Accessing New York State OPWDD Services and Supports

What is OPWDD?

If you are the parent or legal guardian of a person with developmental disabilities in New York State – – or have a developmental disability yourself – – there are multiple supports and services available to you through the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”).

OPWDD provides qualified applicants with life-changing, customized supports and services. The problem is, the people who need it most are often unaware that it even exists. As a New York City special needs planning attorney, I’m spreading the word.

Supports and services available through OPWDD

  • Housing

Who hasn’t wondered or worried about where their disabled child is going to live—especially after they’re gone? OPWDD offers supports for different living arrangements including living independently alone, living in a community home with others, or living in the family home.

  • Employment

OPWDD offers several employment services for those interested in working but who need help developing job skills or may require assistance on the job. Whether for pay or as a volunteer, having a job to report to builds self-esteem, develops a sense of community, and provides socialization and inclusion opportunities.

  • Day Services

For those not able or interested in exploring employment, day habilitation services are available to increase independence and inclusion in the community. Plan your day and get the supports necessary to meet your unique interests and goals. This is especially important for when disabled children finally age out of the school system, usually at age 21. Without a transition plan, many will go from the structure and routine of school days to an isolated life in their family homes.

And there’s more. Depending on your needs and particular situation, respite, self-direction, assistive technology, and crisis services are additional support options available through OPWDD. Self-direction services/supports alone can range in value from tens of thousands of dollars to over $100,000 each year, depending on your child’s age, diagnosis, and other factors.

How can I access OPWDD services?

Everyone interested in OPWDD services must begin at the same place—the OPWDD Front Door.

In a nutshell, the Front Door process:

  • determines whether the applicant is eligible for services/supports;
  • identifies the applicant’s services/supports needs;
  • helps the applicant create a customized plan that meets their specific needs.

While there is assistance every step of the way, the Front Door process is tedious– but absolutely worth the effort. The first step is an information session where you’ll learn about eligibility and how to access the many supports/services offered. To find your local OPWDD Front Door office, call 866–946–9733.

OPWDD Eligibility

To access most OPWDD services, the eligibility review process requires applicants to:

  • present sufficient evidence proving they have a qualifying developmental disability; and
  • enroll in Medicaid if necessary; and
  • enroll in the OPWDD Home and Community Based Services (“HCBS”) Waiver if necessary.

Note that to be eligible for OPWDD support/services, the qualifying developmental disability must have occurred before age 22 and be permanent or expected to continue indefinitely. The disability must also cause “a substantial handicap to a person’s ability to function normally in society”. So milder levels of disability or short-term disabilities will not likely satisfy eligibility requirements.

Some examples of disabilities that often qualify for OPWDD benefits include autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, intellectual disability, and neurological impairments/injuries, among others.

In most cases, once determined to be eligible for OPWDD supports, participants must enroll in Medicaid in order to access those services (since Medicaid funds most OPWDD programs). Front Door staff will refer participants to a care coordination organization to help with Medicaid enrollment. Additional details about enrollment in Medicaid and the HCBS Waiver, Self-Direction services, and more are available on the OPWDD website. Don’t assume you won’t qualify. Don’t let this paragraph scare you away. Just work through the process.

DON’T BE OVERWHELMED!  It is ok if your eyes have glazed over; it’s an overwhelming amount of information to process and beyond the scope of this space to cover it all in detail. This is merely a starting point. You will learn more as you go. Remember, these benefits will be a lot like winning a lottery that pays off big every month for life.

MUST HAVE PLANNING: As great as OPWDD supports/services are, they are not a substitute for estate planning. It is crucial that parents (and grandparents) of special needs minors or adults have a comprehensive special needs estate plan in place. Having a general estate plan– or no estate plan at all– often results in the disabled person losing their government benefits. Trusts are used in special-needs planning to avoid that tragic outcome.

For more information, download our FREE report of 10 Must Have Documents for All Parents of Special Needs Children.

At Sverdlov Law, we are dedicated to helping our clients get the peace of mind that comes with getting their affairs in order, preserving their assets, and protecting their families. From our office on Wall Street, we represent clients throughout New York City and New York State in all aspects of estate planning, estate administration, Medicaid planning, elder law, and business succession matters.

Contact us to book your estate planning strategy session today or for additional resources regarding OPWDD eligibility.