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Multiple new caregiving laws take effect Monday

Gov. Youngkin signs the budget bill surounded by elected officials
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs the budget surrounded by House and Senate members following a special session on Monday, May 13, 2024 at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

Change has come to the home and community care system in Virginia.

Dozens of bills affecting Virginia’s system for providing home and community care to people with developmental disabilities go into effect Monday. The bills make changes to restrictions on the waivers system to facilitate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds for the new budget year.

The $247 million in additional funding goes toward funding the Developmental Disability (DD) Waiver system, which allows people to receive home and community care rather than in a health care institution.

The changes come after many years of efforts to address failures in the home and community care system.

Compensation rates, home care workforce shortages and time constraints all posed challenges to a system that often had families providing care on their own.

“As long as I had been involved in Virginia politics, I cared a lot about this issue,” said state Sen. David Sutterlein (R–Roanoke) at Tuesday’s ceremonial bill signing in Salem. “I was told, ‘It's just not gonna happen, you all need to be really careful about talking about it and getting people's hopes up.’”

In 2012, the US Department of Justice found Virginia was failing to provide services to those with developmental disabilities. The findings came after an investigation into whether the state was meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a U.S. Supreme Court case that said segregating people with developmental disabilities was a civil rights violation.

Tonya Miller, executive director of the Arc of Virginia, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said Virginia has been moving away from institutional and traditional settings.

“People have been saying that they want a life like mine and yours, and want the same things we all do. And it's important that Virginia builds a system of supports that helps people to do that,” she said.

Suetterlein sponsored SB 676 that temporarily extends waivers’ validity from six months to a year.

Sometimes families can’t find someone to hire to provide home-based care, and their waiver expires during the search. The waitlist for certain waivers was over 3,000 people long in January, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in his State of the Commonwealth address.

Miller said that measure would also make home care providers in the system.

Without home care providers, many parents took care of their children in the interim. Michaela Lieberman-Martin, the interim director of the Legal and Justice Center’s Health Justice and Public Benefits Program, said that made maintaining employment more difficult.

“That left them looking at the prospect, oftentimes, of homelessness, of eviction,” she said. “We're talking about families that are caring for folks who are extremely medically fragile, oftentimes, or have extraordinary behavioral health needs, and can be more at risk of contracting additional health problems if they are living in unstable housing.”

Under the pandemic’s public health emergency, home and community based services expanded, enabling family members to care for relatives with developmental or intellectual disabilities. That provision expired in November.

Four bills going into effect address the issue of home care from relatives. One set of bills directs the Department of Medical Assistance Services to request from the federal government that family members could receive compensation for 40 hours of care per child. And another set allows family members to provide care — and be compensated — even if home care providers are available to be hired.

At the ceremonial bill signing, Youngkin spoke about 18 bills regarding Virginians with disabilities.

“It is overwhelming to me that there is literally no partisanship,” he told a group in Salem. “I am astounded by the tremendous efforts in order to make that happen.”

Other bills going into effect are a requirement for law enforcement to be trained in how to communicate with people who have autism spectrum disorder; a pilot program for all-terrain power wheelchairs in state parks; and establishing voting rights for caregivers participating in meetings remotely under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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