Administration Announces Steps To Promote Community Living For People With Disabilities (1/2


WASHINGTON, March 25 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (part 1 of 2):

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today presented President Bush with reports from nine federal agencies outlining more than 400 specific solutions that the agencies can implement to support community living for the nearly 54 million Americans living with disabilities. The reports stem from the first comprehensi ve federal review of barriers preventing people with disabilities from living in their communities instead of in institutions.

Thompson also announced that the department will provide another $55 million to the "Systems Change Grants for Community Living" program to enable states to improve their community long-term care systems for people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

"These reports represent the first time that so many federal agencies have worked together to create a comprehensive blueprint toward achieving community living for people with disabilities," said Thompson. "It's been a remarkable effort that truly demonstrates this administration's commitment to providing people with disabilities with the tools they need to participate fully in community life."

President Bush called for the federal review last June as part of his New Freedom Initiative, aimed at helping people with disabilities live in the community instead of in institutional facilities. The President asked Thompson to lead the government-wide effort.

The reports look at barriers to community living in areas such as: health care structuring and financing; the shortage of accessible, affordable housing; problems attracting and retaining dedicated personal assistance workers; the shortage of support, including respite services, for caregivers and family members; the need for available, accessible transportation options; multiple barriers to employment; barriers to transitioning from school to post-secondary education; and limited access to technology such as assistive devices.

The new "Systems Change Grants for Community Living" funding announced today by Thompson builds on the goals in the New Freedom Initiative for increasing community integration for people with disabilities. HHS awarded nearly $70 million for this program in fiscal year 2001. The $55 million in new funding will enable the department to offer additional grants to help states improve their community-based services. The program includes the following:

-- Real Choice Systems grants: $36 million to help states design and implement enduring improvements in community long-term support systems to enable people with disabilities or long-term illnesses to live and participate in community life.

-- Community-integrated Personal Assistance Services and Supports grants: $6 million to support states' efforts to improve personal assistance services that are consumer-directed.

-- Nursing Facility Transition grants: $9 million to help states transition eligible individuals from nursing facilities to the community.

-- National Technical Assistance Exchange for Community Living grants: $4 million to provide technical assistance, training, and information to states, consumers, families, and other agencies and organizations.

More information on the Systems Change Grants for Community Living program is available at http://www.hcfa.gov/medicaid/systemschange/default.htm.

"All of the partners in this review process -- the federal and state representatives, people with disabilities, providers and advocates -- came to it with a list of problems that must be overcome," said Thompson. "Today, we come away with actual solutions to make a real difference in the lives of people of all ages with disabilities."

President Bush issued Executive Order 13217 last June, directing federal agencies to assist states to help ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to live more independently and to participate in community life. Thompson coordinated the federal review through the creation of the Interagency Council on Community Living, which included members from the departments of Justice, Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration, in addition to HHS. Though not named in the Executive Order, the departments of Transportation and Veterans Affairs and the Office of Personnel Management also volunteered to participate in the federal review.

The input of people with disabilities, caregivers and family members, providers, and state and local governments played a critical role in compiling the reports. The federal agencies sponsored a national listening session in Washington, D.C., and a toll-free teleconference to hear testimony from members of the public. This, combined with a Federal Register notice soliciting written input, generated comments from more than 800 individuals and organizations on steps the federal government can take to improve community integration.

The President's New Freedom Initiative is a comprehensive plan to remove barriers to community living for people with disabilities by working to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in work, make choices about their daily lives and participate fully in community life. President Bush announced the New Freedom Initiative in February 2001.

The reports to the President, "Delivering on the Promise: Compilation of Federal Agency Reports of Actions to Eliminate Barriers and Promote Community Integration" will be available soon online at http://www.hhs.gov/newfreedom.

A preliminary report highlighting key federal agency activities to promote community integration was submitted to the President in December 2001 and is currently available online at http://www.hhs.gov/newfreedom.

More information on the New Freedom Initiative is available from the White House at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/freed...eedominitiativ e.html.