LITTLE ROCK -- At their first meeting scheduled after Easter, lawmakers will hear an update on new rules and new funding that will eliminate a waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities.
Officials of the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services are scheduled to present an update on Medicaid waiver services. They will report to legislators on new waiver slots that over the next three years will be sufficient to add 3,204 clients who have been on the state waiting list.
The waivers allow clients to remain in their homes, rather than live in an institution. Eligible clients have been diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder or epilepsy, Down syndrome and Spina bifida. Also on the eligibility list are people diagnosed before the age of 22 with a significant intellectual limitation accompanied by deficits in their adaptive behavior.
Currently, 5,400 children and adults receive Supportive Living services, which brings support staff to their homes and communities.
The program is called the Community and Employment Supports (CES) waiver. It costs about $300 million a year, with the federal government paying 71.62 percent and state government paying 28.38 percent.
Division officials estimate that after three years, when all the new slots are filled, the annual cost of the program will be $442 million.
During the 2022 fiscal session earlier this year, legislators voted to dedicate an additional $37.6 million for the CES waiver program, with the intention of eliminating the current waiting list for services.
Other changes that Division officials will discuss with legislators include using more monitoring systems, such as alarms and sensors, which are appropriate and safe when the person with disabilities is sleeping.
Another change affects the relatives of people with developmental disabilities. Currently, family members who are not legal guardians can be paid as direct care staff, as long as they meet certain requirements. The Division will discuss with legislators the possibility of adding legal guardians and any "legally responsible person" as care providers.
Another change is in response to workforce shortages caused in part by the covid-19 pandemic. It would increase from four to eight the capacity of group homes.
The changes in rules and waiver programs is on the agenda of the House Children and Youth Permanent Subcommittee of the Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee, which is scheduled to meet on April 18.
A majority of legislators have joined the newly created Forestry Caucus, which will work to pass legislation to expand forestry and promote economic development. The impetus came from legislators representing south Arkansas, the dominant timber-growing area of the state.
In the 2021 session the legislature created the Center for Forest Business at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, within its College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources. Also, the legislature put $841,000 for the center in the state budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins on July 1.
In related news, the state Agriculture Department and the university at Monticello are offering scholarships of $4,000 per semester to attract students to the campus's forestry programs.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.