Freedom to Work grant expands South Dakota employment opportunities

Freedom to Work grant expands South Dakota employment opportunities Gov. Mike Rounds has announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded the South Dakota Department of Human Services the Freedom to Work grant for the third year in a row.

"With this money," said Gov. Rounds "we're attempting to improve employment opportunities for South Dakotans with disabilities. We can remove barriers to employment by enhancing Medicaid services to enable them to work in jobs and careers and retain their needed health care benefits."

South Dakota plans to use the $500,000 grant to focus on the development of a Medicaid buy-in to allow people with disabilities to become employed and maintain Medicaid Health coverage at affordable premiums or co-pays. In 2003, South Dakota, accomplished the extension of Medicaid Personal Assistance Services to the work place with the Freedom to Work grant.

"A person with a disability's largest barrier to becoming employed is the fear of losing his or her health coverage," said Grady Kickul, division director for the Division of Rehabilitation Services within the Department of Human Services. "We're proud to say that South Dakota ranks second in the nation at 63.5 percent for having individuals with work disabilities who are in fact working."

The national average for the United States is 48.7 percent according to the 2000 United States Census. "With more affordable health care coverage for workers with disabilities, this percentage could increase significantly," Kickul said.

The Freedom to Work grants were awarded to 28 states and the District of Columbia. The grants are part of President Bush's New Freedom Initiative, which aims at eliminating barriers that unnecessarily hinder Americans with disabilities.

as they seek to participate fully in the life of their communities. The grants were awarded based on each state's ability to establish achievable benchmarks in creating systems change.

For more information, contact Grady Kickul, division director for the Division of Rehabilitation Services within the Department of Human Services at (605) 773-4644 or grady.kickul@state.sd.us.

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