Valverde cheers budget provision that eliminates income, asset limits on programs for workers with disabilities


STATE HOUSE – The 2024 budget bill passed by the General Assembly on the final day of this year’s legislative session included a proposal introduced earlier in the session by Sen. Bridget Valverde to eliminate income and asset limits for Rhode Islanders who rely on a Medicaid buy-in plan to fund their home- and community-based supports.

The change affects Rhode Islanders who currently are enrolled in Medicaid through the Sherlock Plan. The Sherlock Plan is a Medicaid buy-in program, which means it allows people with disabilities whose income is above the regular Medicaid eligibility cap to pay a premium, set according to their income, to use Medicaid for comprehensive health care coverage. People with disabilities who work often rely upon the Sherlock Plan because private insurance generally does not cover the health care and supports, such as personal care attendants, that they require for daily living. 

But until now, the income and asset limits placed on Sherlock participants were so low that in order to maintain eligibility, they were essentially prohibited from rising out of near-poverty. In order to qualify, they could not earn any more than 250% the federal poverty level, meaning this year they cannot earn more than $36,450. They also could not have more than $10,000 in assets if they were single, or $20,000 if married.

Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown), along with Rep. Tina L. Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly) in the House, introduced legislation (2023-S 0717, 2023-H 5996) to eliminate the income limit and the asset cap, allowing disabled Rhode Islanders the opportunity to realize their full potential at work. 

The budget, which was signed into law June 16, will put those changes into effect, allowing disabled Rhode Islanders to use a different Medicaid buy-in program through “Ticket to Work,” a federal program for working adults with disabilities ages 16 through 64, with no income or asset limits.

The Sherlock Plan will remain an option in Rhode Island without changes to the current program.

“Limits — particularly limits that are as low as ours have been — on what Rhode Islanders with disabilities can earn really defeat the overall purpose of these Medicaid buy-in plans, which is to enable people to participate and succeed in the workforce while maintaining access to the specialized supports they need. This change is going to make a world of difference to working Rhode Islanders with disabilities. No longer will they be forced to settle for part-time work or low wages, or have to turn down raises or promotions. No longer will they be consigned to a life of having very, very little. Instead, they can now thrive and advance at work and have a chance to earn the living they deserve to enjoy, just like all working people should,” said Senator Valverde. 

Senator Valverde introduced the bill on behalf of one of her constituents, Jim Calbi of East Greenwich. Calbi’s 27-year-old son, Jack Calbi, injured his spinal cord in a biking accident when he was in college. Jack has entered the workforce, but worried that his career ambitions would be limited by the need to maintain his care supports provided through Medicaid.

“Without the income and asset limits holding them back, disabled working Rhode Islanders will now be able to live more satisfying, successful lives. Now, whether they get married or divorced won’t be dictated by eligibility limits. They will be able to fully contribute their skills and talents to their work and to their communities. This change is a benefit to our society as much as it is a benefit to the deserving, hard-working Rhode Islanders who need the supports provided by these programs,” said Senator Valverde.

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