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 31 – August 20.
Since our last update, Congress has not passed any new legislation regarding COVID-19 and/or economic relief. A compromise is needed between the US House and Senate’s two bills in order to get additional funding (beyond what has already been appropriated). Info on the US Senate’s HEALS Act can be found here. A side by side comparison of the HEROES Act and the HEALS Act can be found here.
Advocates are still 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 for services is troubling.
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 language.
You can Help
There is still time to contact your US Senators and House Representative and ask for support that will help people with autism and their families. Please contact Senator Burr and Senator Tillis, as well as your US House Representative and urge them to work toward an agreement on legislation that will support for 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
President Issues Executive Orders
In the absence of compromise legislation from Congress, The President has issued several Executive Orders intended to help fill the gap in funding for several crucial programs: they are intended to prevent evictions, pause the collections of payroll taxes, use FEMA funds to provide another six weeks of unemployment benefits, and extend student federal loan deferrals.
These executive orders, in part, give authority to federal governmental agencies like DHHS and the Treasury to take action, which may or may not move forward depending on those agencies’ decisions as well as any potential legal challenges that might delay the orders. Because only Congress can authorize spending, there is some questions about whether or not the President can order a change to the use of Federal FEMA funds for unemployment compensation, or if DHHS and Dept of Housing can stop evictions from taking place. NC has moved forward in applying for additional unemployment assistance; if approved the funding would requires a state match and additional changes to the UI process.
In Executive Order 155, the NC Governor has extended the Phase Two reopening orders until September 11. Phase two extends the requirements to limit the size of gatherings, puts limits on the type of services and businesses that may reopen and the allowed occupancy, and continues the requirement for wearing a mask in public spaces where social distancing is not possible. For a refresher on Phase Two click here.
Public Comment Needed – Medicaid Clinical Policies:
The recently revised Medicaid Behavioral Health Clinical Coverage policies have been posted for public comment. They include several policies related to Innovations Waivers, ICFs, RBBHT, CDSAs, and LEAs. See the list below for autism and developmental disability related Medicaid policies. Additionally, there are several other MH/SUD related policies, along with the due dates for related comments posted on the site.
- 8P: North Carolina Innovations
- 8E: Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities
- 8F: Research-based Behavioral Health Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder
- 8-J: Children’s Developmental Service Agencies (CDSAs)
- 10C: Local Education Agencies (LEAs)
School day and Innovations Waivers:
NC DHHS issued guidance (*Joint Communications Bulletin 372 “I/DD Medicaid and State-Funded Service Delivery During School Hours”) on delivering Federal and State funded services to children during the school day, due to the likelihood that those children are more likely to be at home during the school day. In summary it says that both virtual and blended school days equate to a traditional school day, and as a result, those virtual and blended days are subject to the same rules regarding school in place for Innovations waivers, B3 services, and state funded services. Should adjustment need to be made, please work with your LEAs and your service provider for what this means for your individual situation in delivering services at home. ASNC continues to provide feedback to NC DHHS regarding delivery of services and supports as everyone navigates school under pandemic conditions.
Education Emergency Funding:
The state will use $95.6 million in emergency education funding from federal pandemic relief to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists; support at-risk students and those with disabilities; and help fund college tuition. The funding will include:
- $40 million to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists in public K-12 schools.
- $20 million to help at-risk students and students with disabilities through after-school programs, tutoring and potentially by hiring more teachers or teacher assistants.
- $15 million to the North Carolina Community College System for tuition assistance to students enrolled in short-term workforce training programs in high-demand fields.
- $6 million to the University of North Carolina system for emergency assistance to in-state students “whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.”
- $4 million to the State Education Assistance Authority for emergency student assistance at private colleges and universities.
- $566,000 to the UNC system for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts.
- $10 million held in reserve to address future K-12 and post-secondary needs.
Hope4Healers Expands to serve Teachers/Schools:
NC DHHS is expanding the Hope4Healers Helpline (919-226-2002) to serve North Carolina’s teachers, school personnel and their families. The partnership between NCDHHS and the NC Psychological Foundation will be providing these personnel with mental health and resilience supports through Hope4Healers, which is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, where teachers, school personnel or family members can speak to someone who is trained to listen and offer support. They then will be contacted within about a day by a licensed mental health professional for a free, confidential, short-term follow-up by phone or video chat. The Hope4Healers initiative builds on the longstanding Hope4NC Helpline (1-855-587-3463) that provides mental health and resilience supports for all North Carolinians.
Thank you for your ongoing efforts to reach out to elected officials. Given the increased need for supports during COVID-19 and the economic crisis, we urge you to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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