Pa. releases plan for $1.2B in stimulus cash for services for Medicaid recipients

The money would be used, among other things, to address a staffing crisis for those who work with people with intellectual disabilities

Published 11/23/21 by JOHN L. MICEK

(*This post was updated at 7:47 a.m. on Tuesday, 11/23/21 to clarify that the federal funding does not require legislative authorization)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The Democratic Wolf administration says it wants to spend $1.2 billion in American Rescue Act funds to shore up home- and community-based services offered through the state’s Medicaid program, all with an eye toward allowing more of the commonwealth’s residents to access services closer to home.

On Monday, the administration dropped the formal details a plan to direct the federal relief money toward seniors and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities; adults dealing with such behavioral health needs as substance abuse disorder or mental illness, and children with chronic and complex medical needs, the administration said in a statement.

The money also would be used to address staffing recruiting and retention — apparently heeding the concerns of industry advocates who say they’ve been dealing with a staffing crisis in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Nov. 10 op-Ed for the Capital-Star, industry executive Gary Blumenthal, of Ephrata, Pa., who has an adult brother living with autism, called on lawmakers and the administration to dip into $5 billion in unspent federal stimulus money to help stave off what he described as the imminent collapse of the state’s intellectual disability system.

“Clearly the implosion of the ID/A system, with an average of 40% or more turnover, due to poverty wages in the state’s funding formula, is the very type of crisis,” that warrants tapping the state’s reserves, Blumenthal wrote.

In a statement, Wolf said the planned infusion of federal cash would be “an invaluable investment,” as the state “continues to rebuild from a difficult two years,” and will help “[normalize] and [advance] services and supports for Pennsylvanians.”

In its statement, the administration said the money also would be used to pay for:

  • “Increasing access to home and community-based services
  • “Providing necessary supplies to safely facilitate services
  • “Additional trainings and learning opportunities through workforce support
  • “Supporting families caring for their loved one
  • “Improving functional capabilities of people with disabilities
  • “Enhancing transitional supports,” and
  • “Home and community-based services capacity building.”

The stimulus package approved by Congress, and signed into law by President Joe Biden, provides for a 1-year, 10 percent increase to the federal share of certain home- and community-based care programs paid for through Medicaid, which is a joint state/federal program, the administration said in its statement.

In turn, states must reinvest their savings from the infusion of federal money to enhance, strengthen, or expand those services, the administration said in its statement.

The Wolf administration first announced the contours of how it wanted to spend the money in June. It still requires a final approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the federal programs.

*The plan does not require legislative authorization, a Wolf administration spokesperson said.

“This enhanced funding is an opportunity for us to invest in them as they invest in their communities and the people they serve,” acting state Department of Human Services Secretary Meg Snead said.

In an email to the Capital-StarBlumenthal, the vice president of the service-provider InVision Human Services, which has three locations statewide, called the money a good start, but said more needs to be done. He also stressed the pending federal approval.

“To accomplish all of [Wolf’s] objectives they need to access this fund, plus other American Rescue Plan dollars and state revenue,” Blumenthal said.

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