In addition to The 5% Campaign, the elimination of Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) premiums, and the reform of MA, The Arc Minnesota and its advocacy partners focused on five other bills this session to make positive changes in disability services and supports. Four of the five bills were included in the final health and human services omnibus bill (the overall spending and policy bill), which was approved by state legislators and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Funding for the State Quality Council
The State Quality Council was created in 2011. It is charged with ensuring that Minnesota’s disability services are the highest possible quality. The council promotes quality systems that are person-centered, quality-driven, outcome-based and effective in using public funds.
The council conducted its work for the past two years without funding. The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) provided staff support. Sen. Kent Eken (DFL – Twin Valley) and Rep. Rod Hamilton (R – Mountain Lake) authored legislation to fund the council and its activities, requesting $3.1 million for the next biennium. The health and human
services (HHS) omnibus bill included $1.173 million.
This is a good start in funding methods and systems to help ensure services meet the needs, dreams and desires of people with disabilities and their families. Federal money will supplement the state’s allocation.
Reducing the waiting list
A change in Minnesota statute should help the 5,000 Minnesotans who currently wait for home and community-based waivered services. These services benefit people with a wide range of disabilities, helping them be more included, participating members of their communities.
In an effort to prevent overspending on waivers, Minnesota law had previously contained disincentives for counties to spend money that was allocated for those services. The statutory language caused counties to hold waiver funding in reserves to avoid state penalties. These reserves grew to an average of seven to 10 percent of a county’s waiver budget, totaling $200 million statewide.
Sen. John Hoffman (DFL – Champlain) and Rep. Roz Peterson (R – Lakeville) authored language, included in the HHS omnibus bill, which lowered the counties’ allowable reserves to three percent, not the current seven to 10 percent. This change should free up funding to help many Minnesotans currently on waiting lists for waivered services.
Lower Parental Fees
Disability advocates made it a priority once again to reduce the fees that parents pay for services for children with disabilities. These efforts showed some success.
Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL – Minneapolis) and Peterson authored bills to provide relief to families struggling to pay these fees; this relief was included in the HHS
omnibus bill. The final language lowered fees across the board by 10 percent, effective July 1, 2015.
This decrease will make the fees more affordable for families to pay for MA services that keep their children at home and in the community. The fees have been so high that they prevented some parents from applying for crucial services that would meet their children’s needs.
ABLE Act funding approved
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law by President Barak Obama on December 19, 2014. The ABLE Act will enable qualified individuals with disabilities to create tax-advantaged savings accounts for certain disability-related expenses, such as education and transportation. If properly managed, funds in an ABLE account won’t jeopardize eligibility for governmental benefits like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
Before the program can be offered to the public, federal and state governments must create new rules and procedures. Minnesota took its first step by approving $105,000 for DHS to administer ABLE Act accounts. The process for finalizing the federal and state rules is expected to take at least until mid to late 2015. Expanding employment through self-directed services Advocates also worked to change the Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) program so people with disabilities have more opportunities for competitive employment.
About 3,400 Minnesotans with disabilities and their families on MA waiver programs benefit from CDCS. Their individualized budgets and greater flexibility let them spend funding so it best meets their needs. Unfortunately, people with disabilities on CDCS who turn 21 years old don’t receive funding in their budgets for employment services.
Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL – Eagan) and Rep. Tara Mack (R – Apple Valley) authored legislation to change the method of calculating CDCS budgets to give people with disabilities the needed funding to secure competitive employment. This bill received approval in House and Senate committees, but wasn’t included in the HHS omnibus bill. Language was approved to extend a current program giving recent high school graduates a 20 percent increase in their CDCS budgets.
-Steve Larson is Public Policy Director for The Arc MN.