Proposal on paying parent caregivers of children with highest disability needs advances

The bill, a scaled down version from one proposed by the Senate minority leader, won bipartisan support

By: - April 6, 2023 4:00 pm

State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin has long been an advocate for children with disabilities. Her bill that would pay parent caregivers passed the Senate Committee on Human Services on a unanimous vote. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

State lawmakers who’ve been grappling with proposals to pay parents of children with disabilities as their caregivers have opted for a limited option.

Senate Bill 91 would pay parents of about 1,000 children with the highest medical and behavioral health needs to care for them. The bill would allocate $3 million in state funds over the next two-year budget, less than what other proposals that would have included more children would cost.

Parent caregivers and advocates have been pushing for a bill for more than two years. During the pandemic, Medicaid has paid parents in Oregon with children with high intellectual and developmental disabilities to care for their children but that will end May 11. Currently, about 700 children classified as having the highest needs are eligible for the program, and more than 300 children are using it. Parents wanted a proposal that would offer even wider eligibility.

But human services committee chair Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis proposed the scaled-down version over financial concerns. She won the support of all of the committee members: Democrats Floyd Prozanski of Springfield and James Manning Jr. of Eugene and Republicans Suzanne Weber of Tillamook and Art Robinson of Cave Junction. 

The program, which would be funded by Medicaid, would need approval from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The federal government pays about two-thirds of Medicaid in Oregon, and the state pays the rest.

The bill has moved to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, joining a pile of other proposals that need funding. Many are not likely to make it to the finish, according to Senate President Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego.

Budget writers have about $325 million to appropriate, which is not enough to cover Democratic priorities, including strengthening public defense, literacy and behavioral health and reproductive care.

Budget concerns were the chief reason the committee rejected a proposal, Senate Bill 646, from Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend. That legislation, which had the support of parents and advocates, would have been open to about 10,000 children with disabilities – without limiting them to those with the highest needs. That proposal died in committee.

Several lawmakers who supported the bill said before the vote that they were doing so because they felt that more expensive options would not be approved by legislative budget writers.

“I will reluctantly support (the bill) because I do believe it’s the best chance we have to put additional revenue into the program as compared to wishing and hoping,” Prozanski said. 

Several committee members said that when the revenue forecast is brighter, the Legislature could revisit the program, if it’s enacted, and expand it.

“I would be heartbroken if we walked away and got absolutely nothing,” Manning said. “We can come back and go at it again for additional (money),” Manning said.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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