All Autism Society of NC offices and programs are closed to comply with state directives regarding COVID-19. See our COVID-19 page for updates and resources. To reach staff, who are working remotely, please email or call 800-442-2762.

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Weekly Update: COVID-19 Policy Changes

Weekly Update: COVID-19 Policy Changes Affecting People with Autism, Families, and Caregivers

ASNC will be issuing weekly updates, including calls to action, on policy changes and legislation related to COVID-19 and local, state, and federal emergency orders. For daily updates and information, we recommend the following sources:

 

ACTION: We encourage you to share your stories of life with autism with your state and federal officials, especially as they relate to access to services, supports, and health care; access to education; our health and disability services system in NC; and your rights. Get tips on advocating on our website.

You have two US senators in Congress: Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis; you have one of 13 members of Congress in the US House representing your district. You have two elected officials to the NC General Assembly (House and Senate) based on the districts you live in. Find contact information for your representatives here: www.ncleg.gov/FindYourLegislators.

The North Carolina General Assembly is out of session. They have formed a bipartisan committee to work with crisis response groups to begin addressing COVID-19-related policy issues.

Congress has already passed two bills intended to help during this national emergency. (More info below). A third bill is working its way through the Senate and is now in negotiations with the US House. Additional bills are in the works.

You can help by contacting your members of Congress via email, Facebook, and Twitter and letting them know that stimulus bills and bills to support people during this emergency must address the needs of people with autism and their families:

  • Grants to support home and community-based services and education for students with disabilities
  • Paid leave coverage for caregivers and people with disabilities
  • Emergency income relief that includes people with disabilities, families, and caregivers and does not jeopardize their access to safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, etc.
  • Protections for the civil rights of all people, including students with disabilities
  • Increases in Medicaid, Social Security/SSI, and SNAP asset and income limits to allow stimulus payments to those who qualify

 

Services and Supports Flexibility: NC DHHS has requested emergency waivers from the federal government to allow more flexibility in delivering current services under Medicaid to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). This flexibility would allow for changes to location of services, duration, extensions to plan approvals, allowing family members to provide services, as well as other options so that people who have services and supports can retain them. Providers are still awaiting guidance about specific changes listed in the letter from the federal government. In addition, a separate waiver has been approved to allow for a wider use of telehealth services during the emergency.

LME/MCOs have freed up funding from risk reserves and allowed flexibility in single-stream funds to address COVID-19-related issues in state-funded services.

Note that these flexibilities do not increase the number of slots or the availability of services to additional people; only the NC General Assembly can authorize long-term funding for additional Innovations waiver slots or other services.

Group Home/Long-Term Care Facility visits restricted: For safety reasons, the governor’s latest executive order halts visits to long-term care facilities including *all* group homes, adult care homes, family care homes, skilled nursing facilities, and intermediate care facilities for I/DD. (Although the order only mentions one type of group home, the guidance from NC DHHS has stated that it extends to all group homes.)

IDEA and Education Advocacy: With schools closed until May 15 (as per current executive order) and some colleges and universities shifting to online learning, educators, schools, university systems, and the Department of Public Instruction are considering alternative ways to offer education to students. Some communities and households in NC have limited access to technology, Internet, etc. to participate in online learning. Children with disabilities and their families face additional barriers to participation. ASNC is advocating at the state and federal level to ensure learning is accessible and innovative methods that can work with each student can be utilized.

School supportive services are also not accessible at this time and ways to address the need for speech/language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, and behavior supports must be addressed if schools remain closed. We continue to provide feedback to government officials and other advocacy groups and monitor efforts to address education changes.

At this time, schools are required to continue to offer education to special education students if they are offering learning to other students. As lawmakers consider IDEA changes at the federal level, we will continue to push for ALL students to have equitable access to education.

Health-Care Advocacy: ASNC continues to advocate for everyone to have access to health-care services as outlined in our policy targets. The first bills passed by Congress included expanded federal matching funds for Medicaid, as well as ensuring that health plans and uninsured people (through federal disaster funds) have access to free COVID-19 testing, as authorized by doctors and public health.

Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave Changes: Congress has passed legislation to authorize 12 weeks of job protected leave to care for at-risk family members in quarantine, to be in quarantine, or to care for a child if there is no school or available child care. Additionally, the bill requires companies with fewer than 500 employees to offer 14 days of paid sick leave so that people have paid leave from work to get tested, see a doctor, and be quarantined or recover from illness. This paid leave could also be used at 2/3 the rate to care for a sick family member or a child without child care/out of school. Note that some small companies can request waivers of this requirement.

Economic Supports: Congress has authorized direct payments to individual taxpayers and households; however, as with previous stimulus payments, some individuals have been excluded from these payments. This is to ensure that people who need to qualify for safety net programs and health care such as Medicaid are not kicked out of those programs due to additional income or assets. A way to address this is to remove asset limits or discount this additional income for various programs in the next stimulus bill.

Included in the stimulus bills are employer tax credits and payments for leave, tax credits for self-employed individuals for sick leave/family leave for COVID-19 related care.

North Carolina’s governor issued changes to the state unemployment insurance program, in part authorized by the stimulus bill, to allow for online or phone applications, waive the requirement to look for a job during the emergency, waive the week-long waiting period, and allow unemployment claims for reduced work hours, and claims in general related to COVID-19. Please note that North Carolina still has a 13-week limit on benefits and a fairly low unemployment payment. The General Assembly must authorize changes to the number of weeks and the amount of payments.

Questions about this or other public policy issues? Please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Public Policy, at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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