With states on the brink of ending their services, federal lawmakers gave a three-month extension to a popular Medicaid program that moves people with disabilities out of institutions and into community-based housing.

President Donald Trump signed legislation late last week that included $112 million for Money Follows the Person. The program provides states with additional Medicaid dollars to cover employment and housing services to help transition people from nursing homes or other institutional facilities into apartments or small group homes.

Money Follows the Person expired in 2016 and states have been running through whatever money they still had remaining to continue helping people make the transition to the community.

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“Some money is better than no money,” said Sarah Meek, director of legislative affairs for the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR. “Extending it for some time is better than letting it die.”

Advocates had originally pushed to have the bill passed before the end of 2018 when states were scheduled to run out of funds for Money Follows the Person. But the extension got caught up in the federal spending impasse that resulted in a 35-day partial government shutdown. Now, they will focus on long-term funding to ensure stability, said Nicole Jorwic, director of rights policy at The Arc.

“We will have to get back to work very quickly because three months of funding will go very fast,” Jorwic said. “The positive thing is we have strong momentum… We know that the program saves money, and most importantly, we know that it assists people to move back into their communities.”

Jorwic said as states waited to see what would happen to funding, transitions out of institutions slowed. At least a dozen states ran out of money before the legislation passed.

“What we are working on is seeing if the federal government can give some sort of notice to states that this did pass so the message is coming that they can continue to use these funds,” Jorwic said. “There is just the sad reality that there is going to be some long-term damage because of how long this process took, because some states did run out of money. There will have to be some rebuilding.”

In a December letter to lawmakers urging continuation of the program, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities said Money Follows the Person helped states spend more on home and community-based services while reducing expenditures on institutional services.

“While Congress has made great bipartisan strides in ensuring persons with disabilities can be integrated into their communities and that seniors can age in place, systematic biases still exist that favor more costly institutional care over home and community-based services,” the letter said.

The ultimate goal, advocates say, will be legislation to make Money Follows the Person permanent for states, which have received roughly $3.7 billion to help more than 88,000 people with disabilities and seniors relocate since 2006.

“For the advocacy community, our focus will really be seeing if we can make this a permanent state plan option,” Meek said. “It’s been around for 13 years. It’s been tested. It’s been researched. It wouldn’t have to be reauthorized every year.”

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