The following timeline documents a brief history of ERI’s evolution as an organization dedicated to advancing employment, informed choice, and quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

1990: ERI was founded to assist Wisconsin citizens, including those with disabilities in attaining full employment.

1991: ERI was funded through a “Corporate Initiative” Grant from the Federal Department of Labor to offer training and technical assistance to supported employment providers and employers interested in hiring people with disabilities using the supported employment approach.

1992: ERI began to recognize that one of the most pervasive barriers to employment for people with disabilities was the fear of losing needed cash benefits and healthcare if they went to work.  ERI became committed to helping people with disabilities understand how work would impact their cash benefits, eligibility for health coverage and how to use work incentives. This launched ERI’s leadership in the evolution of disability and work incentives benefits counseling.

1993: ERI piloted a case management approach to providing benefits analysis and advisement for Dane County residents with severe physical disabilities. ERI focused on identifying and addressing benefits issues and other barriers to employment faced by people with disabilities.  This led to the development of the Vocational Futures Planning process, a flexible package of employment planning services which combined benefits counseling with other services including barriers/asset assessment, assistive technology assessment and guided job search.

1995:  ERI negotiated with the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to purchase benefits counseling services on a Purchase of Service (POS) basis. ERI developed a three-day curriculum to train the first Work Incentives specialists in Wisconsin, using funding from the Department of Workforce Development, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

1998: As demand grew for benefits counseling services, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) contracted with ERI to develop a training curriculum for new benefits specialists as part of the federal Social Security Administration’s State Partnership Initiative.

1999: ERI became involved in a five-year research project, Wisconsin Pathways to Independence (WPTI), one of 12 Social Security Administration funded projects included in the State Partnership Initiative (SPI).  ERI provided statewide training and technical assistance to contracted sites to providing the Vocational Futures Planning process. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided additional funding.

2000:  The ERI benefits counseling service model became recognized as “best practice” by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and was used when developing the federal Benefits Planning, Assistance and Outreach (BPAO) program. ERI provided SSA funded benefits counseling services in 36 Wisconsin counties.  BPAO evolved into what is now the SSA Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program.

2001:  DHFS funded ERI to develop a training program for individuals approving employment plans for applicants enrolling into the state’s new Medicaid Buy-in program. This resulted in the Health and Employment Counseling (HEC) program.

2002: The Department of Health and Family Services added Vocational Futures Planning (VFP) as an allowable service for COP Waiver/CIP II participants.

2004: In partnership with DHFS, ERI developed and implemented the current Wisconsin Disability Benefits Network (WDBN) as a formalized network to train benefits specialists and provide outreach and information to other community members regarding benefits and employment issues.

2008: ERI began to learn and adopt the use of technology for providing flexible, on-demand training for new benefits specialists.  ERI committed itself to becoming a leader in the use of e-learning as a way to train and build the capacity of benefits specialists and other disability professionals.  This led to the development of the Paths to Employment Resource Center (PERC), a virtual training and technical assistance center, funded under a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Stout.

2008: ERI started an Employment Network, ERI PLUS, under the SSA Ticket to Work Program.  ERI PLUS provides employment retention services to SSA beneficiaries, assisting those who have a goal of self-sufficiency and ending their dependency on SSA benefits.  ERI partners frequently with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to help DVR customers retain jobs through assistance with their benefits issues and financial support for work-related expenses.

2009: ERI started the Community Benefits Specialist (CBS) program in partnership with Dane County Human Services.  Through this program, ERI assists local people with severe mental illness to apply for Social Security, Medicaid and a variety of other public benefits and services.

2010: ERI became one of ten sites in the country to manage and implement Enhanced Work Incentives Counseling (EWIC) for SSA’s seven-year Benefits Offset National Demonstration (BOND) project. Under the EWIC service, SSA will test a $1 reduction in benefits for every $2 in earnings over substantial gainful activity (SGA) levels, in combination with benefits and employment counseling, with the goal of helping beneficiaries with disabilities return to work.

2011 – 2013: ERI continued to grow and provide work incentives benefits planning and assistive technology services under a variety of programs and fee-for-service arrangements. The Community Benefits Specialist (CBS) and Wisconsin Disability Benefits Network (WDBN) projects were each presented with a “Wisconsin Partner in Service Award” from the Social Security Regional Office for support in helping SSA “promote efficient, quality service to the public who qualify for Social Security program benefits, and promote and increase understanding of Social Security.”

ERI entered into a Partnership Plus agreement with Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to facilitate more seamless services under the Ticket to Work (TTW) program. ERI’s TTW program became one of the top twenty performing Employment Networks in the nation. ERI continued to build expertise in Distance Learning resulting in formalized partnerships with the Wisconsin Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) program to expand online training courses for the Disability Benefits Specialist (DBS) and Elder Benefits Specialist (EBS) programs.

2014: Wisconsin became one of six sites participating in PROMISE, a national demonstration project focused on improving outcomes for children who receive  Supplemental Security Income (SSI)  and their families. Wisconsin Promise provides services to youth receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI)  and their families to help them meet their school and work goals in order to better their income and financial stability. This multi-agency collaboration includes the Wisconsin Departments of Workforce Development (DWD), Public Instruction (DPI), Children and Families (DCF), and Health Services (DHS). ERI provides training and technical assistance to work incentive benefits specialists providing services under Wisconsin Promise and provides work incentives benefits counseling services to Promise participants and their families. In addition, ERI partnered with University of Wisconsin-Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute to develop a Promise project brand and marketing materials to help recruit participants and help them enroll in DVR services. Services include career exploration, community work experience, benefits counseling, financial literacy training, social and soft skills training, and family training on employment expectations.

2015: ERI celebrated our 25th Anniversary. Though we continue to grow in size and reach since our inception 25 years ago, our focus has always remained the same: empowering people with disabilities to achieve their employment goals.

ERI became a provider in Dane County’s new Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) program which services and supports for people with mental health or substance use conditions to achieve their highest possible level of independence and stability.

2016: ERI is a partner on several national technical assistance projects related to employment for people with disabilities and to promote new approaches as required by the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act (WIOA). This leverages ERI marketing, outreach and distance learning capabilities to promote best practices in the field.