Minnesota’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services receives $13 million federal grant

The money will help create a demonstration project that will offer 1,200 people with disabilities the opportunity to explore careers with some of the many Minnesota businesses in the high-growth, high-demand transportation industry.

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Earlier this year, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s #SummerofJobs campaign highlighted the importance of hiring people with disabilities. DEED Commissioner Sreve Grove met with students who were learning valuable skills detailing buses for MVTA Transit at their Eagan garage.
Image: Courtesy of DEED
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The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and its Vocational Rehabilitation Services program (VRS) recently received a five-year, $13 million Disability Innovation Fund (DIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

DEED and VRS will partner with DEED’s State Services for the Blind, along with the Minnesota Departments of Human Services and Education to support Minnesotans with disabilities in finding employment opportunities that pay at least minimum wage.

The grant will help with creating a demonstration project titled “Go MN!” which will offer 1,200 people with disabilities – working in or contemplating subminimum wage work – the opportunity to explore careers with some of the many Minnesota businesses in the high-growth, high-demand transportation industry.

Employers participating in the project will commit to paying at least minimum wage. Over the five-year period, the project will adopt the Progressive Employment Model to connect students, youth, and adults across multiple counties in Northeast Minnesota, the Twin Cities metro area, and Southwest Minnesota with these work experiences. This approach will serve VRS and SSB customers with disabilities as well as their employer customers.

“We know Minnesotans living with disabilities continue to face barriers when it comes to realizing their full economic potential,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a prepared statement. “With the tightest labor market in Minnesota history, this grant is coming at the perfect time to move the dial on opportunities for persons with disabilities at risk of or earning subminimum wages.”


More than half a million Minnesotans report having one or more disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is double that of people without disabilities.

During Minnesota’s current historically tight labor market, according to a news release announcing the grant, it's more important than ever to reach out to often-overlooked talent pools, including those with disabilities.

“Minnesota is home to nearly 6,000 people earning below minimum wage due to their having a disability. That number is one of the highest in the nation. We need to do better, and this is one step towards that goal,” said Executive Director David Dively of Minnesota Council on Disability. “State services and employment organizations always need to consider competitive employment options when working with clients. Funding through this grant program can ease the transition from subminimum wages and give people a better chance for success. We support this shift towards paying people with disabilities competitive wages and providing more opportunities to work alongside people of all abilities."

VRS and SSB are DEED divisions that have long focused on connecting workers with disabilities to employment opportunities.

“Minnesota’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to providing employment services – counseling, training, placement services, and job supports – to citizens with disabilities,” said VRS Director Dee Torgerson. “And we’re committed to partnering with businesses and employers to assist in recruiting and hiring skilled and talented individuals with disabilities to fulfill their staffing needs.”

Employers who want help connecting to workers with disabilities are invited to utilize resources on , which lists events, links to hiring and retention resources and more. Career seekers with disabilities are encouraged to contact staff in the state's Vocational Rehabilitation Services and State Services for the Blind divisions.

“State Services for the Blind puts the right job seekers together with the right employers,” said Natasha Jerde, SSB director. “Our customers, who are blind, DeafBlind, or visually impaired, bring the know-how, the skill, the experience, as well as the ability to overcome hurdles to the workplace. Time and again we hear from employers how pleased they are that they tapped into this under-used talent pool.”

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