This is the first of two-part series about how inclusion and support for autistic individuals and their families fared in Olympia this past legislative session. Part 1 addresses support for children and youth, while Part 2 will provide an overview of support and inclusion for adults in our state.
So, how did we come out of Washington’s 2022 legislative session? Are we closer to being an inclusive state with ready, equitable access to appropriate supports?
Evaluating a state legislative session for how well it supports autistic individuals and their families is nuanced. There is no budget line for it. No single state agency. Many bills drop, only few make it to the end. But even when a bill doesn’t advance, a conversation happens. More people become aware of a problem. And that’s step one.
In this first installment of our overview, we touch on highlights from the 2022 state legislative session primarily involving support for children and youth. Part two of this blog, later this month, will cover support for adults in the session just past.
First, though, some big news for families across the board: It looks like the DDA is poised for foundational changes. DDA services finally made it into the Caseload Forecast Council (CFC). This means costs for people requesting and waiting for services will be shared with budget writers. Legislators have told us that they “can’t write a blank check” so this information should inform their commitment to fund needed services. These are still not “entitlement” forecasts, but they will help us advocate for increased services to more people.
The DDA is also changing how eligibility for services can be determined. Beginning in 2025, the DDA can no longer use IQ scoring as a basis to deny eligibility. This is important for autistic individuals, who under current rules must also show proof of significant intellectual disability. In 2025, diagnosis and functional ability will determine eligibility. Eligible individuals will still require an “institutional level of care,” and without additional funding may still need to wait for services. But again, this is a start.
On the early supports front: Did you know kids ages 3 to 5 with IEPs are eligible for the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP)? It’s one of the few inclusive preschool models available. The state continued its major expansion of slots, working toward 100 percent funding. This year, the state will also start converting more half-day slots into full-day ones. If you need an inclusive program and a longer day, explore ECEAP. The program also has family support and wrap-around services for those who need it, making it particularly friendly to families of children with developmental delays. There is no income cap if your child has an IEP, but when demand exceeds slots, programs may use a weighted points system for entry.
In the K-12 world, there were some bills and budgeting to affirm social and emotional support for students, and trauma-informed approaches to behavior support.
In the health care arena, bills passed this year to allow licensure compacts for psychologists and occupational therapists, which will hopefully help improve access in underserved areas. Medicaid will also now cover partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services for minors. The budget adds funding for crisis response and enhanced behavioral supports: Two 3-bed homes with intensive habilitation services and six 3-bed homes with enhanced out-of-home services for youth ages 8 to 21. Funding is also provided for training on diagnostic classification of mental health and developmental disabilities for children ages 0 to 5.
What’s missing from this year’s discussions?
In education, some key priorities identified by advocacy groups include embedding special education and universal design for learning in all teacher prep programs, eliminating use of isolation and restraints, and ending the cap on special education funding.
In health care, we still don’t have a TEFRA or Katie Becket waiver, which expands Medicaid coverage for children with significant health, medical, and rare disease disabilities who may or may not be DDA eligible. Many states have included this as part of their state plan, which significantly affects young families trying to maintain employment and pay for their child’s medical bills and access services that private insurance may not cover.
As for childcare – long a major concern of families of children with developmental disabilities – a bill to study and address access stalled in the House. If you have a child with a disability, finding reliable care ranges from difficult to impossible across the state. Many parents scale back or give up employment entirely. In the past, the state has studied regional gaps in care, but has not collected data on care refusal or removal because of disability. If a similar bill is introduced next year, we will have more opportunities to share with legislators how this critical gap affects families and the long-term impact on economic wellbeing.
Our advice to you: If you read something here that excites (or disappoints) you, send a note to your legislator. Let them know what you need. If you have an idea for improving things, all the better.
Public demand is what pushes public policy. Next year is the start of a new biennium. If you want more services, or different approaches, start now. Send an email or meet with your legislator this summer for 20 minutes. This is also a big election year: all the state representative positions will be on the ballot, and half of the senators. You can look up your legislators and their contact information here: https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/ . Your voice matters.
You can learn more about individual bills and how they fared this legislative session at this link: Bills-of-Interest-3-16-22.pdf (arcwa.org)
Ramona Hattendorf is the Director of Advocacy at The Arc of King County and the mother of an adult learning about their neurodiversity. Stacy Dym is the Executive Director of The Arc of Washington as well as sibling of an individual with a developmental disability.