State Residential Care and Assisted Living Policy: 2004. Using the 300 Percent of SSI Income Standard and Providing an Adequate Personal Maintenance Allowance

03/31/2005

States have the option to cover persons in an HCBS waiver program using the special income standard, which sets eligibility at up to 300 percent of the federal SSI payment (i.e., a person's income must be at or below 300 percent of the maximum SSI benefit--in 2004, $1692 per month). This option is attractive for waiver programs that cover services in residential care settings, because it expands the program to include beneficiaries who are better able to afford room and board costs. To make this option effective, however, states must allow eligible persons to retain enough of their income to cover "maintenance needs" including the room and board charges in residential care settings. Setting a higher maintenance allowance may allow more beneficiaries to be served in residential care settings; however, it will increase Medicaid's service payment since it reduces the "excess income" that is applied to the cost of services.

Under Medicaid's post-eligibility treatment of income rules for HCBS waivers, states are allowed to use "reasonable standards" to establish the maintenance allowance, and may vary the allowance based on the beneficiary's circumstances. For example, states can permit Medicaid beneficiaries to keep sufficient income to pay for the needs of a dependent, health care costs not covered by Medicaid, and other necessary expenses.

Beneficiaries living in residential care settings may have different income needs depending on the type of facility: private market-rate facility or subsidized housing facility. The "rent" component of the monthly fee charged by facilities built with low-income housing tax credits will be lower than the rent charged by privately financed facilities. Through tax credits, rents in assisted living can be reduced to around $400 a month. Setting the allowance based on the area's average monthly charge for room and board may be overly generous when applied to residents in subsidized units. On the other hand, setting the maintenance allowance based on the amount paid by residents in subsidized units may be too low for private market facilities and create access barriers. If a state wants to improve access to both private and subsidized assisted living facilities, it can set a separate maintenance allowance for each setting.

Interaction with housing subsidies. Under HCBS waivers using the 300 percent eligibility option, treatment of the additional income retained by residents because of rent subsidies depends upon the threshold set by the state for the maintenance allowance. If the state sets the maintenance allowance at the SSI level, all income above that amount is applied to the cost of Medicaid services. If the person has income between SSI and the maximum ($1,692 in 2004), residents receiving housing subsidies may have additional income that is protected. For example, a person with $1,000 a month in social security and other income would have a maintenance allowance of $564 and apply the excess income ($436) to the cost of services. However, instead of paying $564 (less the PNA) for rent and utilities, if the resident is living in HUD Section 202 subsidized housing, the resident pays 30 percent of his or her income ($300) and keeps $264 for other expenses.

If the maintenance allowance is higher, the resident can retain the additional income and use it to pay for other costs. For example, if the resident is allowed to keep the entire $1,000 a month, the resident's portion of the rent and utility charge would be $300 a month and the resident keeps $700. States typically set one maintenance amount for all waiver participants. However, there can be differences among beneficiaries. Those who do not receive a rent subsidy have a greater need for income to pay for room and board than those with subsidies. Yet, they have the same maintenance allowance and pay different amounts for room and board.

Separate maintenance allowance. Medicaid rules allow states to set different maintenance allowances, for example, for beneficiaries whose rent is subsidized. The Medicaid manual (3590.9 (A)(1)) states: "You may establish a different amount for each individual, or for groups of individuals, if you believe that different amounts are justified by the needs of the individuals or groups." A lower maintenance amount for individuals with rent subsidies means more income is available to share the cost of services.

States face many challenges in their efforts to expand the supply of affordable assisted living by combining available housing programs and Medicaid funding. Housing subsidies may not be available in a particular area or, as is often true with waiver services, waiting lists may exist for rent vouchers. To be effective, a rent subsidy voucher must be available when a waiver participant applies and at the same time that a facility is available that will accept the voucher as well as Medicaid payment. From application to implementation, close collaboration is needed between public housing agencies, waiver programs, and service providers. These challenges require knowledgeable housing operators and local housing authorities and state policymakers who are able to identify and address the barriers.

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