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 Policy Update: COVID-19 Policy Changes

Below is this week’s Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) weekly update on policy changes and legislation related to COVID-19, local, state, and federal emergency orders. For daily updates and information, we recommend the following sources:

During this time our public policy advocacy continues and is as important as ever.

  • The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) is working with Administration, our Governor, DHHS, Emergency Management, and LME/MCOs to ensure needed services and supports continue where possible, and/or be delivered in alternative ways.
  • While schools are closed, we are advocating with the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and school systems to support the rights to education as districts figure out how to deliver education in new ways.
  • Finally, we are monitoring and advocating on issues that were not or have not yet been addressed by recent Congressional legislation or State of NC Executive orders. These include things like access to additional services and supports, flexibility in services, teleservices, rate increases, stabilization of the direct care workforce, and stabilization of intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) provider organizations.

What you can do to help:
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.

 

As this time… Congress is working on a fourth bill, after passing three others, intended to help during this national emergency and Special education may be addressed in this bill.

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

  • Relief bills should include support for states to address education for students with disabilities, including gaps in access to broadband and technology for at-home education/services
  • Relief bills should enhance the ability for students with disabilities to receive special education and supports, providing them with an equitable education to their peers
  • It’s important for relief bills to include grants to support home and community-based services
  • It’s important for relief bills to include paid leave coverage for all caregivers and people with disabilities
  • It’s critical that ongoing 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.

The North Carolina General Assembly remains out of session. They have formed a bipartisan committee to work with crisis response groups to begin addressing COVID-19-related policy issues. Additional COVID-19 related committees began meeting remotely on March 25. You can see the legislative calendar on the NCGA website at www.ncleg.gov.

You can contact your members of the NC General Assembly, our state’s legislature, to urge them to support people with disabilities and their families during this time.

  • Address the lengthy waiting list for I/DD services and supports and the rate increases needed to retain enough direct support professionals
  • Ensure community providers have the capacity to serve additional people, especially those in crisis.
  • Address resources for school systems to support students with special needs
  • Fill the health care coverage gap
  • Allocate funding to support Medicaid Transformation

 

Other Recent Events:

The news from some of the new statistical models looks better for North Carolina. This is happening due to people continuing to stay at home, practicing social distancing if they must be in public, and good hand washing hygiene. Notably, recent notices from the Centers for Disease control have urged those in public to wear masks if possible, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Governor’s orders: Two recent Governor’s orders may be of interest to people with disabilities and their families:

  1. Surplus Property Order 122 (3/30/2020) This order can help schools and local governments access state surplus property. This may be one way that local school systems can get more computer technology into the hands of students who will need to continue education from home.
  2. Utilities, Evictions, Finance Order 124 (3/31/2020) This order prevents utilities including gas, electric, water, and wastewater from disconnecting people who cannot pay during this pandemic. The order applies for the next 60 days and gives residential customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills. Phone and internet companies are urged to voluntarily comply with the order. Private phone and internet providers may be participating in a voluntary pledge to “Keep America Connected” by providing similar plans to their customers. Please check with your provider to see how they are handing payments and cutoffs during the emergency. Read the FAQ here.

In addition, the Utilities, Evictions, and Finance order also explains the ruling by the Chief Justice that new evictions orders will not proceed in the court system through April 17, while normal court operations are disrupted, unless the order is extended further. It urges Sheriffs to delay existing orders for evictions and asks that property owners work with tenants to avoid evictions during the emergency. Further, it asks banks and other financial institutions to consider waiving fees, increasing limits on credit, increasing daily limits on ATMs, waive penalties, defer payments and cease reporting deficiencies to credit reporting agencies, among other things meant to allow people to continue to access funds and services during this emergency. Note that none of these things are required, just strongly suggested as ways to help in the emergency.

 

Medicaid Innovations and TBI waiver flexibilities: Waiver flexibilities, including a relaxation of limits on utilization and prior authorization, as well as many other changes, have been approved by the federal government. There are online meetings regarding Appendix K waiver changes for Innovations and TBI waiver beneficiaries, families and natural supports individuals that ASNC will post on social media.

NC Medicaid has begun issuing Guidance for the numerous policy changes taking place during the emergency. Some of these links have been provided in previous updates. Those most relevant to intellectual and developmental disabilities and related services can be reviewed below. All guidance for health care and public health can be found here.

Guidance Documents: COVID-19:
The Department of Health and Human Services continues to refine and update interim guidance for congregate settings, home care providers, behavioral health providers, and in-home service providers. New interim guidance was issued by NC DHHS on April 1, 2020, for In-Home Service Providers.

Resilience and Mental Health Supports:

The Hope4NCHelpline (855-587-3463) connects North Carolinians to additional mental health supports that help them cope and build resilience during times of crisis. The Hope4NCHelpline is now available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.

Also, the NC Psychological Foundation and NC DHHS are in the process of creating Hope4Healers, “a large volunteer force of licensed mental health professionals to provide pro bono mental health support for healthcare workers who are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic and their families.” They are currently signing up mental health professionals to volunteer their time to support staff at local medical facilities who are working at the heart of this crisis in high-stress environments with great risk. If you or someone you know would like to volunteer, please register through the NC Training, Exercise, and Response Management System (NC TERMS). That system can be accessed here.

To volunteer follow these instructions carefully:

  1. Create a personal profile, then you will need to access the request for team membership from the response profile page.
  2. Click ‘Join a Team’; select ‘ESF8 – Public Health and Medical Services’; then select ‘COVID 19 Medical Response Volunteers’.
  3. From there you will select ‘Mental/Behavioral Health Personnel’ and click ‘Request Membership.’ You will be vetted and then on-boarded through Temp Solutions, the temporary staffing agency of the NC Office of Human Resources prior to assignment. Contact NC DHHS for more information.

 

Unemployment Insurance Claims Update: Nearly 425,000 people in North Carolina have lost their jobs in the last few weeks and the NC Department of Employment Security is reporting that about 1,000 people an hour are filing unemployment claims online or by phone, in a system typically only handles about 3,000 claims a week, with a limited number filed in their online system. DES has hired 350 additional staff and added call center capacity, however, wait times and an inability to get onto the online system continue. It typically takes 14 days from filing for a person to receive their first payment.  If you are calling only to get an update on your claim status, DES recommends that you review their FAQ for more information [With so many applying, they are hoping to address those who have not yet filed as a priority.

If you believe you are newly eligible under federal law including those self-employed, independent contractors, employed part-time, and others eligible for extended benefits, but your claim was rejected: you may still be eligible, even if the claim was initially rejected! North Carolina (and other states) must update its IT systems, training, and other processes in order to pay out unemployment insurance to people under the federal law that was authorized March 28th. DES and state officials are waiting for needed guidance from the Federal Department of Labor on how to pay out those claims.

 

Essential workers may be eligible for emergency financial assistance with childcare:  Essential worker emergency childcare financial assistance will be offered through May and may be extended. To receive an emergency care subsidy, parents must complete the COVID-19 Parent Application for Financial Assistance for Emergency Child Care and submit it to their child care provider. Financial aid is available to parents and caregivers who are essential workers and who meet the following criteria:

  • Their income is below 300 percent of the poverty line;
  • They are an essential worker fighting COVID-19 or protecting the health and safety of communities; and
  • They feel they have no other viable childcare options available to them.

 

NC has set up a childcare hotline to help people access information about available childcare in their area. To receive information about local options for children from infants through age 12, call the hotline at 1-888-600-1685. Families will be connected with childcare programs that agree to meet updated health, safety, and operational guidelines.

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