In stark contrast to previous COVID-19 relief bills, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, contains numerous provisions specifically aimed at supporting people with disabilities, especially those living at home with their parents or in need of in-home services.
Under the pandemic relief bill, people with incomes of less than $75,000 ($150,000 for couples who file taxes jointly) are entitled to $1,400 relief checks, as well as an additional $1,400 per dependent living in the household. Unlike the two prior COVID-19 relief bills, which provided additional relief checks only to children claimed as dependents, this bill also gives payments to adults claimed as dependents (primarily people with disabilities and others unable to live independently).
Another significant change is that the American Rescue Plan includes substantial new funding for Medicaid-supported home and community-based services, the federal government’s primary program of in-home services and supportive housing options for people with disabilities. The pandemic has been particularly devastating to people with disabilities living in congregate settings, and many community programs were forced to shut down. In addition, day programs and vocational training were curtailed for many.
As COVID-19 spread over the past year, no federal aid was allocated to expand access to Medicaid’s community-based services. The relief bill boosts the federal government’s share of the program’s funding by 10 percent, which will translate into an additional $12.67 billion for state Medicaid programs in the next year, reopening community-based programs that closed due to the pandemic or shortening waiting lists for existing programs. With the significant waitlist in many states for these critical HCBS waiver services, additional funding is sorely needed by many states, especially as they saw their tax revenue fall over the course of the pandemic.
“During this pandemic, the disability community has suffered a huge loss of life and tragically high rates of COVID-19 infection. Many people with disabilities who lack access to critical home- and community-based services have been relegated to institutions and group care settings where the virus has spread rapidly, and they’ve been exposed to dangerous outbreaks,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as quoted by Disability Scoop. “None of this is acceptable, which is why the American Rescue Plan provides resources for home- and community-based services and supports the workforce that provides this important care.”
“After almost a full year of leaving the most urgent needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of relief legislation, Members of Congress are finally providing the resources necessary for people with disabilities to live safely, in the community, with the support they need,” Peter Berns, chief executive officer of The Arc, said in a news release. “This funding is desperately needed by the systems, providers and workforce that support people with disabilities.”
The closing of schools has been particularly difficult for special education students who often do not have alternative education available and have been hit the hardest by virtual-only schooling. The relief bill allocates $2.5 billion specifically for special education students, as well as a significant amount for vaccine distribution. State and local governments, which provide numerous disability-specific services, will see an infusion of $350 billion in funds.
Click here to read the 628-page bill.