Disability advocates are scrambling to get funding renewed for a federal program that’s helped thousands with developmental disabilities leave institutions but is now on the brink of collapse.

For more than a decade, a Medicaid program known as Money Follows the Person has assisted over 75,000 people transition from institutions to community-based living. But the program expired in September 2016 and state programs have been running on fumes ever since.

In recent days, however, U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., unveiled a bill known as the EMPOWER Care Act (H.R. 5306) to reauthorize the program, allocating $450 million per year through 2022. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate late last year.

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The move is boosting the hopes of advocates who would like to see the Money Follows the Person renewal folded into an omnibus spending bill that’s expected to be approved by Congress this week or another larger bill later this year.

“Eight states have already exhausted their MFP funding and every other state will exhaust their funding by the end of the year,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy at the Center for Public Representation. “As a result, states are already starting to dismantle their programs. So it is urgent.”

Barkoff said advocacy groups have been meeting with lawmakers and urging constituents to ask members of Congress to support the measure.

According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government has distributed nearly $3.7 billion to 43 states and Washington, D.C. for Money Follows the Person since it was established.

The cost to care for people with intellectual disabilities who have transitioned to community-based living through the program declined 30 percent, or $48,156 per person, in the first year, the report found, while quality of life improved.

“This bill would extend a program that represents a win-win for states and individuals with disabilities. Individuals regain their independence and life in the community, while state and federal governments save money,” said Nicole Jorwic, director of rights policy at The Arc. “We are confident that if passed this bill will greatly assist states as they continue to rebalance service systems into the community and move us towards a more inclusive society.”

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