New Medicaid benefit aims to provide Washington’s homeless with housing

The recently-signed Apple Health and Homes Act aims to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with housing under a new Medicaid benefit.

 

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the act into law on March 30. The initiative will provide housing throughout the state by utilizing the newly-created Office of Health and Homes to acquire housing to meet the homeless demand. The office will work with several stakeholders on the initiative–including the state’s Health Care Authority (HCA) and the Department of Commerce–to coordinate a plan for acquiring housing.

“The Office of Health and Homes will be part of the Department of Commerce, and is newly-established to work on this initiative,” HCA Acting Medicaid Director Dr. Charissa Fotinos said. “At this point, we do not know how the office will go about building and acquiring new housing. A coordinating entity contracted to HCA will be contracting with a provider network, which would be working with eligible individuals to then connect them to appropriate housing.”

The act was sponsored by Rep. Frank Chopp during the 2022 legislative session, and received strong bipartisan support. It was endorsed by 80 organizations throughout the state. Five significant goals of the act include:

  • Treating chronic homelessness as a medical condition
  • Investing in preventative services and reducing costs to local emergency systems
  • Creating more supportive housing statewide
  • Expanding the capacity of supportive housing providers
  • Ensuring oversight and accountability through the Office of Health and Homes

The new housing program is a Foundational Community Supports (FCS) Medicaid benefit. Each resident who qualifies for the program will have a medical necessity for housing.

“The initiative was led by Rep. Chopp as a means to provide housing for the chronically homeless,” Fotinos said. “The group of bill writers consisted of community providers, stakeholders, advocates, and other county and state staff. HCA and FCS staff were consulted to provide technical assistance and information related to the FCS program, and how to best align this legislation with ongoing efforts focused on behavioral health and housing.”

Housing should be available for those in need sometime after the start of next year.

“The implementation of the new housing benefit will start Jan. 1, 2023,” Fotinos said. “The housing will be subject to availability. HCA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Social and Health Services will be working toward program readiness leading up to January. More [housing] information will be available as we get a better understanding of what the capacity looks like.”