As federal lawmakers weigh another coronavirus relief bill, disability advocates say nothing could be more important than increasing funding for home- and community-based services.

A coalition of advocacy groups is pressing Congress to rubber-stamp emergency grant funding to support people with developmental disabilities living in their own homes or small group homes in the community.

The request comes as lawmakers craft their next major relief bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to be considered in May.

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“Broadly, in the packages that have passed, the very specific needs of the (disability) community have been all but ignored,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc. “It’s more important than ever to fund home- and community-based services because right now, it’s a safety issue.”

Jorwic noted that coronavirus has spread rampantly at large facilities housing people with developmental disabilities. She cited institutions in Massachusetts, Texas and Illinois where half of residents have tested positive.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition representing dozens of disability advocacy groups, is pushing Congress to incorporate a proposal that would allocate extra funds to each state equivalent to 15 percent of their current spending on Medicaid home- and community-based services. The money could be used to help people with developmental disabilities who are on waiting lists or those who are in institutional settings who qualify and wish to be in the community.

In addition, advocates want direct support professionals, or DSPs, designated as essential personnel so that they can access personal protective equipment, a necessity given that these workers are often unable to maintain six feet of distance while doing their jobs. And, advocates want extra money for hazard pay, overtime, training and recruitment incentives for DSPs.

All told, the price tag for the home- and community-based services grants being sought is probably around $50 billion, Jorwic said, though advocates are still waiting for an official estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

“Without additional resources, aging adults and people with disabilities will be forced out of their homes and communities and into congregate settings, at grave risk to their health — as demonstrated by severe and persistent outbreaks in nursing facilities, institutions and other settings that are proving a danger to the health of people with disabilities,” reads a letter to lawmakers from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. “We know that we must act now to prevent much of the worst impact of this outbreak.”

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