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ILR’s Yang-Tan Institute gives youth with disabilities a boost

New York state teenagers with disabilities have new hope for better lives, thanks to a research project supported by the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

The goal of New York State PROMISE (Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income) is to help youth with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have better educational and career outcomes.

Cornell impacting New York State

This SSI income for children has, in some cases, replaced traditional welfare programs for many of the nation’s poorest families. PROMISE was created in response to the trend.

The results so far have been positive: Data show 36 percent of the students receiving services through PROMISE have paid employment versus 5 percent of the students in the control group. Students receiving services also graduate from high school at a higher rate, and more of them are receiving postsecondary education.

“This is a very vulnerable population of youth who experience low education and economic levels, higher rates of high school dropout and incarceration, and who often have no access to school-to-work transition services,” said Thomas P. Golden, executive director of the Yang-Tan Institute and principal investigator for the research demonstration. “This is further compounded by the limited resources and challenges their families often face in supporting their children’s successful transition from school to adult living, learning and earning.”

PROMISE is designed to produce improved employment, education and economic outcomes for children with disabilities so they no longer need to rely on SSI. “We’re seeing some early data that might reflect that we’ve achieved those ends,” Golden said.

PROMISE was developed with the support of the New York State Governor’s Office and the state Office of Mental Health. The Yang-Tan Institute is conducting research and supporting the statewide implementation of the demonstration.

Launched as a five-year project in 2013 but extended until this September, PROMISE is U.S. Department of Education initiative started in the Obama administration. It is funded in New York and 10 other states.

The 2,000 students recruited in New York state for the project – from western New York, the capital region and New York City – were randomly divided into control and intervention groups. Control group students continue to receive their SSI benefits and are monitored for the study; intervention group students, in addition to receiving benefits, are assigned case workers and employment specialists to guide them more intensively.

Zanaya and Shaquille are among the intervention group students who have made progress through the demonstration. Both have struggled in school, case managers said. But now, in addition to attending high school, Zanaya, 17, has a part-time job at a pretzel shop and hopes to study nursing in college. Shaquille has improved in school while also working in a summer program and in maintenance at his school.

Andrew Karhan, director of employment policy at the Office of Mental Health, and project director of NYS PROMISE, said the lessons learned in the program will have long-lasting effects.

“It is a critical measuring stick for New York state in our movement toward the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as it specifically relates to youth transitioning from school to work or postsecondary education,” Karhan said.

Case managers, in addition to working with students, have played critical roles in helping students’ parents find resources and counseling, said Hassan Enayati, director of research for New York State PROMISE and a research associate at the Yang-Tan Institute.

“Our families are at a much higher risk for crises that might occur, such as eviction, having enough food, having heat turned off,” Enayati said. “The case managers work with the families to address their crises and get to a position of greater stability because it’s very difficult to focus on why you need to work hard in school and get a job if you don’t have food or heat.”

That’s what makes PROMISE different, Golden said.

“We attempted to prescribe a set of services and supports to the entire family, not just to the young person receiving SSI, because we recognized that often barriers to adult success for a child who receives SSI are also experienced by the parents and family, as well,” he said. “Our objective is to reduce reliance and dependency on federal benefits and create better economic and educational attainment across the board for the young person, as well as their families.”

More information on the program is available on the PROMISE website.

Brian Pappalardo is a freelance writer for the ILR School.

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