On March 28, 2014, Governor Jay Inslee (b. 1951) signs the Vulnerable Individuals Priority (VIP) Act. Over a period of three years, the act is scheduled to eliminate a long waiting list for family-support funding provided by the state to thousands of families caring for a developmentally disabled person. The bill behind the new Washington law is written by Republican senator Andy Hill (1962-2016) and is modeled after a similar act recently passed in Oregon.
A Snowballing Wait List
For decades the State of Washington has provided financial aid to families caring for a person with developmental disabilities. In the late 1900s and early 2000s this assistance was known as family-support funding, and it was administered by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The funding provided reimbursement for costs that included special-needs camps, therapies such as speech therapy and occupational therapy, and medical copays and prescription bills. The state created a wait list for funding applicants in 1950, which originally had 1,000 names on it.
The list had been relatively manageable over the years. In the late 1990s, the wait was not especially long -- measured in months. Then, in 2000, funding was frozen for new applicants. Those already receiving funding continued to receive up to $1,300 a year initially (the amount gradually increased to $3,000 annually by 2012), but new applicants were added to the wait list, where they languished for years. In 2000 the state (and nation) was sliding into a mild recession, and the expectation was that funding would be restored for those on the wait list once the recession ended. That didn't happen.
By 2014 the wait list had snowballed to nearly 15,000 names, some of whom had been waiting for as long as 14 years. Then came a seemingly unlikely source of salvation: Senator Andy Hill (1962-2016), a fiscally conservative Republican state senator from King County's Eastside who was the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Though his life had not been personally affected by a family member with a developmental disability, Hill saw the struggle that many families whose lives had been impacted faced in finding funding to pay for the services they needed. The problem was particularly acute for the less affluent.
Hill knew that neighboring Oregon had recently passed a law that took advantage of a new federal Medicaid program created by the 2010 enactment of President Barack Obama's (b. 1961) Affordable Care Act. The program increased the share in which the federal government covered a state's Medicaid costs by 6 percent. For Washington state this meant an additional $40 million a year, but the caveat was that the additional share applied only to certain Medicaid services provided in a community setting. This was exactly what the DSHS family-support funding provided funding for, and Hill saw the opportunity.
The VIP Act
Hill drafted a bill similar to the one enacted in Oregon. On January 23, 2014, his bill, which later became known as the Vulnerable Individuals Priority Act, was introduced in the state Senate as Senate Bill (SB) 6387, "Concerning individuals with developmental disabilities who have requested a service from a program that is already at capacity" ("SB 6387 ..."). The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 49-0 on February 13, and on March 13 the House of Representatives passed it 93-4. Governor Jay Inslee signed the Vulnerable Individuals Priority Act on March 28, 2014, and it became effective on June 12.
The act called for the increase in funding to be phased in over a period of three years, with 5,000 people a year scheduled to get off the wait list in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Each year funding was to be provided to 4,000 families for family support and another 1,000 recipients for employment support services. Qualified individuals were eligible for at least $2,400 a year.
In addition to providing a financial boost, the act was also a psychological boost for those caring for a relative with a developmental disability, since many in that position often felt marginalized by government and society. Hill received numerous accolades for his work from this grateful community, including the Blizzard Award for Extraordinary Commitment from the ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) of King County Parent Coalition for Developmental Disabilities.