By Anna Chen

Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – New legislation aims to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities continue to virtually access government services. 

The General Assembly created a work group last year under House Bill 2197. The bill directed the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and other stakeholders to look into increasing access to virtual Medicaid services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Some Medicaid services temporarily shifted online during the pandemic but are now back in person. The work group was scheduled to report its findings last fall, but two new bills extend that deadline to Nov. 1. 

House Bill 990 unanimously passed the House and was referred to a Senate committee. The Senate unanimously passed a companion bill.

The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services stopped allowing virtual visits last year. The bills focus on allowing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the option to access services virtually. 

Support staff — such as a case manager — could help such individuals pay bills, plan meals or schedule appointments through a Zoom meeting, according to Tonya Milling, executive director of The Arc of Virginia, a nonprofit that advocates for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“We’ve all done birthday parties on Zoom through COVID and all these different things with our families and such,” Milling said. “We recognize that you can do the same thing with people with disabilities who might be living on their own.” 

Del. Chris S. Runion, R-Rockingham, said he introduced the House bill to help improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“How do we improve the lives of all citizens in the world?” Runion said. “I just feel like it’s where my heart’s been led to help.” 

Ashley Wright, a lobbyist for advocacy group The Arc of Virginia, said individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities need specific support. Wright hopes the bill will pass, so legislators can continue working on the recommendations.

“They want and deserve the same things that we all have,” Wright said. 

Individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities benefited significantly from online assistance during the pandemic, Wright stated in a follow up email. Such individuals will need access to those services even when the pandemic ends.

“This is critical to helping ensure they are able to participate in their communities in the most fully-inclusive way possible,” Wright stated.

Runion also introduced HB 991, which serves the same group, but the bills are independent of each other. 

HB 991 would revise how three waivers, for “assistive technology, environmental modifications and electronic home-based services,” are distributed. Each of these three waivers include services that are subject to a yearly cap of $5,000, according to Wright. 

The bill would combine all three waivers to allow recipients to access $15,000 in funds at once. This would allow recipients to afford services and modifications that they otherwise could not afford due to some services costing more than $5,000, according to Wright. 

HB 991 was unanimously tabled in a House subcommittee, but a companion bill passed the Senate.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

By vascope