When most job candidates negotiate their salaries, the goal is usually to secure more pay. It’s nothing short of surreal that capable, intelligent, educated job candidates with disabilities in Florida have had to actually negotiate lower pay or fewer hours, settle for work they are over qualified for, and continued to live in poverty while working -- all in order to keep vital health services. Things have finally changed with the introduction of the Working People with Disabilities program.
The new program, recently approved by the Florida legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis, involves a policy change that effectively increases the income limit people with disabilities on the Medicaid waiver must adhere to in order to stay on Medicaid insurance. Prior to the program, Florida Medicaid Waiver Home and Community Based Programs only allowed its recipients to earn $27,000 a year and have $2,000 of savings. Now, they can earn up to $50,886 and have assets totaling $13,000 without losing benefits.
Conventional wisdom behind income limits for all Medicaid recipients – not just people with disabilities-- is that once they are educated, trained, and able to acquire stable full-time employment, they will start paying into and receive health insurance from their employers and continue to advance professionally. But because most private health insurance plans do not include personal care assistance benefits, people with disabilities who need those services in order to work and live independently were stuck.
One of the strong voices behind the program is Amanda Baker, president of Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND), and vice chair of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC). Baker has cerebral palsy and requires personal care assistance to get ready for work each day. For Baker, the ability to accrue assets is as important as the higher earning capacity.
“This policy change will allow people on the Medicaid waiver to earn and save enough money to have a level of independence we’ve never been able to have before in Florida. We are now allowed to save for things like a vehicle or a vacation without losing the services we need to be able to work,” Baker said.
This program will be of great assistance to employees with disabilities, not only to help them get their daily living needs met but also advance professionally while enjoying the financial freedom that comes with higher paying employment and job satisfaction. It’s a true example of community inclusion because now many more workers with disabilities will be able to grow professionally like others in the workforce.
This change applies to everyone who receives services through a Home and Community Based Medicaid waiver. Although the program requires one more hurdle at the federal level -- a federal state plan amendment, which the Agency for Health Care Administration will be applying for -- one can begin now to set the course for taking advantage of this change. Plans can be made, such as asking for that long-deserved raise or more hours, posting for a higher paying job, and/or beginning to save more. Consult your Vocational Rehabilitation counselor or your local Department of Children and Families case worker about the best way for you to have your ducks in a row when the rule takes effect, Baker said. It’s hoped the plan will have final approval for implementation by the end of this year.
Working People with Disabilities was a top legislative priority for the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, FL SAND, and other disability agencies. This is an exciting development that opens different avenues for people with disabilities in their quest of independent living. It will be interesting to see what unfolds next around this issue in the future. The positive outcome that is the Working People with Disabilities program is the direct result of what happens when effective strategies of self-advocacy are implemented to effect change in society and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.