The Arc of Palm Beach County and the disability community across the state of Florida will lose their federal and state-issued emergency coronavirus funding on August 1. The clock is ticking as of 4 p.m. Friday, July 17 for these providers to make the impossible choice of whether to risk the health and safety of their clients during a pandemic or close programs.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) cut funding for organizations that serve adults with disabilities. The emergency funds received in the past three months are governed by a policy designed to cover services during a short-term natural disaster, not a long-term pandemic. This news comes as the U.S. is experiencing an alarming spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, and Florida has been hit very hard. It would be dangerous and irresponsible to resume in-person services for this particularly vulnerable population at this time.
As the current health crisis grew, providers converted the majority of their programs to virtual models like every other industry and educational organization in the country. If the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), the governing body for the state, does not continue funding these organizations, it will impact nearly 35,000 people with disabilities statewide.
“If we do not speak up now about cuts to services for people with disabilities, where will it end?” said Kimberly McCarten, the president and CEO of The Arc of Palm Beach County. “If we close these programs, there will be no place to receive vital, state-mandated services that reduce abuse and neglect, ensure dignity and quality of life, and assist those who are already marginalized.”
Funding is just one issue McCarten and other advocates point to as a failure by the state of Florida to protect people with disabilities. Disability organizations have been forced to garner their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing for residents living in group homes. In contrast, state testing and PPE are being provided every two weeks for residents and staff in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. These two populations have very similar risk profiles for COVID-19, yet are receiving extremely different responses from the state.
“We must value and protect this at-risk community in the same way we protect the elderly,” McCarten continued. “They and the people on the front line who care for them are essential.”
Organizations providing services for people with disabilities are requesting that APD release the already budgeted state funding for day programs, while pursuing other options with the federal government, including an emergency funding extension. They have just a little more than a week to figure it out.
About The Arc of Palm Beach County
The Arc is changing the conversation around disabilities by defying definitions, inspiring possibilities, and improving the lives of the people we serve. Since 1958, The Arc has envisioned a community where every person feels welcome, connected, and accepted.