At the state level, Autism Speaks advocates across the country have celebrated a string of victories so far in 2016, including the enactment of tax-preferred ABLE savings legislation, autism insurance bills and laying the groundwork to improve housing options for thousands with autism across the country.
Autism insurance victories
Last month, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed HB 2962, ensuring meaningful autism insurance coverage in the state. The law requires certain state-regulated health plans to cover autism diagnosis and treatment, including ABA.
Now a total of 44 states have enacted autism insurance legislation. In May, the Ohio House Committee on Government Affairs and Oversight passed HB 350 by a vote of 8-4. The bill now moves to the House floor where it will be considered after the November elections.
In California, legislation passed the Senate to extend the existing autism insurance law and improve its terms.
Autism Speaks grassroots advocates and staff continue to educate the administration and lawmakers on the critical needs for individuals with autism to receive coverage for autism-related care in a number of other states including Iowa, where advocates and elected officials held a rally to raise awareness for the cause. The government affairs team is also actively working in Tennessee and Alabama.
Enacting legislation for savings accounts for disability expenses
So far this year, 13 states have enacted ABLE account legislation adding to the 32 state victories last year. State ABLE legislation follows enactment by the federal government of the Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, which authorizes states to create ABLE programs. Modeled after college savings accounts, ABLE accounts will enable people with autism and their families to save for housing, education, transportation, medical, and other expenses. Assets in ABLE accounts will generally be disregarded by means-tested federal programs like Medicaid.
ABLE advocates also celebrated when Congress introduced legislation to expand the ABLE program for individuals with autism and other disabilities this year. The package includes the ABLE to Work Act, the ABLE Financial Planning Act, and the ABLE Age Adjustment Act. Advocates applauded the proposed enhancements, which would increase contribution limits, allow rollovers to and from college savings accounts, and expand eligibility.
Other legislative victories
Other state highlights included the Florida legislature which passed a budget that could move around 1,300 people off waiting lists for services. Currently, Florida has around 20,000 individuals waiting for home and community based services and the lack of capacity puts their independence and well-being at risk. The legislature also passed SB 230 – Missing Persons with Special Needs, also known as Project Leo in March. The legislation would create pilot projects in certain areas of the state to provide locating technology to aid search-and-rescue efforts for persons with special needs in cases of elopement.
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In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed an increase of $79.2 million for community spending for the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) in his 2017 budget, including 500 new housing vouchers totaling $5 million. Additionally, $13.2 million will go to funding community-based residential placements for 165 individuals who are living in one of the Division’s five development centers. This budget allocation is consistent with the Olmstead decision, which requires public entities to provide community-based services to person with disabilities when these services are appropriate.