said Michele Coover, Schaffer’s service coordinator with the Division of Developmental Disabilities. “He is very sociable, well liked and polite.  He is always looking for ways to help advocate for those with disabilities, including employment opportunities.  Travis feels everyone deserves a chance and deserves to be heard.  He takes pride in his independence.  Travis chooses not to let his disability define him and always strives to do the best that he can.”


*Note: Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance