by Courtney Perkes | September 10, 2018
Following an initial vote in Congress, advocates are hopeful that a federal program aimed at helping people with disabilities move from institutions to community living will be renewed.
A health subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives advanced legislation late last week reauthorizing the Medicaid Money Follows the Person program for one year with $450 million in funding.
Since its inception more than a decade ago, states have received roughly $3.7 billion through the program to help more than 88,000 people leave nursing homes or other institutions in favor of their own apartment or a small group home.
However, Money Follows the Person expired in September 2016 and states have been running out of funds ever since.
The subcommittee vote Friday approving legislation known as the EMPOWER Care Act, H.R. 5306, was a step toward a full vote on the House floor to renew the program.
“The reason it’s so important we get this passed by the end of the year is that, maybe with the exception of one or two states, every (Money Follows the Person) program will be out of money by the end of this year,” said Nicole Jorwic, director of rights policy for The Arc. “Some states have already started to wind down their program. Hopefully, this momentum will be a good signal to states to stop doing that.”
Money Follows the Person has resulted in government cost savings as people move out of expensive facilities, according to a federal report.
States have used the funds to pay for services not normally covered by Medicaid, such as hiring housing specialists and providing employment assistance.
Sarah Meek, director of legislative affairs at the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, said Money Follows the Person has resulted in better quality of life not only for participants but for people with disabilities who are at risk of institutionalization. She said they also have benefited from housing and job services put in place.
“Access to affordable housing continues to be one of the biggest barriers to transitioning people to the community,” Meek said. “Once (states have) hired a housing counselor, they’re able to work with people who may be looking at a limited number of options.”
Curtis Cunningham, vice president of the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities, testified before the House subcommittee last week, saying that states need certainty of the program’s future to test new transition practices that can take several years to evaluate.
“Our members across the country have seen great value from the program, and the interventions have become more effective as states have experimented with and learned from innovative ways to provide these supports,” Cunningham said.
Jorwic from The Arc said people with disabilities across the country are in limbo.
“There are people who are waiting and want to move in every state but because the (Money Follows the Person) program doesn’t have the funding, or in some cases has closed completely, those individuals are languishing in segregated settings outside their communities,” she said. “We’re talking about people’s lives.”
The House legislation was introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the Senate.
“We are very pleased with the wide bipartisan support of this bill and working hard to get this passed before the end of the 115th Congress,” said Lauren Gaydos, a spokeswoman for Guthrie.
The bill must now be marked up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee before it can go to a vote in the House.