At the beginning of the year, it appeared that COVID-19 and the economic downturn would put a big squeeze on available funding in the State Budget. Then the state produced less restrictive budget figures, and the promise of federal rescue funds gave us reason for optimism.
In the end, the Legislature made no increase over the base hourly wage of $8.11 for most community care programs. However, determined advocacy by CTD and other disability advocates resulted in a significant appropriations of federal funds for community attendants: mostly through a series of bonuses, between $400 and $500 million will land in attendants' pockets in through 2022.
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HB 6 (Cain) / SB 7 (Hughes), so-called election integrity bills, would have created significant barriers to voters with disabilities (as well as other low-income voters and voters of color). Our team took every opportunity to work with HB 6 and SB 7’s authors and supporters to mitigate its effects on people with disabilities, as well as coordinated with our partners and the voting rights community to push back against voter suppression efforts in general. These efforts paid off. SB 1 (Hughes), the final voting bill that passed during the second special session, does not include:
- A requirement to prove one’s disability,
- A requirement that an individual assisting a voter with a disability show ID,
- Allowing untrained volunteer poll watchers to record video in polling locations.
Other wins include the creation of a secure online system to allow voters to track the status of their mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots, as well as a Mail-in Ballot Cure provision in SB 1.
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Access to Care & Medications
After several sessions of CTD-led advocacy on dental care for adults with disabilities, the state will prepare for the provision for a preventative visit to the dentist each year for adults in STAR+PLUS non-HCBS.
During the pandemic, telehealth solutions made care and service delivery possible for Medicaid families. HB 4 (Price) makes telehealth available on a permanent basis, and HB 2056 (Klick) does the same for teledentistry.
The development of a robust Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) has been incremental. 2021's HB 1535 (Klick) adds PTSD and non-terminal cancer to the list of qualifying diagnoses for participation in TCUP, as well as doubles the legal amount of THC in medical cannabis products.
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Children with Disabilities & Their Families
When the pandemic hit and schools were forced to shutter their doors, many students with disabilities lost services or saw those services put on hold as districts pivoted to virtual learning. For some students, access to technology and learning on a virtual platform were significant barriers. The Legislature responded by passing the COVID Special Education Recovery Act, SB 89 (Menéndez), which will require a school district to prepare a supplement to include in a student’s IEP regarding whether special services were affected by the pandemic.
HB 159 (M. González) will update the requirements of educator preparation programs to integrate instruction on topics relating to special education.
HB 1252 (Moody) extends the statute of limitations on a special education due process hearing from one year to two years.
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It is well documented that people with disabilities are over represented in the criminal justice system, as well as more likely to be victimized while in the system and receive less access to supportive services. CTD’s work this session revolved around kids and adults with mental health concerns and/or IDD getting the support they need in both county and state facilities:
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