A bipartisan bill to expand resources and support services for residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities won unanimous passage Tuesday in the House of Representatives on a 148-0 vote.
“This population has been left behind for many years of budget cuts and lack of real investment,” said Rep. Lucy Dathan, D-New Canaan, during the House debate. “While we’ve expanded services in the last budget cycle, there’s still more work to do.”
House Bill 5001 — An Act Concerning Resources and Support Services for Persons With an Intellectual or Developmental Disability — addresses waitlists for Medicaid waiver programs and establishes plans to address the needs of residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities across a range of areas, including education, employment, housing and transportation.
The fiscal note filed Tuesday morning stated that the bill would be funded through $30 million from the General Fund and $400,000 from the Special Transportation Fund over the next two years.
However, an amendment filed later in the day removed $17 million in bonding to fund certain measures in the bill. Dathan said this was merely a technical change and that the funding would be addressed as part of the larger bonding bill passed by the legislature before the close of session next week.
Medicaid waiver waitlists
Residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities can qualify for what are called Medicaid waivers, which allow them to receive services at home or in the community, as opposed to in an institutional setting.
However, long waitlists for the waiver programs prevent many residents from receiving care when they need it.
The legislation seeks to address this challenge by, among other measures, requiring state agencies to make recommendations for how to reduce the number of people on waiting lists and regularly report the number of people currently waiting for services.
“We’ve been able to come up with this document that I believe is the pathway to ending waiting lists in the state of Connecticut. Does this do this upon passage? No. Is this a work in progress? Yes,” said Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester.
Dathan said there are currently 2,000 people on a waitlist for the autism waiver, which is managed by the Department of Social Services. There are also more than 900 people on the waitlist for home and community-based services, which is managed by the Department of Developmental Services. The DDS waiting list includes 685 people who are currently receiving no services, as well as an additional 200-plus people who are receiving some services, but need more.
Separate from HB 5001, the Appropriations Committee’s proposed budget earmarks $21.1 million over the next two years to support 260 people on the DDS waiting list, with priority given to those with caretakers over age 65. It also proposes $1.7 million over the next two years to support the autism waiver wait list.
In addition to directly grappling with the waiting lists, the bill also seeks to indirectly address the problem by partnering with the state Department of Education to provide transition planning resources to every student requiring special education, beginning at age 14. This will allow students and parents to understand the services available to them once their child leaves school.
“I do believe that by doing that we will deplete waiting lists at a faster pace, and we will have less waiting lists because more people will have a plan in front of them for when they aged out of SDE and move into services with DDS or DSS,” said Case.
‘It impacts every part of the state of Connecticut’
Across its 72 sections, the legislation also tasks various state agencies with conducting studies and putting together plans related to intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) community needs within housing, education, employment and transportation, among others.
“This bill looks at updating our decades-old approach and servicing the IDD population and establishing a framework to get these vital services out to the community to those who need it the most,” Dathan said.
“It impacts every part of the state of Connecticut,” said Case.
One of the provisions with the highest price tag establishes a DDS grant program for supportive housing facilities. The original amendment authorized $15 million in general obligation bond funds to support the program, but the funding will now be dealt with as part of the legislature’s bonding package.
Another section provides grants to nonprofits that employ individuals with intellectual disabilities, also initially funded through $1 million in bonding.
“We will be addressing these sections in the bonding legislation later this week,” Dathan told the House.
The bill tasks the Office of Policy and Management, the state’s budget office, with assessing existing employment assistance programs for people with disabilities and recommending additional financial incentives for businesses who employ them.
The legislation also calls for what advocates say is a much-needed reassessment of who qualifies as intellectually or developmentally disabled and, by extension, who qualifies for services.
To ensure sufficient staffing to provide these services, the bill assigns the state’s Chief Workforce Officer with the job of establishing a pipeline of trained workers to meet the needs of the IDD community.
HUSKY C income and asset limits
A measure included in the version of HB 5001 that passed out of the Human Services Committee would have increased income and asset limits for HUSKY C, the state’s Medicaid program for people who are disabled or over 65. However, that measure was not included in the version of the bill that passed today.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, confirmed that the income and asset limit increases are being discussed as part of the budget deal slated to come up for a vote later this week.