Will Congress Leave People with Disabilities Out to Dry

The future of a longstanding Medicaid program is quickly becoming an endangered species.

The Money Follows the Person program was designed more than a decade ago to support the process of people with disabilities transitioning from an institution to community and independent living. Roughly 75,000 people have used this program to successfully make the transition. It is now potentially on the chopping block and lies in the hands of lawmakers in D.C.

This December, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced the EMPOWER Care Act (S. 2227) that would save the program for at least the next five years at the tune of $450 million annually. Six states have already run out of money for this program that helped people with disabilities save an average of 23 percent in its first year, by letting them live among their community.

“We really are down to the very last dollars,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy for the Center for Public Representation in Washington D.C. “States are having to start dismantling some of their infrastructure and will be ending their programs if it isn’t re-funded soon.”

The Money Follows the Person program helps states to afford setting up a system that assesses whether people are eligible to transition from an institution to an independent living setting. Furthermore, this program has also been used to fund additional services such as personal care service trials; paying for a community ombudsman; transitional crisis support; team behavioral consultation staff; social work/counseling; consumer guides; transitional counseling; mental health needs; housing counseling; housing modifications; 24-hour care (in limited circumstances); service animals; vehicle modifications; moving assistance; caregiver training; roommate matching; internet installation; etc.

Although the program expired two years ago, 44 states still have available funds, but are limited to what they could allocate the funds to. Program modifications and new clientele are just two of the restricted uses placed on the states with remaining funds.

Money Follows the Person aims to alter the balance between institution and community-based living, dismantle red tape in state and federal laws that withhold funds from being used for long-term care in the setting of choice, increase the ability to provide home and community-based services for those who choose, and implement quality assurance and improvement of these services.

The House of Representatives is currently grappling for with the dilemma of saving this program, while advocates are hoping to find that Congress has approved a spending package for next month.

Republicans have a long history against Medicaid. As HuffPost reported last year:

“The political horror to the GOP is that as long as Medicaid is seen as a Democratic measure, and more specifically an Obama measure, to aid the needy, the possibility is real that many of those millions of voters in crucial swing states such as Ohio, will [begin] to connect the dots. The dots being that Medicaid is a health care program that helps families in need, the Democrats support it and fight for it, while GOP conservatives bitterly oppose it. Therefore, come election time, those families might, just might, cast a vote for the friends, not the enemies, of Medicaid.”

Recently, Republicans in Virginia have indicated that Medicaid may stand a fighting chance. But as Republican Senate hopeful Corey Stewart indicated this week, a tiger cannot change its stripes overnight.

Virginia is toying with the possibility of Medicaid expansion, which would allow about 300,000 low-income residents coverage. The vote passed the Republican-controlled House (the Senate remains opposed).

This did not sit well with Stewart. According to The Roanoke Times, Stewart stood outside the state Capitol with a roll of toilet paper, saying that Republicans who voted in favor of Medicaid expansion are “flaccid” and “garbage.”

“When you lie to your constituents and tell them that you’re going to vote against Medicaid because it’s bad for Virginia and then you go up there because of political cowardice and vote for it, you’re pathetic and you’re useless. In fact, I compare them to toilet paper,” Stewart said, according to The Times. “These are toilet paper Republicans. Just as soft, just as weak, just as pathetic, just as flimsy. Put a little bit of pressure on them and they crumble.”

According to The Times, when asked if using the word “flaccid” was intentional, Stewart responded, “I’m suggesting I feel sorry for their wives.”

On Tuesday Stewart’s campaign sent a news release with the subject line: “Flaccid, Soft, Weak Republicans in House of Delegates Caved, Should Be Removed.”

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