VRS – Financial Empowerment Project Employment Opportunities

You’ve probably seen the Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) staff around but may not know who they are or what they offer to your clients. VRS initiated the Financial Empowerment Program (FEP) in 2005 after completing a 5 year SSA research project. Their mission is to provide Benefits Counseling and Assistance services to individuals living with a serious mental health condition in San Mateo County. They utilize a Peer Counseling model which means that some of their team members have lived experience and may be receiving benefits themselves. They are CARF certified, one of the few Benefits Counseling programs in the country.

FEP Peer Counselors primarily assist with the following benefits: cash assistance like GA, CalWORKS, Unemployment, State Disability Insurance (SDI) and the Social Security programs (SSI and SSDI); health insurance assistance (Medi-Cal and Medicare) and food resources.

FEP services include application assistance, benefits education and help exploring post-eligibility issues like returning to work or school. Poverty will increase the stress in anyone’s life. Benefits counseling services are important in the disability recovery process and have been identified as a “best practice.”

Perhaps the best way to explain their services is to share a client story. FEP used to visit Redwood House once a week to meet with residents. Often they see folks who were recently hospitalized, have no income and are trying to plan their next step. For some this is their first mental health crisis, which in itself is overwhelming.

One afternoon at Redwood House a Peer Counselor met a woman who had been living in her car, had no income/resources, had just been discharged from the hospital and didn’t know where to turn. Mental Health Association and Redwood House helped her stabilize. FEP helped her apply for and get disability benefits she had paid into. They also helped her connect with vocational services. Mental Health Association helped her transition from the shelter to transitional housing and then to independent housing assistance. This individual now has a part-time job, an income to live on, and an apartment and seems to be doing well. When all the pieces fit together individuals they serve can reclaim their lives.

Recently FEP has stopped visiting Redwood House and had to cut back on services in our BHRS clinics. Their challenge is finding capable individuals with lived experiences who want to train to be benefits counselors. Last year FEP provided Benefit counseling services to 1,205 clients. They would like to be able to continue to meet the needs of the community but need your help to find some new Peer Benefit Counselors.

FEP Peer Benefit Counselors usually work about 15 hours a week and are paid $10-$15 an hour. This is a temporary position lasting up to a maximum of 3 years. The ideal candidate must:

  • Receive mental health services and be a resident of San Mateo County
  • Be computer literate and able to learn & teach benefits’ information to consumers
  • Be reliable and able to work independently
  • Comfortable interacting with other clients, good listening skills
  • Pass basic math skills test, computer Internet skills test, and benefits application documentation test prior to interview
  • Clear County of San Mateo fingerprinting

If you know any individuals who might be interested in this position please contact Judy Downing at (650) 802-6486.