Commission to Help ASD People

A new Legislation was passed in the Massachusetts Legislature at the end of 2015 and was signed into law by former Governor Deval Patrick that provides for assistance to individuals with Autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The law provides for the formation of a 35-member Commission on Autism that is under the umbrella of (but is autonomous) the Office of Health and Human Services to make recommendations on policies impacting individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), such as Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), High-functioning Autism (HFA), Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS), and Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD).

It will “investigate the range of services and supports necessary for such individuals to achieve their full potential across their lifespan”, such as

  • issues related to public education, higher education, job attainment and employment;
  • provision of adult human services including
    • post-secondary education
    • independent living
    • community participation
    • housing
    • social and recreational opportunities
    • “behavioral services based on best practices to ensure emotional well-being”
    • mental health services
    • issues related families of children with ASD
    • issues for adults who are from linguistically and culturally diverse communities.

The Commission is supposed file an annual report with the governor, the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, and the joint committee on health care financing outlining

  • any unmet needs and trends in Autism services and
  • supports and treatments for the Autism population, including “any recommendations for regulatory and legislative action necessary to provide or improve such services or supports.”

The Commission is also tasked with monitoring the implementation of its recommendations and updating its recommendations to reflect current research and service needs. It also puts into effect an “Achieving a Better Life experience Account” or “ABLE account,” which is a savings and qualified disabilities expense account (please see articles on States Moving Forward On ABLE Accounts and Achieving a Better Life Experience Act for more).

The legislation also requires “Disability verification”  by the beneficiary or the parent or guardian of a beneficiary that:

  • includes a copy of the beneficiary’s diagnosis by a licensed physician or clinical psychologist
  • the beneficiary is
    • receiving benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program under Title XVI of the Social Security Act or whose benefits under such program are suspended for a reason other than misconduct,
    • for purposes of Title XIX of the Social Security Act is receiving benefits from the office of Medicaid under the Supplemental Security Income program under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
    • receiving disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

It also defines “Individual with a disability”, as an individual who, regardless of age, has a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, or is blind.”

Additionally, the Law defines “qualified disability expenses” as expenses made for “the benefit of an individual with a disability or for the benefit of a special needs trust established for the benefit of such an individual.”

The Law also stipulates that the Commission will, as previously stated, oversee the Achieving a Better Life Experience program for “the purposes of administering ABLE accounts established to encourage and assist individuals and families in saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities.  Under the program, a person may make contributions to an ABLE account to meet the qualified disability expenses of the designated beneficiary of the account.”

For more information, please see Chapter 226: An Act Relative to Assisting Individuals with Autism and Other Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities.