Thursday, June 16, 2022

A COVID relief rental aid program ends 6/30/22, but there is still time to apply for help

This is from an article in the Detroit Free Press, “Statewide rent aid program will stop taking new applications June 30. What to know.” by Nushrat Rahman, 6/15/22.

“A statewide program to help families catch up on rent payments and avoid eviction will stop taking new applications after the end of the month.“ 

The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) will continue to take applications for assistance until 9 p.m. June 30, 2022. 

“The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) — which is responsible for administering the $1.1 billion program that's been in place for a little more than a year — said that it will continue processing applications until all funds are used up. 

“Those who have already completed a CERA application should check their status, but should not apply again because that can slow down the overall processing time, said Julie Schneider, acting director of the city's [Detroit’s] Housing and Revitalization Department.”… 

"The program provides up to 18 months of rental assistance for qualifying applicants who faced economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also be used to help pay for utility bills. Applicants must be below 80% of the area median income. …Applicants must also show proof of financial distress since the pandemic began, such as qualifying for unemployment or having a past due rent notice.“

“…Funds will continue to go out to those who are approved until Sept. 30, or until aid runs out…” 

The article has more information for people living in Detroit and assistance available there.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Review of the 2022 Disability Policy Webinar Series from the ARC Michigan

I have been in semi-hibernation during the COVID pandemic and have not been following state and local disability policy as closely as I should. With regard to policy affecting people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and their families, one way to catch up is to follow the ARC Michigan’s 2022 Disability Public Policy Webinar Series on Zoom. The Webinars are held every Friday in June with each week featuring a different topic and speakers. The Webinars are also archived for viewing later.

I have my differences with the ARC and other large advocacy organizations. Too often they do not represent the spectrum of views held by people with disabilities and their families. Many policy makers find it convenient to accept the views of well-funded advocacy groups as a proxy for individuals with I/DD and their families, thereby avoiding controversy and the unsettling reality of differences of opinion that they would otherwise have to confront. Nevertheless, the ARC policy seminar offers a variety of topics and includes knowledgeable speakers on state and federal issues affecting people with disabilities.


The ARC Michigan 2022 Public Policy Webinar #1: June 3rd, 2022

ThIs is the PDF handout for the first Webinar with Belinda Hawks from the Behavioral Health and Physical Health & Aging Services Administration (BHPHASA), Remi Romanowski-Pfeiffer from TBD Solutions, and Al Jansen, Senior Advisor to Director Hertel, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS)

This is the link to the Youtube video of the Webinar.  

The BHPHASA is new. It is the result of combining agencies under the MDHHS. 

From the Website:

“The Health and Aging Services Administration (HASA) was created under Executive Order 2021-14 combining Aging and Adult Services Agency and Medical Services Administration under one umbrella within MDHHS. Michigan's Medicaid Office is also part of HASA and the designated State Unit on Aging function will be fulfilled by HASA.”

The topics that I was especially interested in include the Direct Care Workers (DCW) crisis and the “Heightened Scrutiny” of settings receiving HCBS (Home and Community-Based Services) funding to assure that they provide access to “the community” based on the wishes and needs of the people living in these settings. There are other issues that will also be of interest to providers, local agencies, and people with disabilities, such as how the state is planning for recovery from the COVID pandemic and various scenarios to consider.

The Direct Care Workers (DCW) crisis - Allen Jansen, Senior to Elizabeth Hertel Allen Jansen, Senior Advisor to Elizabeth Hertel, Director of the MDHHS.

[Allen Jansen’s presentation begins at around 43 minutes on the Youtube video.]

National Data on DCWs (also known as DSPs or Direct Service Providers):

  • 4.5 million direct care workers in the U.S.
  • 40 to 60% rate of turnover
  • 84% have no retirement benefits
  • In 2019, 53% were women of color
  • 47% qualify for public funded benefits
  • In 2020, $20,200 was the median income
  • By 2030, the predicted shortage of DCWs will be 151,000.

Michigan has a shortage of 36,000 care workers out of a workforce of approximately 165,000.

A state Direct Care Task Force has been created to establish priorities and make recommendations to the state. 

Also involved in discussions is the Quality Improvement Council (QIC). 

From the Website:

“The Quality Improvement Council directs the development and implementation of the behavioral health managed care programs and serves as the primary point of prioritization and integration of quality improvement activities.

“The Quality Improvement Council includes quality and administrative staff representatives from MDHHS, the PIHPs, CMHSPs, provider organizations, quality vendors and advocacy members.”

There are many job titles that fall under the broadly defined category of Direct Care Worker. Current efforts focus on improving wages and benefits for DCWs. The broad strategy for improvement includes establishing competency standards for the professionalization of the DCW workforce, designing a career pathway, elevating the value of DCWs (specifically identifying them as providing an essential service), and collecting data to demonstrate their impact:

The Governor’s proposed 2023 budget includes funding to stabilize DCW wages. At the time of the Webinar, a supplemental budget that includes additional wages for DCWs was stalled. 

Recommendations for improvement include setting a starting wage at $17 - $18/hour for DCWs and adjusting funding to cover added expenses to providers to pay supervisory personnel.

There is also a proposal to expand “residential models”. Belinda Hawks clarified that this is referring to the need for facilities to house people who are stuck in emergency rooms and hospitals with no place to go or are in nursing homes and want to get out. These would be home environments aligned with a psychiatric treatment facility model. The estimated need for such facilities is 48 beds for adults and 12 for children. 

“Heightened Scrutiny”

Heightened scrutiny is a process to determine whether a setting receiving HCBS funds allows sufficient access to the community to be eligible of funding under the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) settings rule. 

Michigan does not set limits on the size of a setting. According to Belinda Hawks, no settings so far have been determined to be ineligible. The state is still reviewing settings. Compliance with the settings rule must be complete by March 2023. The Department expects to be finished reviewing settings by August or September 2022 to give providers enough time to make changes to comply or find other arrangements for residents of these settings. 

Providers have been notified if they under the HS process. The final determination is up to CMS.

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See also:  

DCW commentary from ARC Michigan

Michigan’s mental health system is failing many with severe autism
Thursday, May 16, 2019

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The War on Children - May 2022

On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old boy shot his grandmother and then drove to an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where he barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom and murdered 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement were in the building, but, for whatever reason, they waited some forty minutes to enter the room to take out the shooter. During that time, children called 911 and pleaded with the operator to send in the police. The shooter was shot to death when law enforcement finally entered the classroom. 

More will probably come out about the details of this fiasco, but there are many factors that contributed to this tragedy that are coming to light:

The Shooter

The 18-year-old boy reportedly had a troubled home-life. In middle school and junior high, the boy was bullied for having a stutter and a strong lisp. The bullying occurred both at school and on social media. He also made threats to girls in on-line chat rooms but these were never reported to authorities.

The shooter was never identified as needing mental health services, but that doesn’t mean that he might have needed them.

Law Enforcement in Uvalde

This is from The Daily Beast: “More Guns and Cops at Schools Are Not the Answer” by Tana Ganeva, 5/26/22 - It describes the ineffectiveness of law enforcement in preventing the murders of 19 school children :

“As the horror was unfolding in Uvalde, Texas, law enforcement swarmed the area surrounding the school. Many were outfitted in camouflage. They paced around with semi-automatic weapons strapped to their chests and stood next to a Lenco BearCat, an armored vehicle that’s basically a tank.

“Uvalde—an agricultural community dotted with modest houses, is not drowning in excess wealth—yet the police and border control agents have the tools and weapons more befitting of Seal Team 6—thanks to federal grant programs that pass military grade equipment to local police at no cost. 

“Alongside ‘thoughts and prayers,’ pro-gun lawmakers come up with all kinds of explanations to avoid a reckoning on guns in America. It’s violent video games! Rap! Metal! Mental illness! Drugs! Feminists! Fatherlessness! And after the bickering over common sense gun control fades, the solution we seem to settle on is, more cops, more guns, including the ludicrous notion that teachers carry loaded weapons.”

…”Let’s hope this display of law enforcement incompetence nudges Americans towards solutions beyond just simply adding more men with badges and guns into children’s spaces.”

There were a total of 19 officers in the school, before a decision was made to breach the classroom and take out the shooter. Records show the district spent about $200,000 on security and monitoring services in 2017-18 and that figure rose to more than $450,000 in the 2019-20 school year, according to CNN.

The Political response:

This is from ABC News.

"Texas Governor Abbott places shooting blame on mental health, what has Texas done to address it? -The shooter did not have a diagnosed mental health condition, police said."

By Mary Kekatos, May 27, 2022

The Texas Governor Greg Abbot “blamed the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde on mental health issues.”  

"'We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health,' the Republican governor said Wednesday. 'Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge. Period. We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and to do something about it.'"

The shooter, however, did not have a diagnosed mental health condition. Critics say the state has not done enough to expand mental health services and has in fact recently reduced support for existing services:

“In April, Abbott announced he would be moving nearly $500 million from state agencies to fund Operation Lone Star, a Texas-Mexico border security initiative jointly being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Military Department. 

“Of that amount, $210.7 million was from Texas Health & Human Services, which oversees public mental health programs.” 

The state has denied that mental health programs would be negatively affected by the transfer of funds. Nevertheless, in a report from Mental Health America, Texas ranks 51st or last in the nation in access to mental health care. According to the report, “The access measures include access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, access to special education, and workforce availability.”

There have been efforts to improve services, but overall the state appears to be in bad shape as far as delivering services to the people who need them.

The Weapon:

The shooter, who was later killed by law enforcement, purchased two AR-style rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition just days after he turned 18, the minimum age under federal law for buying a rifle.

I have gleaned that the AK-47 (Automatic Kalashnikov 1947), is the mother of modern day military-style assault weapons. The AR-15 is a comparable civilian version of a semi automatic assault rifle. If you want to know the fine points of the differences and pros and cons of both weapons, see “How the AK-47 became the ‘weapon of the century” from the Military Times, 2017 and “AR-15 Vs. AK-47: Which is the Best Rifle for the Apocalypse?”. The semi-automatic AR-15, the Uvalde shooter’s weapon of choice, appears to be better than the AK-47 in terms of accuracy. 

From The Military Times: “The AK has secured its place in firearms history not by its performance as a weapon of the conventional war for which it was designed … but by its position as a purely military weapon that broke free of the fetters of armories and official control” and “The AK-47 and its derivatives deserve the title ‘Weapon of the Century,’ at least in the early days of this epoch, because it is quite simply the most effective machine ever manufactured that allows a man, woman or child to kill another human being with the least possible skill, training, effort or expense.

The shooter’s weapon of choice, the AR-15, is manufactured by Daniel Defense with corporate offices in Black Creek, Georgia. The company pulled out of promoting its products at the National Rifle Association convention May 27 - 29, 2022 in Houston, Texas. They are sad about the Uvalde massacre and send their thoughts and prayers to the victims of this evil act.

The rifles that the shooter purchased, apparently with a debit card, cost around $2,000 each, according to the Daniel Defense website.

Political donations by the gun maker: According to an article in the Washington Post, “Maker of rifle in Texas massacre is deep-pocketed GOP donor - Political contributions by the owners of Georgia-based Daniel Defense show the financial clout of the gun industry, even as NRA spending declines” by Isaac Stanley-Becker, 5/27/22, “The owners of Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the rifle apparently used in the massacre of 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., are deep-pocketed Republican donors, giving to candidates and committees at the federal and state level aligned against limits on access to assault rifles and other semiautomatic weapons.”

“The owners of the Georgia-based company have donated more than $70,000 directly to GOP candidates for federal office this election cycle… Daniel Defense itself gave $100,000 last year to a PAC backing incumbent Republican senators.” The owners put another $20,000 into a PAC “whose largest beneficiaries are Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 1 and No. 2 House Republicans.”

Beneficiaries of the owners’ contributions include Hershel Walker who won the Republican primary in Georgia for the US Senate race, Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana, and Eric Schmitt, the Attorney General of Missouri and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

None of the contributions have gone to Democrats.

Yes, guns are part of the problem and the 2nd amendment does not preclude reasonable regulation of gun sales and ownership:

The right to bear arms is not absolute. 

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Justice Antonin Scalia

District of Columbia V. HELLER, 2008

Sunday, May 15, 2022

From the Washtenaw Intermediate School District:

Join us next week on May 19 from 5:30-7:00 pm for a community-wide Open House for our renovated High Point School!

Come see this beautiful gem: take a tour, check out the brand new fully accessible playground, and see how High Point benefits our community!

This unique school facility is home to WISD's High Point program, which serves students ages 3-26 with severe and multiple disabilities from across Washtenaw, along with WISD's Deaf & Hard of Hearing program, Honey Creek Community School, and Gretchen's House.

The renovated school was made possible thanks to voters.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District
May 19th, 2022
5:30 - 7:00 PM
1735 Wagner Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Biden program offers discounted internet to low income households

This is from an Associated Press article on discounted internet service for low income households. People with disabilities often fall into this category making life more difficult with less ability to receive information available to most of the public. This affects many people living in rural areas as well as people in more populated areas who struggled to find internet service for their children to participate in on-line schooling.

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Biden announces program offering discounted internet service
By AAMER MADHANI and WILL WEISSERT, 5/9/22

"WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden announced Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to people with low incomes, a program that could effectively make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy..."

..."The $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year included $14.2 billion funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides $30 monthly subsidies ($75 in tribal areas) on internet service for millions of lower-income households.

"With the new commitment from the internet providers, some 48 million households will be eligible for $30 monthly plans for 100 megabits per second, or higher speed, service — making internet service fully paid for with government assistance if they sign up with one of the providers participating in the program."

..."Biden noted that families of four earning about $55,000 annually — or those including someone eligible for Medicaid — will get a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40 percent of Americans will qualify."

..."The participating providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, Cable, and TV.
American households are eligible for subsidies through the Affordable Connectivity Program if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or if a member of their family participates in one of several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit."

Friday, May 6, 2022

Budget Alert from the Michigan Assisted Living Association (MALA)

This is from the Michigan Assisted Living Association (MALA) on increasing wages for direct care workers who provide services to people with developmental disabilities as well as those who are aging or have mental illness or physical disabilities. 

The only thing I would change about this appeal is to make sure it applies to direct care workers regardless of where the individual served lives. Workers in group homes, nursing homes, and other settings are as vital to the care of people with disabilities as those who are hired to work in the individual's own home.

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MALA Budget Alert - Your Action is Needed Now!

Your advocacy is urgently needed as the Michigan Legislature works on the state budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2022. Please see the message and link below for you to communicate with your state legislators.

The behavioral health coalition, of which MALA is a member, is urging the Michigan Legislature to appropriate an additional $127.0 million in General Fund dollars. This funding equates to an approximate $4.00 per hour wage increase which would be in addition to the $2.35 per hour wage increase.

We expect the $2.35 per hour wage increase to be funded in the next fiscal year’s state budget. However, the potential exists for an additional wage increase particularly if the state revenue estimates released later this month are positive.

Please take a few minutes to contact your state legislators to urge their support for the additional funding referenced in the message below. An additional $4.00 per hour wage increase would result in an estimated average starting wage rate state-wide of $18.00 per hour for direct support staff. 

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions related to this MALA Budget Alert.

ROBERT L. STEIN

General Counsel
, 734-525-2400, 
rstein@miassistedliving.org
 

KATHLEEN M. MURPHY


General Counsel
, 734-525-2401, 
kmurphy@miassistedliving.org

BRENDA L. ROBERTS


Director of Quality Assurance and Education, 
734-525-2407, 
broberts@miassistedliving.org

Please Support Michigan’s Direct Care Workers

When a Michigan resident experiences a mental illness or developmental disability, they should be able to hire the help they need to ensure their safety and wellbeing. But right now, they can’t.

In today’s tight labor market, it is difficult to find a Direct Care Worker, whether you are looking for care for yourself, a loved one, or hiring an employee for your agency. This leaves our state’s most vulnerable residents at risk.

Our coalition proposes a General Fund appropriation of $127.0 million in FY 23 which would increase the average starting wage rate in the behavioral health system to approximately $18.00 per hour. That’s what many entry-level jobs pay across the state right now and is the least we can do to compensate our Direct Care workforce.

With significant amounts of GF dollars and pandemic-related federal funding available to the state right now, Michigan has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the long-standing direct care workforce crisis in a meaningful and sustained manner.


Let’s reach out and make it happen.
 

Click Here

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Michigan: Whitmer announces additional assistance to lower the cost of food


Most people with disabilities who qualify for SSI (Supplemental Security Income through the US Social Security Administration) also qualify for food assistance benefits. In a recent press release, Governor Whitmer announced additional help with food costs:

Whitmer Announces Michiganders to Receive Additional Assistance to Lower the Cost of Groceries
April 19, 2022
                      
 
"LANSING, Mich. – Governor Whitmer today announced all Michigan families who are eligible for food assistance benefits will continue to receive at least an additional $95 monthly payment in April to help lower the cost of groceries and ensure Michiganders can keep more of their hard-earned money. The additional assistance will help approximately 1.31 million Michiganders in more than 700,000 households.

"'Michiganders will receive additional assistance to put food on the table in April as we continue growing our economy,' said Governor Whitmer. 'This relief ensures that families can thrive and help us build on our economic momentum. We will continue collaborating with our federal partners to get things done by lowering out-of-pocket food costs and put money in people's pockets with our proposals to roll back the retirement tax, triple the Earned Income Tax Credit, and lower the cost of gas.'
 
"In April 2020, some Michigan residents began receiving additional food assistance under this program. In May 2021, all eligible households began getting extra monthly benefits. Federal approval is necessary every month.
 
"Eligible clients will see additional food assistance benefits on their Bridge Card from April 16 - 25. These benefits will be loaded onto Bridge Cards as a separate payment from the assistance that is provided earlier in the month.
 
"All households eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) receive an increase of at least $95 monthly, even if they are already receiving the maximum payment or are close to that amount. Households that received over $95 to bring them to the maximum payment for their group size will continue to receive that larger amount."...

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For additional information on accessing benefits and future plans to help people on fixed incomes with rising costs, see the press release...