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DEED invests $1.5 million in stimulus funds on internships for people with disabilities

As of Sept. 1, about $1.5 million has been available to finance as many as 169 paid internships for Minnesotans who have significant disabilities.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's (DEED) Vocational Rehabilitation Services will pay for the internships using part of its $6.3 million federal economic stimulus allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"We believe it's an exemplary use of economic stimulus dollars," said DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy. "These internships will be available for virtually any job, with any employer, anywhere in the state, and they offer valuable work experience to Minnesotans whose disabilities might otherwise be viewed as barriers to employment."

Interns will be paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, although employers may augment that wage if they wish. Employers will have considerable scheduling flexibility for any interns they hire under the program. The only restrictions are that each intern must work between 10 and 40 hours a week up to a minimum total of 260 hours and a maximum total of 520 hours.

Funding is available to any company or organization that wants to take advantage of this opportunity to identify and recruit new talent and to expand their network for potential employees. The internship program will operate under an agreement between Vocational Rehabilitation Services and several of Minnesota's Community Rehabilitation Providers (CRPs), a network of nonprofit organizations that provide services for people with disabilities.

Under the agreement, any current client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services is eligible to participate, with the caveat that the internship position must match the employment goal on his or her employment plan. The CRPs will manage the program, provide direct services and handle the payroll.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services will reimburse the CRPs for interns' wages, as well as for services such as intake fees, employer taxes, site development and other costs associated with the internship program. Funding for the internship program runs through Sept. 30, 2011.

DEED's Vocational Rehabilitation Services offers services through its Vocational Rehabilitation, Extended Employment and Independent Living programs to assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for, find or keep jobs and careers of their choice.