Unlimited MR/RC Waivers Available Now: Window of Opportunity Short

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) announced on March 23rd that they will allow all Minnesota counties to offer an “unlimited number of MR/RC waiver allocations” from now until June 30th, 2001 to families and consumers who are on the waiting list for services.

In their alert to members, Arc Minnesota called the offer a “tremendous opportunity” for people with mental retardation and related conditions (MR/RC) and advised  advocates and parents to “jump on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”  In order to take advantage of this opportunity, individuals must contact their county worker by May 1st to set the process in motion.  For the final allocations to be approved, individuals must be screened and “in service” by June 30th, 2001.

“In service” means that persons must be receiving case management with at least one other service.  Approved waiver services are numerous, and may include such things as: respite care; personal care assistance-choice; day training and habilitation; home modifications; consumer directed community supports; environmental modifications; housing access coordination; assistive technology; care giver training and education; caregiver living expenses; supported employment,or; supported living services.

Advocates stress that eligible citizens will not need to “have it all together” by June 30th, but simply must have a case manager and one of the other services in place.  In other words, it will be possible for people to start with one waivered service and then add others after June 30th as staff become available or needs change.  In addition, DHS has assured counties that adequate funds will be available to implement whatever service plans are ultimately put in place by consumers and county case workers.

This short “window” of opportunity offered by DHS is designed to help those 4,400 Minnesotans who continue to wait for waivered services.  Some counties are pro-actively reaching out to people on the waiting list to let them know that they need to re-establish contact immediately in order to get “in the system.”  Hennepin County, for example, will offer 45 different informational sessions in the month of April alone.  However, the short time-frame puts a lot of pressure on county workers, and will likely result in some systems responding slowly or incompletely.

For this reason, Arc Minnesota stresses that you should take the initiative and not wait for your county to contact you.  If you are in need of waivered services, Arc urges you to call your County case manager immediately and request one of these new waiver slots. If your case manager has not heard of this opportunity, Arc suggests that you ask him/her to call the DHS Regional Support Specialist (See list on page 9).  If you continue to have problems, call your local Arc chapter or Arc Minnesota.  Arc MN can be reached at 1-800-582-5256.  Remember you only have until May 1st to get this arranged and you must have one service in place by June 30th.

Stunned and Overjoyed

News of the DHS announcement flew through the community with great speed.  Paul Fleissner, Director of Adult and Family Services for Olmsted County, reports that “people were just stunned, overjoyed” upon hearing the news.  In the days following the announcement, this reporter heard the announcement described as “unbelievable” and “almost too good to be true.”

Reactions to the response were no doubt enhanced by the memory of the recent scare brought on by the Governor’s budget proposal for the next biennium.  As reported in the February 10th  ACCESS PRESS, that proposal was to take $44 million in unspent funds and fold them back into the state’s general revenues, thus making them unavailable for the waiver program.

While there are significant sums of money that have been allocated under the 1999 law that remain unspent, advocates and county workers are well aware that these unspent funds are not the result of a decrease in the demand for these services.  The continued existence of a waiting list confirms this.  Rather, the surplus results from a set of problems in matching the needs with appropriate providers, chief among them the critical lack of workers who provide home care services.

The unlimited waiver announcement by the DHS is intended to assure that already-allocated waiver funds will be kept in the system while individuals attempt to create service plans that are achievable and that work best for them.  Legislation has been introduced to assure that, in the future, funds that have been allocated for the purpose of reducing the waiting list must be spent for that purpose. (See page 3, “Unlock the Waiting List” bill )

DHS is advising counties to make people who are already on the waiting list a priority during this period.  However, all individuals who are eligible may be offered waiver resources through this -one-time allocation process.

Steve Larson, director of Community Supports for Minnesotans With Disabilities at the DHS,  stresses that, while the waiver-application doors will be wide open until June 30th, they will not close completely at that time.  On July 1, 2001, the traditional allocation formula will again be used.