Independence Can’t Wait: New Bill in Congress Championed by The Arc Will Make Home and Community-Based Services Available to All

Washington, D.C. – As the nation continues to face a pandemic that has put a glaring spotlight on the health dangers facing people living in nursing homes and institutions, today Members of Congress unveiled a critical bill developed with The Arc and other disability and aging advocates, that will fundamentally change how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and older adults live their lives.

The Home and Community-Based Services Access Act (HAA) is a discussion draft bill that would eventually end waiting lists to receive disability services everywhere and help people with disabilities and older adults access the Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) they need in order to live at home in their communities with their friends and family, instead of institutions and nursing homes. Today, there are nearly 850,000 people on waiting lists across the country. People with disabilities and their families often wait years—sometimes decades—to access these services.

“For over 70 years, The Arc has been fighting for people with disabilities to live independently with the right supports. We believe that everyone benefits when people with disabilities are a part of the fabric of their communities, not locked away in the institutions that to this day, exist in 36 states. Yet this country has treated access to the services that help people with disabilities gain independence as an option, not a right. As we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, this puts people in grave danger. The Arc is leading the charge to change this reality,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

People with disabilities and older adults often need help with things like working at a job in the community, making food and eating, managing money and medications, and bathing and dressing. These services are only available through a part of Medicaid called home and community-based services, or HCBS.

Many state Medicaid programs have long waiting lists for HCBS. And these lists don’t capture those who may not know there is a list to be on, or what services are available. Why the wait? Medicaid is required to cover health care services, provided by doctors and hospitals, as well as many institutional services, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities for people with disabilities without any waiting lists. But states are allowed to treat HCBS as optional – even though they are anything but to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. This is the “institutional bias” in Medicaid – and The Arc has been advocating to change this for decades.

The bill tackles another decades-long problem – low pay for direct support professionals, or DSPs – the people who provide the services to people with IDD and older adults. DSPs are disproportionately women of color, doing critical tasks that support people with disabilities with taking medications, bathing, eating, getting out into the community, and more.  Due to low wages, there is more than 50% turnover annually, and the average wage is less than $11/ hour, making it difficult to provide continuity in services, provide a family sustaining wage, and threatening the quality of care.  The bill will require states to ensure that the direct care workforce is paid a family sustaining wage.

And finally, this legislation addresses an issue people with disabilities and their families face once they are getting services. Often, they end up stuck in one place, tied to Medicaid-funded services in one state that can’t be transferred over state lines. This lack of portability stops adults with disabilities from moving to be closer to their siblings or other family members, when their parents with whom they live can no longer support them or pass away. It leaves parents and siblings of people with disabilities desperate due to the lack of availability of services and long waiting lists, to get what their loved one need in another state.  The problem is particularly hard for military families that move frequently.

The HAA solves these problems by increasing Medicaid funding to states for HCBS, establishing a basic set of services that all states must provide, and providing other tools to help states build the capacity that they need to serve all people who need HCBS.

“Our goal is for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to have timely access to the quality supports and services they need and want to achieve a life of personal significance. This legislation provides real solutions to problems that have persisted for decades, and people with disabilities, their families, and the staff that support their lives can’t wait any longer. We thank the bill’s lead sponsors – Senators Hassan, Brown and Casey, and Representative Dingell, for their commitment and persistence in solving these problems that inhibit the lives of millions of people with disabilities and their family members,” said Berns.

For more information on HCBS and resources, visit thearc.org/medicaidcantwait.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.