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. We recommend the following sources for daily updates, information, and help:

 

North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities COVID-19 Survey:
The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities is conducting a brief survey of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, family members, caregivers, and other stakeholders to gather perspectives on the impact of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, in daily life. They plan to use the survey information to inform the work of the Council and share with policymakers. Please click here to take the survey.

Patient Information and Support Line:
COVID-19 Triage Plus, DHHS, and Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) have launched a toll-free Patient Information and Support Line aimed at helping health care providers answer their patients’ questions related to COVID-19. Their goal is to relieve some of the tremendous strain the pandemic is putting on health care providers and their staff. The new helpline is called COVID-19 Triage Plus. Providers can recommend their patients call 1-877-490-6642 for assistance from nurse care managers.

 

New Executive Orders from the Governor

Stricter limits on the number of people in retail spaces:
To increase the effectiveness of social distancing, new limits have been put into place on the number of people in retail stores to 20% of occupancy and/or five customers per 1000 square feet. Retail places are to mark 6 feet distances at registers and other high traffic areas; conduct regular cleanings and disinfect high touch areas. The order included voluntary suggestions to retailers including supplying and training on the use of face masks for staff; use and make available hand sanitizer; disinfect shopping carts; open special hours for those most at risk; place signs about social distancing, and develop online or telephone ordering systems.

Preventing COVID-19 in care facilities:
Included in the Executive Order are additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities including adult care homes, family care homes, group homes, and intermediate care facilities (ICF) for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The measures listed are specific to skilled nursing facilities, but all other facilities are encouraged to take the same precautionary measures, which include:

  • staff screenings for COVID-19 symptoms prior to starting shifts
  • education about prevention, cancellation of communal dining and group activities inside or outside the facility
  • use of facemasks and protective equipment (if available)
  • requirement to notify public health if residents are suspected of being ill with COVID19 or if three or more staff and/or residents that have symptoms of “respiratory illness.”

 

NC General Assembly

House select Committee on COVID-19: The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) has formed a House Select Committee on COVID19 with four workgroups focused on Health, Education, Economic Supports, and State Operations. State agencies, advocacy groups, and experts are providing briefings to policymakers who will consider what steps to take to address law changes needed during the legislative session that begins April 28th. ASNC and other IDD focused organizations have worked together to submit comments and recommendations to the NCGA regarding the critical needs of individuals and families. We continue to advocate for services and supports, both to address the short term and long-term needs of people on the autism spectrum.

At this time, lawmakers have said they plan to address COVID-19 and emergency related issues during their regular short session, then return in the summer to address items like budget bills and legislation still pending from last year’s long session.

The NC DHHS reported to the House Select Committee on COVID-19 about the status of MH/DD/SA services, the importance of continuing to serve individuals so they remain healthy, in their communities and out of hospitals, the safety of people in facilities, and the challenges that the virus is creating for individuals, families, and those that serve them. They have taken steps to increase funding availability using emergency relief funds, LME MCO risk reserves, and other funding within the available budget. They have instituted safety measures and training, and as we previously noted, gotten permission for flexibilities in delivering services. The PowerPoint can be found here.

 

Access to Services

Letter to Hospitals: ASNC has signed on to a letter to hospitals and health care providers across the state urging them to allow families and/or caregivers to accompany people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the hospital or acute care setting because families and caregivers are a vital link to communicating and understanding the health care needs of people with I/DD. The letter also addresses the potential for hospital-level decisions on rationing care and access to equipment like ventilators: that treatment should be based on individualized assessments of medical needs, not stereotypes and preconceived ideas about the worth of people with or without a disability.

 

Education

Letter on federal IDEA waivers: ASNC has joined other national organizations in signing a letter outlining concerns about allowing IDEA waivers and opposing broad waivers to IDEA in the next COVID-19 related Federal legislation. Disability advocacy groups including ASNC believe that IDEA already grants states flexibility to address special education and individual student plans at the state and district level and do not need for requirements to be waived, that FAPE should continue, due process rights should remain intact, and we urge the federal government to provide funding to states to ensure the education of students, including those with special needs, continue.

ASNC continues to monitor the evolving situation with K-12 and preschool education of students with special needs in North Carolina. Some districts have begun making changes related to IEP meetings, telephonic delivery of services, and planning for delivering special education outside of a classroom setting (distance learning, online learning, support for home-based learning, etc.). DPI and local schools recognize there isn’t one solution for all learners.

One of the NCGA House Select Committees is focused on COVID-19 effects on Education. So far the committee has looked very broadly at the education of students as a whole: including things like the impact on school budgets and facilities; broadband access (including lack of access) and distance learning preparedness; at teacher preparedness and licensure; the impacts of ending student testing and classroom evaluations; and the impact of COVID-19 on community colleges and Universities. The committee is meeting weekly and special education is likely to be a future topic.

 

Economic Supports

Stimulus payment changes: The IRS has published guidance on Social Security recipients and direct stimulus payments. New information is coming out every week, and we urge people to check with the IRS website regularly for updates.

Here is the newest info:

  • People who get Social Security retirement, SSDI (disability), or survivor benefits do not need to do anything to receive their $1,200 per person or $2,400 for married couple payments. The IRS will use existing information to make payments.
  • People who get Social Security retirement, SSDI (disability), or survivor benefits AND who have dependent children age 17 or younger can go to the IRS direct payment portal to claim their dependent child $500 payments.
  • People who did not file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return because your gross income was under $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples), you had no income, or you weren’t required to file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return for other reasons, SHOULD go to the IRS direct payment portal in order to provide information to get direct stimulus payments. These payments will not be sent automatically to these individuals.
  • People who receive SSI are eligible for payments unless they are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
  • People who are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return are likely not eligible. For example, this would include a child, student or older dependent who can be claimed on a parent’s return.

 

What you can do to help? Share your story.
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 all students, including those with disabilities, by addressing gaps in access to broadband, technology for at home education/services, and materials for home education.
  • Relief bills should not limit free and appropriate education, allow civil rights to be waived, limit due process, or include broad waivers.
  • 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 funding 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. 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 When they return on April 28th.

  • Ensure community providers have the capacity to serve people, especially those in crisis.
  • Address the rate increases needed to retain enough direct support professionals during and after the crisis
  • While it may not be possible to open 1000s of needed slots amid a pandemic, 14,000+ people on the waiting list DO NEED supports during and immediately following the crisis – they cannot be forgotten
  • Address resources for school systems to support students with special needs
  • Fill the health care coverage gap
  • Allocate funding to support Medicaid Transformation

 

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