Raleigh, N.C. — While the state House is expected to take up legislation Thursday to provide a short-term fix for funding problems at adult group homes before emergency money runs out, Senate leaders aren't showing a similar sense of urgency about the issue.
House Bill 5 would allow the state Department of Health and Human Services to dip into the $39.7 million that lawmakers set aside last year to help adult care facilities make the transition to new Medicaid eligibility requirements. The change cuts reimbursements for personal care services such as assistance with bathing, feeding or other daily chores.
Federal regulators pushed for the changes to ensure the same personal care eligibility standards exist for people no matter where they live, instead of having rules that could steer people toward institutional care.
Group homes initially weren't able to tap into the special fund – lawmakers said it was an oversight on their part – so former Gov. Beverly Perdue's administration provided $1 million to keep homes from closing on Jan. 1 and give lawmakers a chance to fix their mistake.
"I think it's very time-sensitive," Rep. Nelson Dollar, one of the bill's sponsors, said Wednesday – one day before the money Perdue provided can no longer be accessed.
"We want to ensure our group homes stay financially viable," said Dollar, R-Wake.
Under the bill, DHHS could pay up to $694 per resident to group homes for personal care services while the residents appeal to retain their eligibility. The monthly payments would run through June, giving home operators and lawmakers time to devise a long-term solution.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said he expects a floor vote on the bill Thursday, but it's future in the Senate is uncertain.
"It's an issue that we'll deal with as we go forward," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said. "I just don't know that what you're dealing with at this point is the kind of problem and scope of problem that seems to be described by some folks."
Advocates for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities said they're concerned about what happens to group home residents if the money for personal care services dries up because of a lack of legislative action.
"We really seriously do hope that the Senate recognizes this as a crisis," said Julia Adams, assistant director of government relations for The Arc of North Carolina. "There is no safety net for (group home residents). There are no other services to transfer into, and there are no other homes for those people to transfer into."
Dollar said he hopes the Senate takes action on the bill after it leaves the House.