Director’s Note from Richard Wolitski, Ph.D., Director, HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy: As a field, we often struggle with how to address broader economic and social issues that affect health and well-being. We can’t change the economy or address the underlying social and structural issues. But we can chip away at these in smaller ways that can change people’s lives forever. The Getting to Work training is a great example of what we can do that can benefit people living with HIV, their families, and, ultimately, taxpayers.
Employment is an essential part of leading an independent, self-directed life for all people, including people living with HIV or AIDS. Sometimes, however, employment programs don’t have enough information about serving people living with HIV and organizations that serve this population don’t have enough information about employment issues. To address this gap and help improve outcomes for people living with HIV, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of HIV/AIDS Housing (OHH), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), developed in 2015 and launched a free, self-paced training curriculum entitled Getting to Work for HIV/AIDS housing and service providers. The curriculum is focused on incorporating employment assistance into the service package of AIDS service organizations and housing providers.
The HIV epidemic in the United States has undergone a paradigm shift. Advances in HIV treatment effectiveness and availability have greatly improved the life expectancy of HIV-positive individuals and increased their ability to join or return to the workforce. As such, OHH and ODEP sought to create a curriculum that could assist community-based agencies in supporting this population as their needs changed.
Research has shown that HIV-positive individuals who are employed have increased CD4 cell counts and a lower viral load, which not only keeps them healthy but also helps prevent the spread of HIV. Employment is a source of hope and optimism for many people, and can offer a way to live an independent and self-directed life, which positively impacts a person’s overall health and can ultimately reduce their dependence on public benefits. Additionally, working increases community connections, which prevents isolation, and promotes continued treatment adherence.
Getting to Work is a three-part, online, multi-media curriculum that offers HIV/AIDS service and housing providers strategies for connecting their clients with the jobs they need to stay healthy and move toward or sustain self-sufficiency. The Getting to Work curriculum was developed with input from the U.S Department of Justice and several HIV/AIDS service providers across the country that have demonstrated leadership in this area, as well as the National Working Positive Coalition, an ODEP Alliance partner.
The comprehensive curriculum provides an overview of a variety of tools an organization can integrate into their current programming to offer employment services. Specifically, the curriculum does a deep dive into benefits planning. The curriculum discusses in great detail Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) workforce incentive programs that prevent SSI and SSDI beneficiaries from losing all SSI and SSDI benefits when deciding to re-enter or enter the workforce.
Our hope is for every HIV/AIDS housing and service provider to answer the call of the changing HIV/AIDS population and utilize every tool at their disposal to enhance programming by including an appropriate level of employment services. HUD is proud to share the Getting to Work curriculum that can serve as a guide in beginning or furthering the provision of employment services. The Getting to Work Curriculum can be found on the HUD Exchange at the following link https://www.hudexchange.info/trainings/dol-hud-getting-to-work-curriculum-for-hiv-aids-providers/.