There is Light Ahead in 2021!
I have high hopes for 2021. I write this even though the first couple of weeks have been extremely challenging.
There is light up ahead. In the coming months, more and more of us will receive the vaccine. We will once again gather in-person. We will get out of our homes, we will see loved ones and we will reconnect. We will also mourn those who have died and help each other heal from the suffering and isolation during the pandemic.
This month, I celebrate my one-year anniversary at the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities. What a year it has been! I would have loved to have had my first year occur in more normal times. I was so looking forward to traveling from the Coast to the mountains and all places in between to meet with and listen to individuals with intellectual and/or other developmental disabilities (I/DD) and families to learn what really mattered to them and how NCCDD can better serve them.
Yet, the pandemic allowed me to see – virtually – the resourcefulness, adaptability, needs and resilience of our community in North Carolina.
There is a lot we need to work on in 2021. We have a waiting list of over 12,000 people for the Innovations Waiver. Medicaid is undergoing a significant transformation. Direct Support Professionals are underpaid. There is a housing shortage and a looming eviction crisis. There are also issues related to education, transitions into adulthood, and aging caregivers.
Keep up with our public policy updates and other communications. Look for new webinars, trainings, and advocacy opportunities from us; and watch for ways to get involved with our initiatives. Together, we will make an impact in 2021 and then over the subsequent five years. Together, we will be part of the light at the end of this pandemic.
Talley Wells, Executive Director
On December 21, both chambers passed H.R.133, a COVID relief and omnibus appropriations deal. The package funds all parts of the government for the remainder of the Fiscal Year (through September 2021), provides some additional resources and relief to respond to the impacts of the COVID epidemic, and extends key programs. The President signed the bill on December 27. Some highlights include:
Many in the I/DD community had hoped to see additional funding for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), which did not occur. Also, the stimulus payments did not include any payment for dependents who are over the age of 17.
The 117th Congress officially began work on January 3, 2021. Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives with 222 seats compared to the 211 Republican seats (note: 2 vacancies). Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) secured a fourth term as Speaker of the House in a narrow vote largely along party lines.
In the Senate, the Democrats have officially gained the majority following the wins of two Democratic candidates in the January 5th Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will replace the two Republican incumbents to create a 50-50 party split in the Senate. Vice President-elect Harris, serving in her capacity as President of the Senate, provides the tiebreaker for a Democratic majority. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will serve as Senate Majority Leader and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will serve as Senate Minority Leader, reversing their roles in the previous Congress.
The legislature convened on January 13 for a day of organizing which included passing rules and appointing committees. The Senate will continue to be led by Sen. Phil Berger as President Pro Tempore and Sen. Ralph Hise as Deputy President Pro Tempore. The House will continue to be led by Rep. Tim Moore as Speaker and Rep. Sarah Stevens as Speaker Pro Tempore. The legislature will reconvene on January 27.
While COVID-19 and vaccine distribution will rightfully get much attention in the early days of session, passing a two-year budget is a usual part of the long session. There are certain Standing Committees, as well as Oversight Committees, that the Council is most interested in tracking.
Both the House and the Senate have standing committees that are focused on public policy areas in order to move legislation. When a bill is introduced in the legislature, it is typically sent to a standing committee. Some of the key standing committees in both the House and Senate we follow include:
Oversight Committees are established by State law for a specific purpose and usually focus on providing oversight of a state agency or policy area. There are several oversight committees, but the ones we follow most closely include:
When the session is underway, the Council’s policy team will provide updates on the budget process and pertinent bills, especially those related to the Council’s priority areas for educating policy makers. These include: Registry of Unmet Needs (RUN), Olmstead Plan, Medicaid Transformation/Tailored Plan, and direct support professional (DSP) wages.
Medicaid Transformation continues to move forward. The Standard Plan is scheduled to launch on July 1, 2021. Information on how to enroll in a Medicaid Managed Care health plan will be sent to beneficiaries soon. The open enrollment will be from March 15, 2021 through May 15, 2021. The Department of Health and Human Services is re-engaged with Prepaid Health Plans (PHPs) and focused on items such as provider contracting, rates, and payment processes. One of our concerns is that PHPs contract with sufficient providers to meet the needs of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD) who may be in the Standard Plan.
The RFA for the Tailored Plan was released and the applications are due February 2, 2021. The LME/MCOs are the only entities who are allowed to respond to this RFA. The contracts will be awarded on June 11, 2021 which allows for about a year of planning before Tailored Plans launch on July 1, 2022.
The Olmstead Plan Stakeholder Advisory (OPSA) group was initiated by the Department of Health and Human Services to develop an Olmstead Plan that ensures the right of all people with disabilities to choose to live life fully included in the community. There are several committees currently working on these topics: Housing, Employment, Community Capacity Building, Transition to Community, Children/Youth/Families, Workforce Development, Older Adults, and Quality Assurance/Quality of Life. The Council is represented on these committees and provides input to make sure our priorities are included in the plan. For more information about the committees, which are open to all, visit the website: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/about/department-initiatives/nc-olmstead
The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD), in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), hosted three webinars to share information about the COVID vaccine, its rollout phases, and the impact on the disability community throughout the state.
Carrie Brown, MD, MPH and Chief Medical Officer for Behavioral Health & I/DD at NC DHHS and Talley Wells, Executive Director, NCCDD led the three webinars on January 6 and January 12. Attendance totaled over 400 participants in the state of North Carolina.
Information and discussion covered a wide range of topics including eligibility, when and where the vaccine will be available, children receiving the vaccine, why some counties are rolling out the vaccine faster than others, etc.
A variety of helpful information about the virus, the vaccine, helplines and alert systems can be found on the NCCDD website at https://bit.ly/39pzREn.
Helping to develop more leaders in our community around advocacy and policy education is one of the main goals of NCCDD’s newest staff member. Chris Hendricks, hired as NCCDD’s part-time Public Policy Coordinator, will work to connect disability advocates with North Carolina state leaders.
Hendricks has been a professional speaker and communicator for 15 years. Born in Durham, this North Carolina native describes himself as a driven self-advocate for persons with disability conditions of every age and on multiple levels of community involvement.
Hendricks, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Sports Science from Elon University, says, “My condition of cerebral palsy is a huge factor in my passion for persons with disabilities. I hope to utilize my experience with cerebral palsy along with a growth mindset to shine a light on the very tangible, practical "superpowers" if you will, that exists within the community of persons with disabilities.”
Hendricks uses music and storytelling to challenge original notions of what it means to have a disability. “Music has always been a part of my advocacy work. Good music is always personal on some level. I've always loved music because it's the one thing you can give away and keep at the same time. It brings people together around a narrative of collaboration and joy. We could use that now more than ever, especially in local policy,” says Hendricks.
Wondering if you may have heard a Chris Hendricks song? You have if you have attended a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game. Hendrick’s “Noise” is the Canes theme song.
In addition to his work with NCCDD, Hendricks is also part of BNI (Business Network International) Triangle Business Builders serving as the minister of referrals, is a life and benefits advisor for Aflac, and is co-founder of Perfectly Afflicted, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young people rediscover their individual self-worth and value.
Hendricks adds, “I'm honored to be a part of the NCCDD. My duty is primarily going to be acting as a bridge between those involved in disability policy legislation with passionate self-advocates and supporters in the community to get more people involved in what's happening on the state level with developmental disabilities.”