Funding is quickly running out for a popular Medicaid program that transitions people with disabilities from costly institutions to home and community-based living.

Disability advocacy groups are urging constituents to call lawmakers to voice support for bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize the Money Follows the Person program. Since inception more than a decade ago, it has helped roughly 75,000 people leave nursing homes or intermediate care facilities in favor of their own apartment or a small group home.

Dan Berland, director of federal policy for the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services in Alexandria, Va., said the program saves money and improves quality of life for participants.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“It’s easier for folks to be employed, for example,” Berland said. “By getting out in the community for activities, they start to build a set of relationships. That gives them a greater sense of happiness, acceptance and well-being.”

Money Follows the Person was established in 2005 and has provided nearly $3.7 billion to 44 states, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States have used the funds to hire housing specialists, modify homes or vehicles for accessibility and provide visits from nurses or personal care attendants.

The program officially expired in September 2016 and Berland said six states have already run out of money and the others will all run out by the end of the year. But states that still have available funds can’t use them to modify their programs or serve new clients, making it essential to re-fund the program as quickly as possible, he said.

“We really are down to the very last dollars,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy for the Center for Public Representation in Washington D.C. “States are having to start dismantling some of their infrastructure and will be ending their programs if it isn’t re-funded soon.”

In December, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced the EMPOWER Care Act (S. 2227) that calls for allocating $450 million per year for five years to renew the program.

“Helping people access long-term care while staying in their own homes is a win-win,” Cantwell said in a statement at the time. “Patients prefer it, and it saves money.”

The Department of Health and Human Services report found that for people with physical disabilities, monthly costs to Medicare and Medicaid in the first year after transitioning into the community decreased by an average of 23 percent. For those with intellectual disabilities, average monthly costs dropped even more, by 30 percent.

Barkoff said advocates hope the program will be included in a March omnibus spending package. Efforts are also underway to see reauthorization legislation introduced in the House of Representatives.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.