Below is the Autism Society of North Carolina’s weekly update on policy changes and legislation related to local, state, and federal COVID-19 emergency orders. This post covers June 3 – 15. For ongoing updates information, and help during the emergency, please visit one of the following sources:
- NC COVID-19 page
- CDC COVID-19 page
- News &Observer Coronavirus coverage
- NC Council on Developmental Disabilities COVID-19 resource page
- Hope4NC Hotline for mental health resources 24/7: 1-855-587-3463
- Hope4Healers Helpline for care professionals 24/7: 919-226-2002
Congressional Update – Waiting on the Senate
The Senate has yet to respond to the passing of the HEROES Act, the fourth bill for COVID–19 related recovery and support by the US House. North Carolina is facing large budget deficits as a result of COVID-19’s impact on tax revenue and the economy.
You Can Help! We urge you to contact Senator Burr and Senator Tillis to ask that the next stimulus and economic support bill passed by Congress address the needs of people with autism and their families in North Carolina by:
- Including funding for home and community-based services, the largest program supporting people with I/DD, to help people with disabilities and enable them to remain in their communities
- Supporting direct care professionals as an essential part of our health and disability infrastructure: designate them as “essential workers” under any legislation that supports increased wages such as outlined in the “Heroes Fund”
- Increasing funding for the housing programs that help people with disabilities obtain accessible, affordable, integrated housing, and avoid unnecessary placement in congregate settings, including the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, as well as protection against evictions and foreclosures throughout the crisis
- Allocating additional funding for the Public Health & Social Services Emergency Fund. To date, Congress has appropriated $175 billion to this fund, but the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has failed to allocate any of this relief to community disability providers
- Ensuring access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for direct care workers, who are on the front lines of this crisis
- Providing recovery rebates to all people with disabilities, including adults who may be claimed as dependents, without jeopardizing access to benefits programs.
North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA)
The NCGA began passing a series of min-budget bills addressing funding needs in specific areas of state government, including the use of additional funds from COVID–19 relief previously allocated by the federal government. We expect that going forward, any budget bills including for Health and Human Services, Medicaid and Education will be handled this way.
ASNC continues to advocate on and monitor issues related to access to services and health care, education, rights, and the management of our services and supports system in the work of the NCGA including:
Rights and Safety (new):
- H1173 Disallowing Rules: ASNC and our partner organizations singed on to letters opposing H1173, and are advocating for the new jail rules to be allowed to move forward as planned. This bill would disallow updates to rules for health and safety in operation of jails. ASNC and other disability organizations recognize the rights of individuals with IDD to have access to appropriate screening, health care, well-being and safety measures when incarcerated. The rules were developed in conjunction with stakeholders, state agencies and experts and reflect our current understanding of how to keep people safe and well inside jails.
- S730 No Patient Left Alone Act. The bill would ensure visitation rights for hospital patients during a disaster declaration or public health emergency. There was a lot of debate in Senate Health this week over how the bill would be implemented and if there were any enforcement provisions. While the bill received a favorable report from the Senate Health committee, expect that there may be changes as it moves on to Senate Appropriations for further consideration.
Elections and Voting (updated):
The Governor signed H1169 on June 12th, the Bipartisan Elections Act of 2020 (HB 1169), which included late amendments added to it to allow for the use of additional government issued photo identification in voting; bill sponsors have said they are trying to address legal issues which have halted the use of requiring photo ID for voting in North Carolina. The other aspects of the bill address changes needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 as crowds gather to vote; the new law will make it easier to vote via absentee ballot by requiring only one witness signature and allowing for multiple ways to request absentee/mail in ballots. S828 would also would also make it easier to submit absentee ballots in NC by removing the requirements for witnesses or a notary, with the passage of H1169, we do not expect S828 to move forward at this time. ASNC continues to monitor changes to elections laws to ensure voters are able vote including obtaining ID, if and when needed, and the implementation of any other changes to voting laws.
Schools and Education (new and updates):
- NEW! S818: funds $350 teacher bonuses, but keeps salaries at current levels with steps raises for experience.
- H1206/S844 would increase school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists serving schools;
- UPDATED: Senate bill S476 requires schools to address suicide prevention, though without added funding; The bill passed and was signed into law on June 8th, 2020. DPI will adopt a model mental health training program and suicide risk protocol for schools and schools are to adopt a school-based mental health plan to address training, referrals, and students at risk for suicide.
- H1203/S850 would add school nurses to every school;
- H1228 and S859 would work to expand access to internet broadband, critical for remote learning for students in K-12 schools, community colleges and universities;
- H1181 and H1182 appropriate additional COVID-19 relief funds for education. H1181 includes $25 million in grants for schools to address the needs of exceptions children during COVID–19.
Medicaid and Health Care (update):
- UPDATED S808 funds Medicaid Transformation which has been on hold since the budget impasse last year; funds the Medicaid rebase, the expected budget hole for LME MCO services, and gives DHHS oversight for use of “savings” generated by the LME MCOs; also directs funding to move DHHS offices from the Dix Campus to an as yet to be determined site in Wake County, removing the requirement that they move to Granville. The bill passed Senate Appropriations and is scheduled to be heard in Senate Rules.
- S834 comes up with a more scaled back approach than H1040 to fill the health insurance coverage gap in North Carolina by only covering single adults up to 133% of poverty, instead of all those in the gap, but does so without the work requirements in H1040; and
- H1196 would fund additional testing and protective equipment for congregate living facilities.
General Budget (new)
S805 would take $645.4 million from remaining federal CARES Act money “to offset General Fund appropriations across state government for expenditures allowable under The CARES Act.” With an expected budget shortfall of 4-6 billion, budget writers are trying to use as much of the funding from the federal CARES Act to support programs and services as possible. The bill passed though Senate committees and is scheduled for a floor vote.
All of these bills will likely change several times as they are heard in committee and may or may not move forward at all during this session. You can follow the work of the North Carolina General Assembly at www.ncleg.gov
Governor’s Executive Orders
NC Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 143 on June 4th addressing the racial disparities in the spread of COVID-19. The Executive Order notes among other things that the Governor is establishing the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force. This task force will focus on access to healthcare for underserved communities; Enhanced patient engagement in healthcare settings; Economic opportunities in business development and employment; Environmental Justice and Inclusion; Create educational opportunities for communities of color.
Community transmission of COVID-19 has increased, including amongst historically marginalized communities and in the Latinx populations. NC DHHS has updated its testing guidelines and is encouraging increased testing, even for those without symptoms, expanded contact tracing, and adherence to quarantine and social isolation measures.
The guidance recommends that clinicians conduct or arrange for diagnostic COVID-19 testing for:
- Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
- Close contacts of known positive cases, regardless of symptoms.
- The following groups are some of the populations with higher risk of exposure or a higher risk of severe disease if they become infected. People in these groups should get tested if they believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19, whether or not they have symptoms.
- People who live in or have regular contact with high-risk settings (e.g., long-term care facility, homeless shelter, correctional facility, migrant farmworker camp).
- Historically marginalized populations who may be at higher risk for exposure.
- Frontline and essential workers (grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, child care workers, construction sites, processing plants, etc.) in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
- Health care workers or first responders (e.g. EMS, law enforcement, fire department, military).
- People who are at high risk of severe illness (e.g., people over 65 years of age, people of any age with underlying health conditions).
- People who have attended protests, rallies, or other mass gatherings could have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or could have exposed others. Testing should be considered for people who attended such events, particularly if they were in crowds or other situations where they couldn’t practice effective social distancing.
To that end, NCDHHS has also put in place new tools to help people know if they should consider being tested for COVID-19 and to find a nearby testing place.
- Check My Symptoms, a public website that allows people to enter their symptoms to determine if they should consider getting tested for COVID-19. If a test is recommended, they will receive a link to a list of nearby testing sites via email or text.
- Find My Testing Place, a public website that allows people to enter their county or ZIP code and access a list of nearby testing site locations online.
- The COVID-19 Community Team made up of trained local Health Department staff and Community team members who are serving as contact tracers across the state.
- Team members reach out to people who have tested positive for COVID-19, or anyone who has been near someone with COVID-19, and get them the information and support they need. This support can include helping someone understand what it means to have been exposed to COVID-19, how to monitor their symptoms, when to get tested, if needed, and how to protect their loved ones.
- When the COVID-19 Community Team reaches out, it is important that people answer the call. Individuals being contacted would get an initial text from the number 45394 or email from NC-ARIAS-NoReply@dhhs.nc.gov with follow-up phone calls from NC OUTREACH (844-628-7223) or the Local Health Department. The Community Team represents North Carolinians across the state and will be available to provide support and information in multiple languages.
DPI and State Board of Education (SBE) released guidance for reopening schools this past week. Local Education Agencies (school districts) will have a lot of flexibility to meet local needs and adjust plans to respond to their local communities.
- Summary Document
- Full PDF
- The DHHS Schools Toolkit has requirements and recommendations as well as an outline of the three scenarios for reopening that schools are being asked to plan for: minimal social distancing, moderate social distancing, and remote learning only. Which scenario schools will be operating under is based on health data and capacity for addressing COVID infections determined by the Governor’s office, NC DHHS, DPI and SBE. DPI will come back to the State Board of Education in July with policy recommendations about implementing the guidance they released.
Please check with your local school system, local board of education to see what information they are putting out about your local plan and for opportunities to provide input.
Please 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; health and disability services system in NC; and your rights. Find contact information for your representatives here so you can connect.
Questions? Please contact Jen Mahan, Director of Public Policy at email@example.com.
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