Historic Funding For Disability Services Leaves Advocates Cautiously Optimistic

Tuesday, May 24th 2022, 6:45 pm


The waiting list for community-based support services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities is currently 13 years.  

Now – the Department of Human Services hopes to eliminate the current waiting list through a historic funding measure approved by the legislature this session.  

$32.5 million has been appropriated to eliminate the waiting list.  

Although no specific details about the timeline or the number of people who will be served has been released, Director of the Department of Human Services of Oklahoma Justin Brown expects the current waiting list to be eliminated in the next 18 to 24 months.  

This waiting list is full of parents and caregivers that want their child with an intellectual or developmental disability to live in the community, instead of an institution.  

He says 5,100 to 5,200 people are currently on the list. 

Brown says DHS has been working on a strategy to deal with the growing list for three years.  

“This is an unacceptable wait for people with disabilities,” he said.  

Now – if Governor Stitt approves $32.5 million in funding for this effort, families currently on the list may get services within two years.  

“Which allows us to draw down federal Medicaid dollars, for a total investment of about $174 million dollars,” Brown said.  

Part of that investment will address the shortage of care providers to do the work these Medicaid waivers would pay for.  

“We’re investing in a 25% rate increase for all providers, so they can actually hire the direct care staff necessary to care for people with developmental disabilities,” Brown said.  

Last session, the legislature passed a measure to fund an assessment of all the families on the waiting list to identify needs. That work is still being done.  

RELATED: DHS Working To Eliminate Medicaid Waiver Waitlist; Advocates Express Concerns 

The needs of each applicant vary widely.  

“Bathing, dressing, balancing a checkbook, finding employment – they can range, based upon an individual's level of disability,” said Lisa Turner, CEO of the ARC of Oklahoma, a group that advocates for people with disabilities in Oklahoma.  

Turner said those approved for services often want extra help in the home so the parent or caregiver can work.  

“Individuals who get approved for the community waiver can still live in a home in their community or in a group home type setting. Those funds will help them get the services they need to be as independent as possible in the community and to avoid institutionalization,” Turner said.  

Disability advocates want to ensure this historic investment doesn’t go to waste. 

In a statement, the Oklahoma Disability Law Center Executive Director Melissa Sublett said: 

“...we are also monitoring to ensure that this rush to clear the waiting list is done so in a way that protects the due process rights of each applicant and that cases are not closed simply in the interest of quickly eliminating the waiting list.” 

Governor Stitt needs to approve the state budget for this DHS strategy to take effect.  

This all comes after a Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency report in 2021 showed that DHS’s management of the developmental disabilities services waiver program did not show good progress toward providing services for everyone on the list.  

RELATED: Legislative Report Shows Long Wait, No Answers for Families In Need of HCBS Medicaid Waivers 

LOFT will release its one-year follow-up on this report in October.