Service Providers Turn To Washington For Help
Disability providers are looking to Congress for a substantial boost in funding over the next three years as they cope with new mandates that many worry could force service cuts.
A bill introduced this summer in the U.S. House of Representatives would offer a temporary increase in federal Medicaid dollars for programs serving people with developmental disabilities.
Known as the Disability Community Act, the proposal comes as service providers are bracing for the impact of a federal rule taking effect later this year that will require many more workers to be paid overtime.
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At present, overtime is only mandated for salaried workers earning less than $23,660. But starting in December, that figure will double to $47,476 with automatic increases in the future.
Disability service providers have argued that the pay increase — which would affect many of their employees — would compromise the care they can provide since such agencies rely on Medicaid payments that have not be adjusted to account for the pay hike. Accordingly, the Labor Department offered some reprieve, agreeing to delay enforcement for many providers of Medicaid-funded services to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities through March 17, 2019.
Nonetheless, advocates say non-enforcement is murky at best. And the change comes as disability providers are also acclimating to two other federal rules — one defining what qualifies as a community-based setting and another mandating minimum wage and overtime protections for in-home care workers.
“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” said Gabrielle Sedor, chief operations officer at the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, a trade group that represents over 1,000 private agencies providing disability services across the country.
“We’re not asking for the complete cost of what it would take for all of these changes,” Sedor said. “This bill is just buying some time for states to build in the funding for these reimbursement costs.”
The Disability Community Act, which is supported by United Cerebral Palsy, Autism Speaks, the Autism Society and Easter Seals in addition to ANCOR, is estimated to cost about $300 million.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and has support from Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, as well as both chairs of the Congressional Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.
“As someone who has lived with a disability for over 25 years, I cannot overstate the crucial role direct support professionals play in promoting independence and empowering individuals with disabilities to live more fulfilling lives as active members of their communities,” Langevin said. “I strongly support the Department of Labor’s expansion of overtime protections for workers, but we must also ensure that it does not result in a disruption of the vital services and supports that people with disabilities and their families rely on daily.”
Proponents say they’re working to get a companion bill introduced in the U.S. Senate.
The push for extra Medicaid dollars is not without critics in the disability community, however. The National Council on Independent Living is opposing the measure arguing that it only addresses providers of services to one segment of the disability community — those with intellectual and developmental conditions.