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Plan aims to help shorten disability waiting list

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state budget proposal awaiting action by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham includes funding to shorten – at least a little – the waiting list for a state-run program that helps people with developmental disabilities.

The $7 billion spending plan includes about $7.5 million in state appropriations that could be used as a match to secure federal funding.

Altogether, roughly $27.5 million could be available to remove about 300 people from the 5,000-person waiting list. The exact amount depends on a variety of factors, including the cost of providing the services.

The average wait time is over 13 years.

“We still have work to do,” Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview, “but I feel like we’re moving forward.”

Thomson said she had hoped to win approval for much more funding. But the extra money in the budget will help nonetheless, she said.

The budget proposal, House Bill 2, also includes about $1.5 million to plan and begin offering new services to people even as they’re stuck on the waiting list.

Lujan Grisham has already directed her administration to craft a plan to help people while they wait, and it could be up and running by January, said David Morgan, a spokesman for the state Department of Health. About 20 states already offer similar services.

New Mexico has struggled for years with how to keep up with the demand for services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The percentage of people diagnosed with autism and Down syndrome is climbing, and the per-client cost of providing services is increasing.

Analysts working for the Legislative Finance Committee have recommended taking steps to control costs while slowly ramping up funding over time.

The services are delivered through what’s known as the waiver program – because the federal government, for some states, has waived the requirement to use a nursing home or institutional setting to provide services.

The waiver program began about 35 years ago as a way to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by serving them in the community rather than in institutions.

Clients can receive therapy, help with employment and other services.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office Jan. 1, has until April 5 to act on the budget proposal and other legislation passed in the final days of the legislative session.

She is a former Cabinet secretary for the state Department of Health – the agency that oversees the waiver program.

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