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Justin Peebles, 32, watches TV in the room he rents at a halfway house in Wausau. He said he would rather be working, but has been waiting for help from a state agency since April. Tegan Wendland/Center for Investigative Journalism

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State passes up federal disabilities aid for jobless, despite backlogs

Read the full story on the impact of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation decision not to take federal funds here.

As required by federal law, Wisconsin’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation uses a category system to prioritize clients with the highest need first.

Category 1 clients, those with the most significant physical or cognitive disabilities, are served immediately. But Category 2 clients, who may still have multiple serious limitations on their functioning, can wait months to begin receiving services.

According to DVR, there are 2,996 Category 2 clients on the agency’s waiting list. The rest of the 4,077-member waiting list is made up of Category 3 clients — those who may need special employment accommodation but have “no serious limitation.”

A DVR spokesman said some Category 3 clients were activated from the waiting list in 2012 after waiting for a year or more. Under the current budget, these clients are not expected to ever be activated from the list, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

DVR officials project that under the current budget, the average wait time for services will grow by one to two months by the middle of 2015 — to between five and six months — for clients in the second category.

And caseloads remain high in urban offices like Milwaukee, where some DVR counselors meet with 200 clients a month, according to Linda Vegoe, chairwoman of the council that oversees DVR. Vegoe said 80 is the ideal and 130 is the maximum number to provide effective services.

But DVR administrator Mike Greco said the average caseload per counselor statewide is 91, which he said compares favorably with other states.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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