A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan under consideration in the U.S. Senate includes a major investment in home- and community-based services and stimulus payments for more people with disabilities.

The bill approved by the House of Representatives last weekend would funnel an estimated $9.3 billion extra to states for Medicaid programs that enable people with disabilities to live in the community.

The measure also includes $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning less than $75,000 annually, which unlike other stimulus checks issued since the pandemic began would go to people with disabilities who meet the income requirements whether or not they’re considered dependents.

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In addition, the legislation would provide funding for COVID-19 vaccines and testing as well as money for schools, state and local governments and other needs in response to the pandemic.

However, the Senate bill is not expected to include a House provision to increase the federal minimum wage and eliminate subminimum wage for people with disabilities after the Senate parliamentarian determined that it was not allowed for procedural reasons.

The influx of cash for home- and community-based services would come in the form of a 7.35% bump in the federal government’s share of spending on the program for one year.

Under the bill that cleared the House, states would have “great flexibility” in how they could use the extra money, according to Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc. They could boost pay for direct support professionals, help people come off of waiting lists for services and ensure that programs for people with developmental disabilities can reopen safely during the ongoing pandemic, among many other options, she said.

“This funding will allow states to make investments in HCBS that are so desperately needed as the system has been stretched and stressed,” Jorwic said.

Since the pandemic started, disability service providers have been hit with falling revenues as programs were forced to close and they’ve faced higher costs for personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing, cleaning supplies and other changes. Providers are bracing for more financial pressure as states and local governments tighten their belts in response to revenue shortfalls as a result of the pandemic.

Advocates have spent the last year begging federal lawmakers to allocate funds to ensure that the nation’s system of community-based services and supports could sustain only to come up empty-handed. But this time, with funds already included in the House bill, things are looking different, they say.

“We’ve been hearing from folks in the Senate that particularly the HCBS provision enjoys a large amount of support,” said Sarah Meek, senior director of legislative affairs at the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, who said she couldn’t remember another piece of legislation that included an increase in the federal share of spending just for home- and community-based services.

“The HCBS system was already underfunded prior to the pandemic. Those issues have only been exacerbated by the staffing and safety challenges of the pandemic so this funding is sorely needed,” said Meek whose group represents disability services providers across the nation. “We can’t wait for it to get signed into law so states and ultimately people receiving HCBS and the DSPs that support them can start feeling some relief.”

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