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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Public Policy Update

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 July 15 to July 30.

Congressional Update – NEW! 

The US Senate has announced their new package of COVID-19 and economic reliefthe HEALS Act. The Senate began negotiations with the US House last week over the differences between the House HEROES Act and the Senate’s HEALS Act (for a side by side comparison of the two bills click here).   

 The set of bills that form the HEALS Act currently includes funding for items like:  

  • an extension of Federal Unemployment Assistance, at a reduced weekly rate with a plan for UI at 70% of lost wages Oct-Dec 
  • a second $1,200/$500 per dependent stimulus payment which now includes dependents over age 17  
  • tax credits for unemployment recipients and for companies that retain workers 
  • support for COVID related testing, contact tracing and vaccines, as well as focus on support for prevention of spread in nursing homes; support for *some* healthcare providers, but no increased Medicaid match or support for home and communitybased services for I/DD 
  • $70 billion in education funding, with 1/3 available immediately and the other 2/3 tied to school reopenings   

 

Advocates are very concerned about provisions in the HEALS Act that would provide broad immunity from lawsuits for a wide array of public and private organizations, potentially including schools, nursing homes, group homes and other providers, for personal injury caused by exposure to the virus. The immunity includes rights secured under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the immunity *does not* extend to IDEA rights, the erosion of protections under the ADA and foservices is troubling.   

 

Call to Action:

Many of the critical needs of people with autism and I/DD, and their families, are ignored in the bill, and it includes harmful immunity languagePlease contact Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tills and urge them to support the needs of people with autism and their families through the HEALS Act by: 

  • Including funding for home and community-based services (HCBS)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 
  • Dropping blanket immunity protections in the HEALS Act 

 

DHHS launches #SCOOP tool 

According to recent data, the number of North Carolinians experiencing feelings of anxiety or  depression has tripled in a given week. Kody Kinsley, Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health and I/DD, announced a new tools to help manage stress and mental health during this time:

  • S – Stay connected to family and friends
  • C – Show Compassion for yourself and others
  • O – Observe your use of substances
  • O – Okay to ask for help
  • P – Physical activity to improve your mood

 

In addition to  SCOOP, the #Hope4NC hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 855-587-3463.

 

Please continue 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; health and disability services system in NC; and your rights.  Find contact information for your representatives here so you can connect. 

Questions? Please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Public Policy at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org. 

 

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