The Arc logo

Amidst Nationwide COVID-19 Surge, Health & Civil Rights Groups Secure Federal Approval of Revised Crisis Standards of Care Guidelines in Texas

Washington, D.C.: Today, amidst an unparalleled rampant spread of COVID-19 infection throughout the country and the looming specter of care rationing as hospitals become overwhelmed, civil rights groups, working closely with two Texas regional health groups and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the approval of revised crisis standard of care guidelines. Disability and aging advocates—Disability Rights Texas, the Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, and Justice in Aging—worked collaboratively with the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guideline Task Force (NTMCCGTF) and Southwest Texas RAC (STRAC) to ensure their guidelines comply with federal disability rights laws and do not discriminate against people with disabilities and older adults, even when public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitate the rationing of scarce medical resources.

Texas currently has no statewide crisis standards of care policy. The revised guidelines announced today provide the foundation and models for statewide guidelines that could be adopted by the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association. They would apply to all of the other regional advisory councils in Texas, amidst surging hospitalizations and rapidly declining ICU capacity that put the lives of people with disabilities and older adults at grave risk. Like earlier resolutions of crisis standards in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah, the guidelines provide concrete, clinical alternatives to discriminatory provisions common in many states’ rationing plans. The following are key changes in the revised policies to avoid discrimination against people with disabilities and older adults:

  • No Exclusions or Deprioritizing Based on Resource Intensity or Diagnosis: An individual can no longer be excluded from, or deprioritized for, medical treatment based on the fact that they might require more time or resources to recover or because of a person’s diagnosis or functional impairment. Rather than making assumptions about a patient’s ability to respond to treatment based solely on stereotypes, medical personnel must perform an individualized assessment of each patient based on the best objective current medical evidence.
  • Resource Decisions Based Only on Short-Term Survivability: Determinations about treatment can only be based on short-term survivability. Since long-term predictions of the outcome of treatment is fraught with speculation, mistaken stereotypes, and assumptions about the quality of life and lifespan of older adults and people with disabilities, they are explicitly prohibited.
  • Reasonable Modifications Required: Hospitals must make reasonable accommodations to the support needs and communication styles of persons with disabilities, and reasonable modifications to the Modified Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (MSOFA)— or other tools that may be used to prioritize access to medical treatment—to correct against the impact prior conditions may have on the assessment of organ failure scoring. Other reasonable modifications, including modifications to no-visitor policies, may also be required to provide equal access to treatment.
  • Reallocation of Personal Ventilators Prohibited: Medical personnel may not reallocate the personal ventilator of a patient who uses a ventilator in their daily life to another patient whom the personnel deem more likely to benefit from the ventilator in receiving treatment.
  • Blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Policies Prohibited: Hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives, including the continued provision of life-sustaining treatment, and may not impose blanket DNR policies. Physicians may not require patients to complete advance directives in order to continue to receive services from the hospital.

“The lives of persons with disabilities are not disposable and we deserve medical treatment just as much as anyone else even in a pandemic,” said Laura Halvorson, a client of Disability Rights Texas with muscular dystrophy and respiratory failure. “I use a personal ventilator 24 hours per day. Recently, I was hospitalized and worried that my ventilator would be taken away from me and given to another patient. These new guidelines will prevent this from happening and make me less worried about going to the hospital.”

“COVID-19 cases are rising in Texas and nationwide at unprecedented levels and the threat of care rationing is real and already happening in some hospitals. This resolution makes major progress toward ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to the care and tools necessary to fight COVID-19 infection,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc. “We will keep fighting for revisions to policies that could mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities.”

“Persons with disabilities and all persons needing hospital care in the Dallas and San Antonio regions of Texas can now be assured that their right to equal access to life-saving treatment is guaranteed. We now need to do the same for all Texans,” said Steven Schwartz, Legal Director for the Center for Public Representation.

“This collaboration between local health officials, the federal Office for Civil Rights and leading advocates is a great example of government officials listening and responding to the needs and concerns of impacted communities,” said Regan Bailey, Litigation Director at Justice in Aging. “As a result, people needing hospital care in Dallas and San Antonio will not be denied life-saving care because of guidelines that discriminate based on age or disability.”

In addition to working with OCR and other entities to revise crisis standard of care policies nationwide, The Arc, the Center for Public Representation, and Justice in Aging have created resources for stakeholders regarding preventing disability and age discrimination in crisis standards of care.

For more information about today’s resolution, contact:

Kristin Wright, The Arc of the United States

wright@thearc.org or 202-617-3271

Regan Bailey, Justice in Aging

rbailey@justiceinaging.org or 202-683-1990

Steven Schwartz, Center for Public Representation

sschwartz@cpr-ma.org or 617-285-4666

Black and white photograph of justice scales sitting on a desk in a courtroom

Corey Johnson Must Not be Executed

The Arc and other advocacy groups are urging President Trump to intervene immediately and stop the unconstitutional execution of a man with intellectual disability scheduled to take place in a matter of days. Corey Johnson’s execution, scheduled for January 14, would violate the Constitution and federal law.

Mr. Johnson is a person with intellectual disability. Three nationally recognized experts in intellectual disability have evaluated Mr. Johnson and agree on this diagnosis, but yet, no court has ever heard the evidence to review whether Johnson’s disability bars him from execution. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson’s trial and post-conviction attorneys failed to conduct a thorough investigation of various avenues of mitigating evidence and did not locate critical information concerning his intellectual disability.

We support Corey Johnson’s clemency petition, asking the Administration to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “For decades, The Arc has advocated for capital defendants with intellectual disability leading to critical Supreme Court precedent prohibiting their execution. It would be a devastating miscarriage of justice for Mr. Johnson to be executed in clear violation of the Constitution.”

Mr. Johnson was raised in poverty and experienced a chaotic, abusive, and tremendously unstable childhood. He had lived in more than ten different homes by the time he was 12 years old and attended nearly a dozen different schools during that same period. Mr. Johnson failed at every level of school.

Mr. Johnson had similar struggles socially. He never learned how to interact with others, to read social situations, to communicate effectively, or to problem-solve. His peers recounted his limited vocabulary and difficulty following instructions. He did not learn the range of skills necessary to live independently as an adult. Expert reports based on interviews with peers, family members, teachers, and other acquaintances throughout Mr. Johnson’s life describe him as “highly gullible and naïve” and lacking the ability to understand the consequences of his actions. As a child, he was frequently teased and largely passive; he followed the lead of others and engaged in the activities those around him pursued.

Mr. Johnson regularly succumbed to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors and was frequently victimized and easily manipulated by family members and peers. Mr. Johnson’s challenges continued with him into adulthood.

Nearly 20 years ago, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of people with intellectual disability is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s decisions in Moore v. Texas (2017, 2019) strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victims in this case, and supports appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Johnson or others with disabilities but, rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with intellectual disability and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

A woman in a motorized chair plays with a small dog on a grassy field in front of houses

Important Step for Community Living for People with Disabilities: Congress Makes Overdue Investment in Money Follows the Person Program

Last night, Congress passed three years of funding for the Money Follows the Person program. This program provides federal dollars to move people with disabilities out of large congregate settings like institutions and nursing homes, and back into their homes and communities. This is an important step in our decades-long fight to bring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) out of institutions to live meaningful, independent lives in the community. 

This news comes after eight short-term reauthorizations, one as short as 7 days, that almost made the program collapse because states couldn’t count on the federal funds and were shutting down their programs, despite the desperate need for the funding due to the pandemic. The last round of funding for the effective program was set to expire on December 20, so it’s future was uncertain in the waning days of the Congressional session. (Citation: Tesla Aktie Dividende)

“Without this investment, more people would continue to be stuck in institutions and nursing homes – and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how dangerous these settings can be. An enormous barrier for people with disabilities is access to the supports and services necessary to make a life in the community, so Congress did the right thing by investing in this program. It’s a victory, but one harder to celebrate given the fact that once again, Congress absolutely failed to address the dire needs of people with disabilities, their families, and service providers in their latest COVID-19 relief deal,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Money Follows the Person (MFP) program provides states with 100% federal Medicaid funding for one year to transition people out of institutions and nursing homes, and back to their communities. MFP has moved more than 105,000 seniors and individuals with disabilities out of these institutions, and has helped 44 states improve access to home and community-based services (HCBS). Medicaid requires states to provide care in nursing homes, but HCBS is optional. The MFP program is then critical because it incentivizes investment in HCBS by providing federal funding for transitional services for individuals who wish to leave a nursing home or other institution.

The MFP program supports people to move back home by providing necessary community-based supports like staff to support individuals in their homes, home modifications, and HCBS. The program is also cost-saving for states – longitudinal studies of the program show  20% savings per beneficiary per month for state Medicaid programs and most importantly, better quality of life outcomes for people receiving services in the community instead of institutional care.

“This program will make it possible for more people with disabilities to change their lives, on their own terms. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the new year to continue to help people with disabilities to live in safer settings with the right services for each individual, and the necessary resources for the dedicated staff supporting them. Families are struggling too, and The Arc will continue to lead this fight for equality and justice during and after this public health crisis,” said Berns.

The Arc logo

Shut Out Again: COVID-19 Relief Package Again Excludes Needs of People With Disabilities, Families, Service Providers

After months of hardship and danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, and relentless advocacy by The Arc and advocates across the country, last night Congress passed a COVID-19 relief package without critical funding for people with disabilities to access the services and supports necessary for a life in the community.

As COVID-19 continues to spread nationwide, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to access the services they need to continue to live in the community, and their families struggle with balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. Congress should have allocated desperately needed funds to support home and community-based services but they fell short.  They also failed to provide funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and resources for the workforce that has supported people with disabilities tirelessly throughout this pandemic.

Congress did authorize a second round of smaller stimulus payments, but once again left out many people with disabilities – those who are defined by the IRS to be “adult dependents.” This group was inexplicably cast aside despite bipartisan support for including them.

Congress extended tax credits available for business to cover paid leave, but eliminated rules about when business must provide leave and did not extend the tax credits to cover all caregivers as the pandemic continues. Congress also failed to provide a solution to a COVID-related overpayment issue with Social Security benefits. The needs of people with disabilities, their families, and the workforce that supports them were excluded to honor an arbitrary bottom line.

“It’s unconscionable that Congress ignored the dire needs of people with disabilities, their support staff, and families as this pandemic rages across the country. For months, our leaders have known the consequences of their inaction. People with disabilities are getting infected at higher rates. Support staff are putting their lives on the line day and day out with the protection they need. And families are struggling with it all. Yet in the waning days of 2020, they have shut us out in the cold in COVID-19 relief legislation,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

Home and community-based services, or HCBS, make life in the community possible for millions of people with disabilities who often need help with things like eating, dressing, personal hygiene, and managing health care or finances. As COVID-19 spread in congregate settings out of the community, like nursing homes and institutions, HCBS became even more important for health, safety, and independence. Without this critical federal emergency funding, as state budgets continue to take hits due to the pandemic, the HCBS systems will be hit hard.

Through The Arc, almost 150,000 calls and emails have flooded Congress in recent months to demand action for funding for these services, along with the PPE needed by staff to safely deliver these services to people with disabilities. Chapters of The Arc across the country have been scrambling throughout the pandemic to access PPE and other medical supplies. They are in need of resources to cover these costs as well as the funding to pay their direct support professionals fairly for the vital work they do.

“This is not hyperbole – this is life and death for people with disabilities and their support systems. Before, during, and someday after the pandemic, a life in the community is vital for people with disabilities. Congress turned its back on desperately needed funds to support these services, protect the staff doing the work, and pay them for the risks they are taking in this public health crisis,” said Berns.

silhouette of a hand casting a paper ballot into a box

The Arc’s Statement on the 2020 Election

The Arc released the following statement about the 2020 Presidential election:

“This was an historic election given the challenges our nation faces, and voters turned out in record numbers to make their choice about our future. While people with disabilities still face far too many barriers to accessing the right to vote, including physical obstacles and state laws that prohibit some people with disabilities from voting, millions persevered amidst health and safety concerns to exercise their right.  Their votes counted, as did the votes of their family members, friends and supporters.  

“While the election is over, our nonpartisan advocacy continues at the local and state levels, in the halls of Congress, at the Supreme Court, and will continue in 2021 with the Biden Administration.

“We are still in the COVID-19 crisis. This virus has disproportionately impacted people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and direct support professionals.

“People with disabilities have died from COVID-19. They have faced discriminatory medical policies and practices. Lives have been interrupted, inclusion in the community has been snatched away. Their family members, who were already taking on the majority of caregiving responsibilities, have taken on even more, in many instances disrupting their own lives. And the dedicated direct support professionals have dealt with challenges in protecting health and safety without the necessary protective equipment.

“These impacts are still with us today and will be until our country gets this virus under control and policies in place that meet the needs of people with disabilities, their families, and caregivers. We also must continue to address the many injustices that people with disabilities experience on a day-to-day basis.

“In just a few days, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that threatens to undo all the progress we made with the Affordable Care Act. Access to consistent and reliable healthcare is critical for individuals with disabilities, and the law created much-needed reforms to health insurance, addresses systemic discrimination, and expands coverage.

“We must address the high unemployment rates of people with disabilities and the economic insecurity too many families and individuals face. We have to support families as they struggle with caregiving responsibilities by implementing inclusive paid leave.

“There still is a lot of work to do and, just as The Arc has done throughout our 70-year history, we will not rest until the humanity and needs of people with disabilities are respected,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

close up of medical form with stethoscope

The Affordable Care Act: What’s at Risk?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made significant progress in expanding access to health care for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Access to consistent and reliable healthcare is critical for individuals with IDD, and the ACA created much-needed reforms to health insurance, addressed systemic discrimination, and expanded coverage. Yet it will all be at risk on November 10 when the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case seeking to overturn the law. Leading up to the ACA’s day in court, here is a primer on what the ACA does for people with IDD, and what’s at stake if the law goes away.

The ACA:

  • Helps people get health insurance
  • Requires that plans can’t exclude you or charge you more based on preexisting conditions
  • Bans benefits caps (annual and lifetime caps)
  • Requires all plans to cover “essential benefits”
  • Provides financial assistance for low-income people to access healthcare 

Loss of Health Coverage: Without the ACA, millions of adults and children may lose their health coverage, or it may become unaffordable. Millions of families may be left with limited and expensive options, with inadequate coverage. 

Pre-existing Conditions: We are concerned about the possible loss of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, including people with IDD. Millions of Americans have “pre-existing” medical conditions that could disqualify them from buying a health insurance policy if the ACA is dismantled. A “pre-existing condition” is any health problem a person has before new health coverage starts. It includes a broad range of common conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, or seizure disorders, including all types of disabilities. 

Without the protections of the ACA, any “pre-existing condition” could mean a person or family buying insurance would pay much more for a policy, if they could get one at all. Before the ACA, an insurer could outright deny people coverage for a specific pre-existing condition, charge them more, cancel a policy after the fact for utilizing needed health care, or deny health insurance coverage overall. Without the ACA, employers could drop coverage for any or all of the conditions they are now required to cover. The Trump Administration publicly committed to “protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions” but there are no specifics on how this would be accomplished.  

COVID Connection: Some of the millions of Americans infected by COVID-19 will have long-term health conditions that are “pre-existing conditions.” This new reality could make it challenging to find health insurance.  And millions of Americans are now also without jobs and without employer-provided health insurance, so the need for affordable care is even greater.

Lifetime and Annual Limits: Before the ACA, lifetime and annual caps were permitted. Even with insurance, this meant enormous out-of-pocket costs or losing your insurance if medical bills cost more than the capped amount. Individuals and families face going without needed treatment or bankruptcy when the caps are exceeded.

Essential Benefits: Before the ACA’s passage, many plans did not cover important services, like maternity care or mental health treatment. The ACA requires all plans to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” including rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices that are vital to people with IDD.

Preventive Care: If we lose the ACA, we also lose preventive care with no out-of-pocket cost. This means adults and children would no longer be able to access important services including immunizations, preventive screenings, well baby and well child visits without cost-sharing. Fewer people may get preventive exams to catch medical issues before they became serious or life-threatening (and more difficult and expensive to treat).

Expanded Coverage for Children until age 26: Prior to the ACA, many health plans removed adult children from their parents’ coverage, regardless of whether they were a student or lived at home with their parents. Under the ACA, plans that offer coverage for children must cover them until they turn 26. It’s been an important coverage expansion for millions of young adult children who have been able to stay on their family health insurance plan.

Affordability Provisions and Loss of Federal Subsidies: The ACA allowed states to extend their Medicaid programs to childless adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. This change has provided coverage to millions of people, including individuals with IDD and other disabilities who were not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. If we lose the ACA, States would be forced to cover the 90% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion that the federal government currently pays, which may be all but impossible in the current economic situation. We may also lose refundable tax credits and cost-sharing assistance that helps reduce the burden on lower-income individuals and families.

Long Term Supports and Services: Several provisions of the ACA were designed to assist states to rebalance their long termsupports systems and invest in the community instead of costly and outdated institutions. States who expanded these options could face a devastating blow if the ACA is struck down. For example, with Community First Choice or 1915(k), 392,7000 individuals in 8 states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington) would lose services totaling $8.7 billion per year. With respect to the State Plan Home and Community-Based Services Option or 1915(i), 81,000 individuals in 10 states and DC (California, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Texas) would lose services totaling $641 million per year.  This change would hurt people with IDD and curtail their opportunity for a full life in their community.

Protecting Civil Rights in Health Care: The ACA also includes the fundamentally important Section 1557 nondiscrimination provision, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability (and other protected categories) in health programs and activities.

Impacts on the Health Care System: Overall, a court decision that strikes down the ACA (or important parts of it) could have a broad, harmful impact on the health care system, especially during a pandemic when resources and staff are already strained. It would also increase uncompensated-care costs for hospitals. Health care systems and hospitals that serve disproportionately high numbers of low-income people will be the most at risk, and could be forced to cut services.

A mother, father, and their two adult children stand smiling with their arms around each other in front of trees,

Care During COVID-19: An “Essential” Working Family’s Story

By Sethany Griffin

A mother, father, and their two adult children stand smiling with their arms around each other in front of trees,

I am a member of The Arc and both a provider for adults and children with disabilities and a mother of an adult with autism and an intellectual delay. My son Karl is 19, and he typically attends an adult transition program five days a week where he learns vocational skills in the hopes of someday finding him a paying job. He also focuses on social interactions, self-advocacy, problem solving, self-care skills and strength building through physical therapy. 

My son’s transition program, like so many others, closed temporarily and without notice in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Like many families, we were left scrambling to ensure his needs were being met and that he wasn’t left alone, grappling with the unknown timetable of when things would be back to normal.

I work as the Director of Family supports for a large non-profit agency for families like myself, with children and adult family members with disabilities. My husband, Dana, had just started a new job and was not yet eligible for leave time. Our older son DJ, who is also Karl’s co-guardian, works as a direct service professional at a day program for the same non-profit as I do. All three of us are considered “essential workers.” We are also the only people who can effectively support Karl at home.

It has been—and continues to be—a huge struggle trying to juggle the work schedules of three “essential” adults while ensuring someone is staying with my son who can both understand and meet his needs. Karl is a wonderful young man. He loves all things Marvel and can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about Marvel heroes and the TV show “Supernatural.” He likes to ride his adult tricycle around the neighborhood and swim, and he wants to make money to buy all the Marvel Legends action figures in existence. When he is anxious, which is almost always, he knits his brows and rocks in place. For the unfamiliar onlooker, he can appear terrifying. He is also 6’6 and 330 pounds and can become aggressive when he is frustrated or scared. This isn’t something that just anyone could handle.
  
Ultimately, we decided that DJ would take an unpaid leave of absence to care for his brother. DJ is still living with us, so we covered his rent and paid for his food. But, going without a paycheck meant that he was no longer able to purchase non-essentials or save any money. By covering his bills, we have made our family financial situation even more precarious.

It is unfair to all of us that he had to make this sacrifice, but we weren’t left with any other choices.

Now that our state has started to re-open, we find the struggle even harder. All four of us are in one form or another back to work. When Karl returned to his program, he did it in a hybrid fashion, He doesn’t do well with “remote teaching” so those times were essentially useless and required a full-time caregiver. I am lucky enough to be able to work some hours from home, and my husband has started earning his paid time off. We are making it work, but this isn’t what “vacation time” was supposed to be used for. Right now, if Karl were to spike a fever for any reason, he would be required to stay home for two weeks. I don’t know what we are going to do when that happens, but we are a strong and resilient family, so we will continue to brainstorm and try to find viable solutions.

For people with disabilities and their families, it is so important that paid leave policies include all caregivers—not just parents. Siblings, cousins, Godparents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents have all stepped in and tried to help us. Paid leave for all caregivers would remove so much pressure from families who are already struggling with the expenses of caring for an individual with additional emotional and healthcare needs. A paid leave option for all caregivers is long overdue.

The Arc logo

The Arc on Passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Her Mark on the Disability Rights Movement

The Arc released the following statement on the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Often lost in the day to day of life are the big moments in history that make today possible. Today, a life in the community for millions of people with disabilities is possible because of the actions of those who came before them, that led to justice. We mourn the loss of one of those champions, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion in the landmark ruling affirming that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination.

“Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act transformed the country in important ways, changing expectations for the lives of people with disabilities. Thanks to the work of countless committed advocates, we have taken meaningful steps toward the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Two advocates that carried the promise of the law all the way to the Supreme Court were Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson. Their bravery and refusal to live behind the dark walls of institutions led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead v. L.C. decision in 1999. The case established that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act – and that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community rather than institutions.

“In the opinion, Justice Ginsburg focused on the fact that ‘institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life.’

“This big moment, and her staunch affirmation of the human dignity of people with disabilities and their rightful place in the community of their choice, fundamentally changed the course of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities. With this history in our hearts, we will carry on our fight for inclusion and justice for all people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

A woman and her son smile for the camera.

Planning Can’t Wait: Preparing for Life’s Emergencies

Thinking about your child’s future after you’re gone is hard for most parents. For the parents of people with disabilities, the topic can be so daunting that it can feel impossible to broach.

The result? Families all over the country shelve this conversation as long as possible. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder that planning can’t wait. The hard truth is that reactive instead of proactive planning means that people and their families have little to no control over the supports and life choices available to people with disabilities in emergencies. 

Mapping a secure and independent future for loved ones with disabilities is both necessary and possible. It can be done step by step over time…just like financial and life planning for anyone else. Creating a future plan looks different for everyone:

  • Does the person want to live in a group home? On their own? With a sibling or other family member? How much support do they need to achieve the most independence possible?
  • What do they like to do in their free time? What support do they need to do those activities?
  • What public benefits are they currently receiving? Are they covered under insurance policies or trusts? Do they have a job or savings, or will they in the future?

Delores Sallis is no stranger to planning. Not only has she made it a priority to set up her son Albert for success, but she is working hard in her community to ensure other families feel confident doing the same.

Delores and Albert’s Journey

A woman and her son smile for the camera.

Sallis’ inspiration is her son Albert, her “pride and joy.” Albert, 30, has intellectual and developmental disabilities and lives at home with Delores.

Delores worked in a group home for 35 years, and saw many residents suffer because things didn’t go according to plan when parents passed away. Siblings that were supposed to become guardians didn’t show up. Residents didn’t have families to go home with for the holidays. Many missed their old routines and declined. Delores would often bring home multiple residents so they would not spend the holidays alone.

Delores resolved to ensure Albert never encountered the same pain: “I didn’t want my son to decline because of that.”

As Delores began to contemplate what his future would be like without her in it, she devised a plan for several “practice runs” where Albert’s sibling would assume responsibility of him for 24-hour periods. After several difficult situations throughout the exercise that highlighted the flexibility and fortitude required, plans for his sibling to become the primary caregiver were revisited.

Instead, one of his old teachers named Laurie stepped in. She lived two blocks away, and Albert was one of her favorite students in high school. When COVID-19 hit, she became his emergency contact in case Delores contracted the virus. Laurie also recruited two other teachers to back her up if she needed to take over his care. Delores’ friend volunteered to manage his assets, and Albert’s sister would cover safety and wellness checks. This network of support would also enable Albert to remain in his existing home, which already had the benefit of familiarity as well as modifications in place for him.

Seeing both the benefits of a robust plan and the dangers of not having one, Delores decided to put her passion for helping families navigate their personal journey into action. After years of informally supporting families, Sallis founded Parent University in the Wisconsin African American Women’s Center in 2017.

She encourages her families to create a vision board. Watching them chart a path to the future brings her tears of joy. “I start at the bottom where they’re at and we climb a ladder together,” Delores said. “Sometimes people think they have failed. The problem is they just didn’t know how to do something.” She also continues to provide these valuable opportunities to local families even during COVID-19, recently coordinating a “drive-through” resource fair.

Families also benefit from the community Delores has created. Many had never opened up about their family before, but once they were surrounded by others who shared their fears and experiences, it became the highlight of their week to meet. Parent University isn’t just a place to learn—it’s a support group and community that helps every family member tackle the fear of future planning by remembering they’re not alone.

As for Delores? Her successful planning for Albert’s future is based on one core principle: planning is a process that never ends. Being truly prepared means continually pivoting with the inevitable changes that life brings over time. With determination, Delores notes “He has a great life and I’m gonna try to keep it that way.”

So how can families that have a loved one with a disability be proactive, rather than reactive? Start by learning more about future planning to ensure your loved one has the housing, decision-making, financial, and social supports they need—gradually and piece by piece. The most important thing is to take the first step and start.

A woman and her brother take a selfie in a car. The woman is smiling and the man has his eyes closed and a neutral expression.

Three Years to the Day Since Senator John McCain’s Thumbs Down: Congress Is Still Forgetting #WeAreEssential

By: Nicole Jorwic, JD, Senior Director of Public Policy

I was up at midnight when the clock turned over to July 28, 2017, my brother Chris’ 28th birthday. My brother has autism and is the person I have on my shoulder, in my heart, and in my head when I advocate every day. I watched Senator McCain come to the Senate floor to give his infamous thumbs down with tears streaming down my face, realizing that it was the end of the fight that the disability community just won.

And now we sit three years later, and that win feels so long ago. We have been waiting two months to see what the Senate will do with the $3 trillion HEROES Act that passed the House on May 15, 2020, a bill that included many priorities for the community.

Individuals with disabilities, their families, the workforce, and allies have been diligently reaching out to their Senators since May. And yesterday when Senate Republicans unveiled their plans, it appears that almost nothing of what the disability community needs is part of the new proposals. In fact, the HEALS Act—introduced the day after the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—would gut the civil rights protections of the ADA in the face of the pandemic. The HEALS Act is a non-starter, while the HEROES Act that passed the House in May had many proposals that recognize the needs of people with disabilities.

The HEROES Act in the House included the top priorities of the disability community:

  • $13 billion in funding for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). Funds that will help keep people with disabilities out of dangerous congregate settings, support recruitment and retention of the direct support professional (DSP) workforce, and prevent rate cuts for service providers.
  • Access to PPE and supports for the DSP workforce.
  • Stimulus payments without limitations for people with disabilities.
  • Paid leave provisions to support family caregivers who must miss work to support their family members with disabilities.
  • Broad FMAP increased to 14% to stabilize the Medicaid program, one of the only funding sources for Long-Term Services and Supports.

From the summaries, the Senate proposals only ensure that people with disabilities are eligible for stimulus payments. The proposals do nothing to support HCBS, Medicaid, PPE and supports for DSPs, or paid leave for family caregivers. Already five pieces of COVID-19 relief legislation have moved, including three large relief packages, and the needs of the disability community have been overlooked in each. We will not be ignored again. The asks of the disability community around this crisis are simple: recognize that whether it is individuals with disabilities like my brother Chris, family members, or the DSP workforce, #WeAreEssential. On the anniversary of Senator McCain’s bold and brave thumbs down, we must all act and tell the Senate to protect the Medicaid programs that people with disabilities rely on.