In The Politics of Autism, I discuss state services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Private agencies that provide services for the intellectually and developmentally disabled have long warned that, without fresh state and federal funding, they would be unable to provide housing and staff support to the growing number of Americans who need care.
Over the last 12 months, the Covid-19 pandemic’s lingering effects and once-in-a-generation inflation have turned dire predictions into sobering truths, and agency directors, who for years hobbled along on shoestring budgets, have done in 2022 what not long ago would have been unthinkable: closed their doors.
Across the country, more than three-quarters of providers said they’ve turned away referrals, and more than half have discontinued programs, according to a survey from the American Network of Community Options and Resources, an advocacy group.
What happens to the residents? They live with siblings or their elderly parents, some who are themselves in need of care, or they become wards of the state, sent to live in larger and larger facilities, the kind of institutionalized settings the country swore off nearly 50 years ago.
Most agencies rely on state and federal Medicaid money to pay employees and can’t increase salaries to compete with the retail or food-services industries because Medicaid rates are set by the state. Though that’s always been a challenge, it’s exacerbated during periods of high inflation when wages in other sectors rise and the cost of living increases, making it that much more tempting for employees to take a new job that pays a couple dollars more an hour.
Turnover rates have climbed to nearly 50 percent nationally, meaning half of all employees need to be replaced every year, a huge expense in time and training.
Most states were helped by last year’s American Rescue Plan, which temporarily boosted federal matching funds for home- and community-based services. Many providers used the bump to supplement wages or offer pandemic signing bonuses, but that money was never intended to be a permanent fix.
“We’ve offered bonuses, but [employees] know that’s not permanent,” Wilush said. “When Target goes to $24 an hour, it’s really hard to compete with that.”
The Biden administration sought to shore up those programs, proposing $400 billion in new money for home- and community-based services in the Democrats’ social spending package. House Democrats put about $150 billion in their version that passed last year — but it was not included in the reconciliation package that the Senate passed this week, meaning it is unlikely providers will see new money any time soon.