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Nebraska rolls out new disability support for 850 families

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Deborah Van Fleet

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(Nebraska News Connection) As the country observes Autism Acceptance Month, Nebraska families raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder are among those learning they will be receiving financial assistance.

The Family Support Waiver is based on passage of a 2022 bill and will provide up to $10,000 annually for 850 Nebraska families with a child with a developmental or intellectual disability, and the child will also receive Medicaid coverage.

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Leslie Bishop Hartung, president and CEO of the Autism Center of Nebraska, said many Nebraska families raising children with a variety of developmental disabilities struggle to afford their child's care needs.

"It's not a lot of money but it might be just enough for families to bridge those gaps when they really need support, especially over the summer break when there's no school for children," Bishop Hartung pointed out. "And also, specific services that might be a real financial burden."

Families can use the waiver funds for services such as respite care, family caregiver training, home modifications and assistive technologies. Depending on the child's limitations and level of support needed, families can face considerable costs meeting the needs of a child with a developmental or intellectual disability.

Jennifer Clark, deputy director of the Developmental Disability Division for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said they are notifying around 150 families per month between now and August they will be receiving the Family Support Waiver. The notices are prioritized according to the family's need. Clark says this was determined by their responses to a survey DHHS sent to families with a child on the developmental disabilities waiting list.

Receiving first priority are families in crisis.

"Where the child tends to self-harm or harm others, so whether they're harming their siblings or their family members," Clark outlined. "The second priority is children with disabilities who are at risk for placement in juvenile detention centers or other out-of-home placements."

Clark added families in which the grandparent is the primary caregiver are given third priority, followed by families with more than one child with a disability living at home. Remaining families are prioritized based on the date they applied to the developmental disabilities waiting list.

Jordan Squiers, board president of The Arc of Buffalo County, said they are hopeful the waiver will help fill gaps in services, especially for older youths who do not become eligible for more inclusive services until they turn 21.

"They might be able to get additional help in their home; they might be able to hire somebody to take somebody out into the community more often," Squiers explained. "Kids that age do get the benefit of the schools but obviously we know there's lots of hours in the day outside of that; weekends, summers."

The Family Support Waiver is one of three Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid Waivers available in Nebraska.