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Weekly Policy Update: COVID-19 edition

Below is the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) weekly update on policy changes and legislation related to local, state, and federal COVID-19 emergency orders. This post covers May 13-18. For daily updates, information, and help during the emergency, we recommend the following sources:

ASNC encourages individuals, families, and caregivers to share your stories with 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. Click here to find contact information for your representatives.

Congressional News – House passes HEROES Act:

On Friday, May 15, the House passed a new COVID-19 economic relief bill that, if enacted, would increase federal funding to states and local communities, extend unemployment insurance provisions, distribute additional direct stimulus funds to US households including all dependents, provide additional rental assistance and SNAP benefits, and fix paid leave gaps. The bill includes several specific provisions of interest to those with disabilities:

  • Provide additional support to states for Medicaid, a program on which people with disabilities rely for services and supports.
  • $10-15 billion for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) across a full year. HCBS services include programs like North Carolina’s Innovations and TBI waivers.
  • Expanded COVID-19 related paid sick leave that includes all workers, as well as grandparents and siblings who must leave work to care for adults with disabilities.
  • A retroactive $500 to dependents left out of the last stimulus payments
  • Funding for employers to keep furloughed employees on health care plans until January 2021

The bill now goes over to the US Senate. Given the current economic situations in households and across states, it looks like there will be another stimulus bill passed. It’s likely however that in negotiations between the House and Senate, the final package *will* look different from what the House has passed in the HEROES Act.

How you can help

ASNC urges you to contact Senators Burr and Tillis via email, Facebook, or Twitter and ask that the next stimulus and economic support bill passed by Congress address the needs of people with autism and their families by:

  • Including funding for home and community-based services (HCBS), the largest program supporting people with I/DD, to help people with disabilities and remain in their communities.
  • Identifying direct support professionals as essential workers, thereby making them eligible for increased wages capitalized by 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.
  • Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for direct care workers, who are on the front lines of this crisis.
  • Provision of recovery rebates to all people with disabilities, including adults who may be claimed as dependents, without jeopardizing access to benefits programs.


NC General Assembly

The House and Senate have said they will pass appropriations bills to address needed funding related to the state budget and to COVID-19, work on other bills eligible for consideration during the short session, and will remain in session for a typical short session schedule until late June/early July. COVID-19 committees continue to meet and review recommendations.

  • COVID sub Committee on Health: This past week the committee on health care looked at the impact of COVID-19 on nursing, homecare, and assisted living; got updates from state emergency management on testing, hospitalizations, protective equipment, and the response to outbreaks in congregate settings. Presenters noted the need for help with obtaining protective equipment and safety supplies, as well as the increased resources that need to be dedicated to infection control, training, and new government policies.
  • COVID sub Committee on Education: The education committee continued its review of issues related to connectivity of students, and looked at school nutrition services, and what issues need to be addressed for schools reopening in the 2020-2021 school year. While no specific plans have been determined, committee members heard about the need for cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, monitoring the health and safety of students, including protecting those most at risk, and the need to educate students and staff on new procedures. Measures such as moving desks apart, enhancing cleaning, staggering class days, alternating schedules, reducing the numbers of children in schools and classrooms, as well as measures to limit large groups from congregating together were just a few of the issues discussed as part of The Department of Public Instruction’s School Reopening Task Force.

NC DHHS – New Guidance on Who Should be Tested for COVID-19:

The NC Department of Health and Human Services has updated guidance on who should be tested for COVID-19. The new guidance recommends that clinicians test any patient in whom COVID-19 is suspected and ensure the following populations have access to testing, regardless of symptoms:

  • Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
  • Close contacts of known positive cases, regardless of symptoms.
  • Persons who live in or have regular contact with high-risk settings (e.g., long-term care facility, homeless shelter, correctional facility, migrant farmworker camp).
  • Persons who are at high risk of severe illness (e.g., people over 65 years of age, people of any age with underlying health conditions).
  • Persons who come from historically marginalized populations.
  • Health care workers or first responders (e.g. EMS, law enforcement, fire department, military).
  • Front-line and essential workers (grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, etc.) in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Many new testing sites have opened, and physician’s offices may also be conducting testing. Please contact your health care provider or health department if you fall into the above categories and need to be tested. Review the NCDHHS testing website for more information.

If you have questions please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Public Policy, at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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