ADHD News & Research

U.S. Disability Services Guidance Updated Amid the Pandemic

Updated federal guidelines require states to ensure access to Medicare- and Medicaid-funded disability services, including special education, during the pandemic. The 99-page FAQ document from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Education may influence state plans for school re-openings.

July 22, 2020

The federal government has released new guidance to states administering Medicaid- and Medicare-funded disability and special education services that stresses their obligation to continue doing so during the pandemic.

Medicaid-Funded Services

The 99-page FAQ document from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services1 (CMS) has been updated to emphasize that states must continue to comply with the 1999 Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which found that people with disabilities have a right to access services in their communities. Citation of the Olmstead case is significant given the pandemic’s significant impact on many regional nursing homes and other institutions.

The guidance states, “States should strive to return individuals who were removed from their Medicaid-funded (home- and community-based) settings during the public health emergency to the community, and should consider what steps they can take to help individuals with disabilities who may require assistance in order to avoid unjustified institutionalization or segregation.”

A program called “Money Follows the Person,” which helps individuals transition from institutions to community-based settings, will proceed during the pandemic according to the CMS.

Even if schools remain closed, children receiving Medicaid-funded services must continue to have uninterrupted access to all benefits guaranteed through “Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment,” which includes everything from speech and occupational therapy to medical equipment.

Special Education Services

The U.S. Department of Education has released several Q&A documents regarding school services for students with disabilities during the pandemic. They cover the following topics:

  • How Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding can be used,2 for example, how local education agencies can use subgrant funds to address issues caused by the pandemic. In short, these guidelines emphasize flexibility in the use of funds for assistive technology needed during remote learning, for example.
  • Procedural requirements under special education law,3 like whether public agencies can accept electronic signatures as evidence of parental consent regarding their child’s special education services. The guidance makes allowances to allow evaluations to proceed without undue delays related to the pandemic while also protecting students’ privacy.
  • The evaluation of young children with disabilities for services,4 specifically  the level of flexibility that will be awarded in meeting timeline requirements for disability services. It says, “The 45-day timeline (for initial evaluations and assessments) cannot be extended for all children within a state under the assumption that COVID-19 is an exceptional family circumstance for all families.”

Earlier this summer and spring, the Education Department released guidance for shaping the direction of special education as schools closed, as well as dispute resolution procedures. According to the Education Department, the recent Q&As represent their interpretation of the existing law and are not meant to establish new rules.


1COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Agencies. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ( June 2020).

2IDEA Part B Use of Funds. United States Department of Education (June 2020)

3IDEA Part B Procedural Safeguards. United States Department of Education (June 2020)

4Initial Evaluation and Assessment Timeline. United States Department of Education (July 2020).