The Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) is a program focused on an important dimension of disability employment: Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW) strategies. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in partnership with the Employment and Training Administration and Social Security Administration, the program is engaging eight state teams in a series of demonstration projects focused on helping workers stay at or return to the workforce following an illness or injury.
The primary goals of the RETAIN Demonstration Projects are:
- To increase employment retention and labor force participation of individuals who acquire, and/or are at risk of developing disabilities that inhibit their ability to work; and
- To reduce long-term work absences among project participants, including the need for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.
The projects are modeled after promising programs operating in Washington State, including the Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE), the Early Return to Work (ERTW), and the Stay at Work programs. While these programs operate within the state's workers' compensation system and are available only to people with a work-related injury or illness, the RETAIN Demonstration Projects aim to improve SAW/RTW outcomes for workers that experience an injury or illness, regardless of whether it was work-related or not.
The RETAIN Demonstration Projects will span a total of 6 ½ years and be funded in two phases. Phase 1 was originally awarded for an 18-month period of performance, including planning and start-up activities, as well as the launch of a small pilot demonstration. Nearly $19,000,000 was initially awarded to eight state workforce agencies during Phase 1, with supplementary funding provided in March 2020. At that time, the Phase 1 period of performance was extended to 2 ½ years to allow pilot projects to more fully develop and demonstrate results. Funding listed below reflects total award amounts, including supplementary funding.
- California Employment Development Department - $3,150,000
- Connecticut Department of Labor - $3,110,280
- Kansas Department of Commerce - $2,303,757
- Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment - $3,500,000
- Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development - $3,500,000
- Ohio Department of Job and Family Services - $3,500,000
- Vermont Department of Labor - $3,295,876
- Washington Employment Security Department - $3,500,000
At the end of the Phase 1 period of performance in September 2020, a subset of these awardees may be competitively awarded up to $22,100,000 each to fully implement their projects in Phase 2. Phase 2 will span four years, including six months for administrative start-up, 30 months for project implementation, and 12 months for close-out and final assessment activities.
What will the RETAIN Demonstration Projects entail?
Each state is focusing on early intervention strategies and coordination between employers, healthcare and employment-services professionals, and individuals with an illness or injury that prevents them from working. There are differences in how the states are implementing these strategies to account for differences in employment, insurance, and healthcare landscapes, but the services and supports central to all the projects include:
- Training in occupational health best practices for participating healthcare providers;
- Active involvement of a Return-to-Work Coordinator throughout the medical recovery period to facilitate continued employment;
- Enhanced communication among workers, employers, and healthcare professionals;
- Accommodations and job modifications; and
- Retraining and vocational rehabilitation services.
Successful implementation will require sustained, meaningful involvement of key partners. Each project has established a RETAIN Leadership Team to collectively meet program objectives and drive better resource integration at the local level. The RETAIN Leadership Teams include, at a minimum, State Departments of Labor, State Workforce Development Agencies, or equivalent entities; State Departments of Health or equivalent entities generally responsible for managing, regulating, or influencing the provision of health services; and public or private healthcare systems practicing coordinated care and population health management.
Technical assistance and evaluation
Throughout their projects, RETAIN awardees will benefit from technical assistance (TA) and evaluation support. ODEP awarded a contract to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to operate as the RETAIN TA provider. In this role, AIR will help awardees plan and launch their pilot projects in Phase 1 and implement their programs to full-scale in Phase 2. In addition, SSA awarded a contract to Mathematica Policy Research to serve as the project's independent evaluator. During Phase 1, the evaluator will finalize the evaluation design for each project, and during Phase 2 they will implement the evaluation of the demonstration projects. Grantees collect and submit data each quarter to facilitate both the evaluation and their own continuous quality improvement efforts.