US funds weighed for disabilities program - Albuquerque Journal

US funds weighed for disabilities program

The state Capitol in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – State health officials say they have a plan to end the 13-year wait faced by families seeking services under a developmental disabilities program.

In a legislative hearing Tuesday, members of the state departments of Health and Human Services said they are awaiting federal approval to tap into a temporary funding stream to move about 4,100 people off the waiting list and into services in the next two years.

State funding of about $75 million a year would be needed eventually.

Acting Health Secretary David Scrase, who also leads the Human Services Department, called it a rare opportunity of alignment between federal funding and a critical state goal.

“This is an exciting time,” he told legislators.

Incredibly long waits have plagued the state Developmental Disabilities Waiver program for years. In the Albuquerque area, for example, the individuals now getting removed from the waiting list have typically been waiting since 2008 for the funding to become available.

Participants can receive therapy, help with employment and other services aimed at allowing them to be active members of the community. It’s called a waiver program because the federal government has waived the requirement to use a nursing home or other institutional setting to provide the services.

Jason Cornwell, director of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division of the Department of Health, outlined the plan to end the waiting list during a meeting of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee.

The state would rely on federal funding at first to pay for services for every individual on the waiting list, and then use state funding starting in about four years to maintain the program.

“We believe we have a blueprint to move our state forward and tackle this problem,” Cornwell said.

New Mexico is seeking approval from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to use funding available for home- and community-based services.

In public testimony Tuesday, Robert Kegel, whose son receives waiver services, urged legislators to take immediate action on a variety of fronts to improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.

“We’ve denied people the care they’re absolutely entitled to,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said New Mexico’s strong financial position makes it an appropriate time to end the waiting list.

Strong revenue growth is projected for the coming year, and federal stimulus funds have flooded the state.

“We have to figure out a plan – a plan that really works,” Lopez said.


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