Future Uncertain As Money To Move People Out Of Institutions Runs Dry
With time and money quickly running out, advocates are pushing for passage of a bill that would extend a federal program that moves people with disabilities from institutions to community living.
Congress is scheduled to recess for the year at the end of next week, while every state will run out of funds for the program known as Money Follows the Person by the close of the month, said Nicole Jorwic, director of rights policy at The Arc.
“The holdup is really figuring out how to pay for it,” Jorwic said. “But the urgency remains clear to everyone we talk to on the Hill because the money will be out by Dec. 31.”
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Money Follows the Person allows states to help people with disabilities transition from nursing homes or other institutions to an apartment or small group home by paying for programs not normally covered by Medicaid such as employment and housing services.
The bill, called the EMPOWER Care Act, or H.R. 5306, would reauthorize the program for one year at $450 million, but advocates said a short-term extension could be in the works so more time can be spent next year finding long-term funding.
States have received roughly $3.7 billion to help more than 88,000 people through Money Follows the Person since 2006. The program expired in 2016. At least a dozen states have already spent all of their funds and the remaining states will soon be out.
The legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year by Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the Senate. Guthrie’s spokeswoman Lauren Gaydos said he and Dingell are pushing hard to get the extension passed in time.
“With many states about to run out of money for this important program, Congressman Guthrie is hopeful that an agreement can be reached,” Gaydos said.
Sarah Meek, director of legislative affairs for the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, said the legislation has been a high priority for the lame-duck session.
“We’ve been hearing that this program is at the top of their health list,” Meek said. “We feel really confident if anything is going to get done, MFP will be in that bucket.”
She said waiting for the new Congress to convene next year will be too late for some people with disabilities.
“People who have been waiting to transition will just stay in institutions,” Meek said. “They will continue to live in a setting they would not like to live in, or if states want to transition them it would be on the state’s dime.”
A November Congressional Budget Office report calculated the cost of funding the program for two years at $882 million.
However, Jorwic said the report did not analyze the ultimate savings to Medicaid that result from moving people out of costly institutions.
“All of the evaluations that have been done on the program from government agencies or nongovernmental entities have shown Medicaid savings of as much as 20 percent per Medicaid beneficiary, per month,” she said.