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, information, and help during the emergency, we recommend the following sources:

 

Participate in a COVID-19 Survey on Healthcare Access and Healthcare:
The American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) is conducting a confidential, real-time online assessment of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on healthcare and healthcare access among persons with a range of disabilities. The survey is open until May 1. Please click here to participate.

 

NC General Assembly

House Select Committee on COVID19: The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) legislative session begins on April 28. The House Select Committee on COVID-19 four workgroups focused on Health, Education, Economic Supports, and State Operations workgroups have continued to meet and are reviewing recommendations made by state agencies, advocacy groups, and experts and rolling them into draft legislation to be considered during the legislative session. Proposed recommendations include:

  • supports for small businesses
  • access to broadband for telehealth, students, and educators, and economic development
  • proposed funding and policy support for delivering healthcare and other support services during the pandemic

Currently, lawmakers plan to address COVID-19 and emergency related issues during the short session starting April 28, then return in the summer to address the usual short session items like budget bills and legislation still pending from the long session. Legislative committees will continue to meet remotely, but legislators must meet in person to vote. The legislative building will be closed to the public. All legislative committees and votes will be streamed/broadcast virtually.

 

Access to Services

NCGA looks at human services funding and policy needs: The Health and Human Services subcommittee on COVID-19 response met last week to review their priority policy and funding concerns. Their meeting this week will be to finalize two bills, the first on immediate funding needs and the second on additional policy issues that directly impact healthcare providers. A significant portion of the priorities discussed was informed by presentations over several meetings and the input of advocacy organizations and associations. You can read the priority document here.

NC DHHS guidance on Innovations and TBI Supports flexibilities:  NC Medicaid has implemented flexibilities on how Medicaid providers deliver, and beneficiaries receive, Medicaid services in the wake of COVID-19. Utilization and prior approval limits for specific State Plan Medicaid services will be relaxed for all Medicaid beneficiaries impacted by COVID-19 including individuals participating in the NC Innovations Waiver and the NC TBI Waiver. Learn more here.

NC DHHS guidance on behavioral health services flexibilities: Effective April 16, NC Medicaid, in partnership with the DHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, is temporarily modifying its Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Clinical Coverage Policies to better enable the delivery of care to NC Medicaid, NC Health Choice, and State-funded individuals in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Read about it here. 

 

Education

ASNC continues to monitor the evolving situation with K-12 and preschool education of students with special needs in North Carolina as well as Federal legislation that may affect education. In North Carolina, some school districts have begun making changes related to IEP meetings, telephonic delivery of services, planning for delivering special education outside of a classroom setting (distance learning, online learning, support for home-based learning, etc.)

The NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and General Assembly are looking closely at access to remote learning, and access to broadband internet across the state. While schools are preparing for learning in multiple formats, they are trying to better understand schools’ capacities to address students who can and cannot learn online and what options exist. They released information from their remote learning survey here.

We encourage you to learn about ways that schools are delivering services, how to best communicate and work with educators, retaining access to education, and your rights and responsibilities during the pandemic. We will continue to post resources that we think may assist in these goals.

 

Economic Supports

Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) Food Support (from NC DHHS): North Carolina just received approval for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program to help more families purchase food during the COVID-19 pandemic. The P-EBT program provides a benefit on an EBT card to North Carolina families whose children have access to free and reduced lunch at school.

  • The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is working to operationalize the program and P-EBT recipients will receive this benefit in the coming weeks. More than 800,000 children are expected to receive help buying food through the P-EBT program.
  • Families will not need to apply for the P-EBT program. P-EBT eligible families already receiving Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) benefits will receive an additional benefit on their existing EBT card. P-EBT eligible families not already enrolled in FNS will be mailed a new EBT card in the next few weeks. Families who receive a new EBT card will receive a letter from DHHS in the mail explaining how to activate and use their card.
  • NCDHHS, working in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, requested activation of the P-EBT program for North Carolina families to use during school closures. This request was approved earlier today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • This new P-EBT program is in addition to other services families may be participating in currently. We encourage families to continue utilizing local school and community meal sites for free, nutritious meals for children. Families can text FOODNC to 877-877 to find local meal sites. The service is also available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877.

 

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 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 returns to session next week April 28th. 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, and during the expected special session during the summer. The legislature will be closed to the public in April: please use email and social media to reach out to your elected officials.

  • Ensure community providers can 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

 

 

If you have questions about this update or other public policy issues, please contact ASNC’s Director of Public Policy, Jennifer Mahan at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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