Over 3,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Arkansas are currently on the waiting list to receive services at home in their communities. These people and their families just want to be able to choose to live in and contribute to their community. Allowing these people the dignity of self-determination is not just the right thing for the state to do, it is also good policy.
The Medicaid funding the state uses to support community living is partly made up of federal dollars coming into the state. That is millions of dollars in federal money coming into Arkansas and being used to pay rent, pay bills, and to shop at businesses in their communities. Community living also creates jobs: for individuals with disabilities who can work, for family members who no longer need to devote their time to caring for loved ones, and for those who are hired to act as caregivers in the home.
While the Governor’s plan to clear the current waiting list is a move in the right direction, steps also need to be taken to build up the workforce which will provide services and care to those individuals. We need to get away from this idea that home care work is unskilled labor. That means providing direct support professionals with the training they need and paying them enough that those positions can remain competitive against all the other options out there.
Moving forward, the state needs to stop treating the waiting list like a one-time problem. While the current plan will provide enough funding to clear everyone who was on the waiting list as of December of last year, that process will take three years. In the month since the governor’s announcement, the list has continued to grow. At the end of those three years there will most likely be thousands of new names which are not covered by the current funding.
Many people in our state government have said that there will always be a waiting list and that it cannot be eliminated entirely. If that is the case, there needs to be a plan in place moving forward to ensure that people can be regularly moved off the list in a consistent and reliable manner which allows individuals and their families to plan for that transition. This will require dedicated funding from the state and an investment in building the necessary workforce, but it will be worth it to not only provide dignity and peace of mind to the people who need these services, but to reap the economic benefits for the state.