June 11, 2021

(DES MOINES, Iowa) – The U.S. Department of Labor has selected seven states including Iowa to participate in its Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative that aims to align state policy and funding to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with mental health conditions. The effort to develop a strategic plan, led by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS), kicked off March 30, with DHS set to implement the plan from May 2021-August 2022.

Administered by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the initiative provides Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin with tailored and targeted technical assistance. This assistance includes expertise to help each state in creating and implementing state strategic plans that encompass multiple systems including mental/behavioral health, Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation, and workforce and education. States will develop and implement their strategic plans in consultation with their state’s key mental health advocacy organizations.

In Iowa, the initiative involves a leadership team of multiple state agency representatives, persons with lived experience and family members, as well as representatives of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Iowa, and providers of employment services. The work of the grant is to build out and sustain the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of supported employment sanctioned by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

IPS is the most successful, evidenced-based model of supported employment. IPS encourages a ‘recovery while working’ philosophy. Using IPS, people attain competitive integrated employment while being assisted with ongoing support services.

In addition to supporting states, ASPIRE will provide a forum for knowledge-sharing between states, federal agencies, mental health service providers and other stakeholders about policies and practices to implement IPS to increase competitive integrated employment for people with mental health conditions. As defined, competitive integrated employment is work in settings where most employees have no disabilities and are paid directly at the minimum or prevailing wage.

Iowa has three successful IPS teams operating since 2018 with Mental Health and Disability Services Region support. Iowa added a fourth IPS team last year. In 2020, Iowa received technical assistance from ODEP to craft a funding model for the delivery of IPS services. Now, through ASPIRE, Iowa will add three more IPS teams by 2022. Ongoing expansion is planned so that every MHDS Region has access to an IPS team.

“Iowans value work and recognize the positive impact of supporting individual achievement,” said Marissa Eyanson, Division Administrator of Community Mental Health and Disability Services. “DHS is excited to continue our work with all of our partners across the state and the nation as we continue to build on Iowa's commitment to supporting employment as a first choice option for everyone.”

To learn more about MHDS’s efforts to increase employment for people with disabilities, visit the DHS website.


Program contact:

Lin Nibbelink



Media contact:

Matt Highland