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Build Back Better supports important funding for the disabled

It can be hard to get excited about anything going on in Washington these days. Most of what we witness seems like a train wreck; it’s best to look away from the carnage. But there are some important activities taking place in D.C. that are critical to people with disabilities.

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act includes a significant investment in Home and Community Based Services Programs that allow people with disabilities to live, learn and work in their own or families’ homes. The act would increase the amount that states receive for these programs; help reduce waiting lists for services; require the review of provider payment rates on a fixed and frequent basis; and address the workforce crisis being experienced across the industry.

The White House originally requested $400 billion for the program, but after all the haggling and negotiating over the past few weeks, the proposal is already whittled down to $150 billion. This is still the most substantial amount that has been allocated toward HCBS in the 40 years they’ve been around.

But even this is in peril. The results of last week’s elections have some worried that Democrats may try to distance themselves from Biden and his agenda. Republicans have been cool on the proposal from the outset.

The bill’s impact in Colorado cannot be understated. Currently, more than 3,000 Colorado residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities are waiting to access residential services through the HCBS Program. This number has not decreased over the past several years, even with the Colorado Legislature allocating substantial resources to increase enrollments in 2021. The number of people coming off the waiting list and enrolling in services cannot keep up with the number of people coming onto the waiting list.

Another great benefit for Colorado is assistance in addressing provider rates and workforce issues. The rates for many of the HCBS services in Colorado were established in the early 2000s, and annual increases (when they even occur) have lagged far behind the cost of living. This has left many providers, like Community Connections in Southwest Colorado, desperate for additional funding to cover the growing gaps between the cost of providing quality services and the payments received for those services.

Having a strategic, national approach to solving the workforce crisis would also be critical for Coloradans with disabilities to have the support they need to be healthy and integrated in their communities. As I have frequently pointed out in this column, the challenge of finding direct care professionals was in a crisis state even before the pandemic. Now it’s a catastrophe. Some providers in Colorado have had to tap into the National Guard to provide critical care and supervision when workforce levels have plummeted.

Disability is a condition that occurs across the political spectrum. Regardless of your political party, most of us want options for aging at home, opportunities for our kids with disabilities to succeed and thrive, and the inclusion of our disabled friends, neighbors and selves in our community life. Those are dreams worth investing in.

Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.