Look over to the right at “Pages,” D.C. Disability-Related Organizations and Terminology,” if you need help with any of the terms I use here.
On his regular Friday community call on February 19, DDS director Andy Reese was asked to give his reactions about the DDS performance review hearing for DDS that had taken place Thursday before the DC council’s committee on human services. The first thing he mentioned was the strong turnout among witnesses in favor of revising eligibility criteria for the IDD waiver managed by the DDS Developmental Disabilities Administration. In reality, the IDD waiver is only an “ID” waiver, since it serves only people who can demonstrate an intellectual disability with an IQ score of 69 or below before the age of 18, and as you know, advocates had put a lot of effort into getting people to show up and testify that this must change – and folks, we were heard! (The hearing, start to finish, can be found at http://dc.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=6127, beginning with the public testimony and continuing with Andy’s.) Both committee chair Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) and new councilmember Janeese Lewis-George (Ward 4) asked good questions after Andy’s testimony that showed they had been really listening! Their questions about DD eligibility start about 4 hours 15 minutes into the hearing and run for about 15 minutes. In responding, Andy made it clear there are very active discussions going on between DDS and the mayor’s office on the issue of revised eligibility – another sign that we are finally being heard on this issue. Meantime, Nadeau’s staff is proceeding with work on draft legislation to move things forward, in collaboration with advocates and – we hope – the administration.
This was not the only topic addressed at the hearing, of course, and Nadeau made an important announcement very early in the hearing, namely that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will become eligible for the Covid vaccine beginning March 1, along with others in Phase 1C Tier 1 (age 16-64 with qualifying medical conditions). More on that here, pp. 9-10: https://mayor.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/coronavirus/page_content/attachments/Situational-Update-Presentation_02-18-21.pdf. We’ve been hoping and lobbying for this eligibility for some time, so this was tremendous news – now, though, the question is how DC Health and DDS will arrange for those shots to be delivered to remaining people supported under the IDD waiver. (About 85% of people served by DDA in intermediate care facilities and residential habilitation have already received their first shots at specially arranged vaccination clinics.) And for those supported by the EPD waiver, or those not receiving any Medicaid waiver services at all – well, they will no doubt be waiting at the DC Health portal along with anyone else in this very broad group of newly eligible people. So we’re still some distance from our destination, but at least the horizon is within view.
Another topic which received a lot of attention Thursday, and some further follow-up on the DDS call Friday, was the way in which the pandemic has shone a light on the need for people to have access to technology, and training on how to use it. DDS’ Technology First workgroup, first convened before the pandemic, just met at the end of January for the first time since Covid struck and will be starting to focus on monitoring people’s access and facilitating the learning process – welcome news, but something that also will continue receiving significant attention from advocates.
Direct support professionals were not forgotten, and many witnesses pointed out the need for the administration to fully fund the DSP Payment Rate Act of 2019, passed by the council in FY 2020 but only partially funded so far. Given the enormous additional burdens taken on by the DSP workforce over the past year – 10 having died from COVID-19 – this seems the least we can do for those who help the ones we love. The limitations of employment services provided by DDS through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), particularly the short-term nature of those supports, also received a significant amount of attention, in testimony and also in the Q and A.
And to close on a positive note, many of those testifying, myself included, gave DDS high marks for the transparency and leadership it has shown throughout the pandemic, particularly through the Friday community calls and the “Assuring Rights during COVID-19” training. Andy and his team have done a great deal to keep people informed and working constructively together from the earliest days of COVID-19 in DC, now nearly a year ago, and for that they received recognition on Thursday.