Minutes — May 2018 Committee of the Whole Meeting


Council Members Present

  • Mary Durheim, Council Chair
  • Lisa Akers-Owen, HHSC/Older Americans Act
  • Kimberly Blackmon
  • Kristen Cox
  • Mary Faithfull, DRTx
  • Stephen Gersuk
  • Jennifer Kaut, TWC/Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Katlyn Le, DSHS/Maternal and Child Health
  • Ruth Mason
  • Megan Orsag, A&M CDD
  • Michael Peace
  • Amy Sharp, UT CDS
  • Keith Swink, TEA/IDEA
  • Lora Taylor
  • John Thomas
  • Richard Tisch
  • Dana Williamson, HHSC/Medicaid

Staff Present

  • Beth Stalvey, Executive Director
  • Ann Bjorgo
  • Martha Cantu
  • Joanna Cordry
  • Danny Fikac
  • Robert Garcia
  • Linda Logan
  • Joshua Ryf
  • Koren Vogel

Council Members Absent

  • Hunter Adkins
  • Kristine Clark
  • Gladys Cortez
  • Mateo Delgado
  • Scott McAvoy
  • Dana Perry
  • Brandon Pharris

Guests Present

  • Jan Brown
  • Kevin Caudill
  • Lauren Gerken
  • Ivy Goldstein, DSHS/Maternal and Child Health
  • Stacy Hailey
  • Elizabeth Jennings
  • Stephanie Martinez
  • Ginger Mayeaux
  • Alexandra Noble
  • Kyle Piccola
  • Jolene Sanders
  • Christa Walikonis
  • Adrian Walsh
  • Havilah Walsh
  • Tiffany Williams

Call To Order

The Committee of the Whole of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities convened on
Thursday, May 3, 2018, in the Ballroom B-C of the Embassy Suites Austin Central, 5901 North IH-35, Austin, TX 78723. Council Chair Mary Durheim called the meeting to order at 9:35 AM

  1. Introductions
    Council members, staff and guests introduced themselves. Council Chair Durheim reviewed the agendas and discussion items for the meetings.

  2. Public Comments
    Ruth Mason offered comments about the Specialized Telecommunications Assistance Program (STAP) and noted the complexities and delays in receiving services through this program were detrimental to those that need them.

  3. Tools to Reduce Barriers to Employment: National Disability Institute
    Communications Director Joshua Ryf introduced Elizabeth Jennings of the National Disability Institute (NDI). NDI is a national resource and development organization with the mission to promote income preservation and asset development for persons with disabilities and to build a better economic future for Americans with disabilities. Jennings first discussed the Understanding Employment Options and Supports project funded by TCDD. After assessing needs of individuals with disabilities and their families as well as employers, the focus of the project was to equip Texans with disabilities, their families and service providers with high quality, accessible information about Social Security disability benefits and work incentives. Jennings discussed the two types of benefits from the Social Security Administration for people with disabilities. She explained the differences between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and reported that this information was included in training materials developed for the project.

    NDI developed three types of media for this project. A webinar series that explains the SSDI and SSI work incentives is housed on the TCDD YouTube channel. Short videos on the common myths such as the loss of healthcare that prevent people with disabilities from seeking employment are also housed on the TCDD YouTube channel. A free, self-paced, online course for service providers, families and individuals with disabilities to build the foundational knowledge of work incentives is housed on NDI’s accessible learning platform. All formats are accessible and captioned and were developed by certified practitioners. Spanish translations of all materials are in progress.

    Jennings provided examples of the online training course and received feedback from Council members and guests on the dissemination of these products.

    Following Jennings’ presentation, Council member Kimberly Blackmon spoke to the Council on her experience gaining employment. She told about her education at Tarrant County College and Eastern New Mexico University and the difficulties she had finding a job. She is currently working for her step-father’s company, Harman Construction, as an office assistant.

  4. Texas Workforce Commission Initiatives
    Council member Jennifer Kaut provided a presentation on vocational rehabilitation (VR) services in Texas. She reported that over 700 VR counselors in more than 130 field offices provide services to between 75,000 – 80,000 consumers per year. The purpose to these services is to remove a barrier to obtaining and/or maintaining employment for an individual with a disability. She noted that services can begin as early as 14 years of age and that transition aged students (14-22 years old) are the largest age group receiving services. Individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders are the largest disability population but services are provided for a variety of disabilities such as blind/low vision, deaf/hard of hearing, medical conditions, mental health, addiction, traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries and other back/orthopedic injuries. Services are time limited and the individual must meet eligibility criteria. Kaut further explained the process to receive services from application, eligibility determination, assessment and planning, development of the Individualized Plan of Employment, services provided, and employment.
    Kaut discussed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) focus on transition students as well as the specialized assessments, interventions and supports for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

  5. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Accounts
    NDI Project Director Jennings provided information on the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act which amends the federal tax code to add section 529A to create a new option for eligible people with disabilities to save money in a tax-exempt account that can be used for qualified disability expenses while still maintaining eligibility for federal public benefits. The ABLE Act authorized but did not require states to establish ABLE programs and individuals are not obligated to register for accounts in their home state.

    Jennings reviewed the features and eligibility requirements for an ABLE account. She explained that “qualified disability expenses” relate to the individual’s disability in maintaining or improving health, independence, or quality of life. Qualified disability expenses should be broadly construed to permit the inclusion of basic living expenses and are not limited to medical necessity or the exclusion of services that benefit others in addition to the person with a disability. She reviewed examples of qualified expenses and explained that non-qualified expenses are subject to tax consequences and may affect eligibility of federal benefits.

    Jennings further explained the impact of assets in an ABLE account on federal benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. She referred members and guests to the ABLE National Resource Center to learn more details and about accounts available in different states.

    Following Jennings’ presentation, Executive Director Beth Stalvey introduced TCDD Policy Fellow Lauren Gerken from the Arc of Texas. Gerken noted that she is studying for her Master’s Degree in Disability Studies. She previously worked at Easter Seals of Central Texas before accepting the fellowship at the Arc where she focuses on employment issues. Her goal is to eliminate or reduce barriers to employment for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities.


Council Chair Durheim adjourned the Committee of the Whole at 12:46 PM.

Beth Stalvey, Secretary to the Council