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Members of Congress Join Parents & Caregiving Advocates to Demand Urgent Care Infrastructure Investments in Build Back Better Budget Reconciliation

WASHINGTON, DC — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) joined parents, caregivers, care workers, and advocates Thursday to express support for care infrastructure investments in the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.

Specifically, members of Congress voiced their support and explained why workers, families, businesses and our economy need care infrastructure investments immediately, including paid family and medical leave, in-home-and community-based services for elders and people with disabilities, a fully refundable Child Tax Credit (CTC), living wages and a path to citizenship for all care workers.

“All over the country people with disabilities, and their families are going without the support that they need due to decades of lack of investment in Home and Community-Based Services, resulting in stagnant pay for direct care worker wages, for a workforce doing life-giving work,” said Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy, The Arc of the United States. “The dedicated funding for HCBS will raise wages for these workers, create more and better direct care jobs, provide more services for those going without, and support family caregivers who are currently filling the gaps that the service system leaves behind. Now is the time to build back better to support people where they want to live, in their homes and communities.”

“The time to build a care infrastructure that lifts our economy, our families and our country is now. America’s moms, dads, and caregivers are rising across the nation to let Congress know that care can’t wait, and neither can our economy,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director and CEO of MomsRising. “We must end the days when moms, dads, and caregivers lose their jobs when a baby comes or critical illness strikes, when families can’t afford quality child care, when care workers don’t earn living wages, when people with disabilities and the aging can’t access or afford in-home care, and when tens of millions of America’s children are raised in poverty. A care infrastructure will lift families, enable moms and parents to work, support businesses, boost our economy, and create millions more good jobs. It will allow for a just recovery from the pandemic and make our country more successful.”

“Small businesses are demanding programs like paid leave and child care that will help ease the burden of high costs on working families and support entrepreneurs. It’s past time to level this playing field,” said Main Street Alliance Co-Executive director Chanda Causer. “An investment in our overall care economy is an investment in small businesses, and our local community. It is important to move both pieces of infrastructure legislation together. One without the other will limit an equitable or sustainable recovery. Small businesses are watching closely to make sure any investments in our economy are truly investments in an equitable recovery and future.”

“Home and community based services literally keeps myself and millions of Americans alive and at home with our families. Fully funding home and community-based services, would allow seniors and people with disabilities to receive the care they need at home to live with dignity and respect with their families and loved ones,” said Ady Barkan, Co-Founder of Be A Hero. “Not only will fully funding home and community based services allow for seniors and people with disabilities to live at home with dignity and respect, but it will finally give caregivers the respect they deserve through a living wage.  The historic investments in HCBS will have an outsized impact on the nation’s overall employment, and the employment of women and women of color. Millions of Americans are counting on Members of Congress to seize this moment, be heroes, and fully fund home and community based services.”

“Home care workers no matter where we work or live need the right to form a union,” said Latonya Jones-Costa, a home care worker from Atlanta. “I’m an expert in my field with specialized skills and advanced certifications. I have just as much training and qualifications as other healthcare workers; however, I don’t earn a family-sustaining wage, have healthcare. I have to work two jobs just to keep the lights on. It’s hard to fight for those basic benefits when I don’t have an opportunity to join a union, and unfortunately in our industry that was done by design. Now we have a better chance to undo these injustices and fight for our basic benefits so we can better provide essential care to our clients.”

“The pandemic has exacerbated the care crisis most women — especially Black and Brown women — in this country have been facing for decades. Millions of women have been forced out of the labor market as women-dominated industries were hit the hardest by the pandemic and caregiving needs at home increased,” said Monifa Bandele, Interim President and CEO at TIME’S UP Now. “The system is broken and women and families are suffering, and so is the economy. Women’s labor force participation has reached its lowest point in 30 years. We can’t achieve family economic security or safe, healthy, thriving communities if women can’t productively engage in the workforce because they don’t have access to quality child care or care for their elderly relatives or family members with disabilities. We are the only wealthy nation that doesn’t guarantee paid family leave, which undermines our workers’ productivity. Care can’t wait and the time to care is now.”

“Here’s the bottom line: Babies’ growing brains can’t choose between the things they need. Neither should Congress,” shared Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, ZERO TO THREE’s Chief Policy Officer. “Millions of parents in this country are forced to make impossible decisions every single day about caring for and supporting their babies. Today, we are on the cusp of shoring up our crumbling care infrastructure and supporting families and parents in providing for their children. The Build Back Better Act answers the call for a baby agenda that provides elements essential for healthy development with paid family and medical leave; a comprehensive child care system that addresses both the high costs and limited supply of quality care that plagues parents with young children; and an enhanced Child Tax Credit that could cut child poverty in half. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond to families’ needs today and to build a strong foundation for generations to come. Babies and families need a care infrastructure that paves the way for healthy development and strengthens families, communities, and our country.”

“We have the opportunity to do something meaningful—and truly transformational—to help every working family in this country but particularly the women of color hit hardest in an ongoing crisis,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, Director of Paid Leave for All. “We have the opportunity to pass policies that would yield millions of jobs, billions in wages, and trillions in GDP and to leave a powerful, profound legacy—to finally make history by passing paid leave in the United States. Care must be the cornerstone of our recovery, our rebuilding, and this package.”

“Families can’t thrive, and the economy can’t recover, until we have the policy solutions that support all of us in caring for the people we love,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “That’s why we urge Congress to ensure the Build Back Better Act includes provisions to address our nation’s long-standing failure to support care for children, seniors, and people with disabilities—problems, which the pandemic has magnified, that disproportionately affect women, children, and communities of color. Significant investments in child care, pre-K, paid family and medical leave, continuation of the expanded child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, and a pathway to citizenship are essential for our economic recovery.”

“People across the country are waiting for the Build Back Better agenda to pass, including robust investments in the care work that allows all other work to happen,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of National Domestic Workers Alliance and Caring Across Generations. “We all deserve an economy that gets women back to work, and we’ll get there when our leaders invest in home and community-based services, expand care services for our elderly and our loved ones with disabilities, lower care costs for families, and raise wages for the essential workers who do the work that make it all possible. It’s time for Congress to deliver and ensure that all of us, especially care workers themselves, can access the care we deserve.”

“Comprehensive, universal paid family and medical leave is essential for workers now more than ever,” said Lelaine Bigelow, Vice President for Social Impact and Congressional Relations at the National Partnership for Women & Families. We are grateful to our Congressional leaders who understand this, and who continue to fight for legislation that truly builds back better and provides support for women and families at this time when they need it most. Without robust care policies, our economy will only continue to suffer. At a time when many Americans are worried about their health and their economic stability, care simply cannot wait.”

The event was organized by MomsRising and Care Can’t Wait in partnership with Better Balance, Advocates for Children of NJ, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Federation of Teachers, Be a Hero, Building Back Together, Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, CAP Action, Caring Across Generations, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Child Care Services Association, Coalition of Labor Union Women, AFL-CIO, Community Change Action, DC Action, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Values @ Work, Family Voices NJ, First Focus on Children, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition, Low Income Investment Fund, Main Street Alliance, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Association for Family Child Care, National Council of Jewish Women, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, NCBCP/Black Women’s Roundtable, Oxfam America, Paid Leave for All, PL+US: Paid Leave for the U.S., SEIU, Stand for Children, Supermajority, The Arc of the United States, TIME’S UP Now, UltraViolet, United for Respect, United State of Women, We Demand More Coalition, Women’s March, and ZERO TO THREE.

A senator stands in a suit, speaking in front of a group of activists. The US Capitol is behind them, and beside the Senator are 5 large white boxes stacked.

Senator Bob Casey Meets Disability Rights Advocates From 24-Hour Storytelling Vigil, Urges Congress to Pass the Build Back Better Plan

Activists From Across the Nation Deliver 7,500 Stories from Individuals Impacted by Dearth of Home and Community-Based Services

Photos of the Vigil and Rally: https://bit.ly/3ahKPN9

A senator stands in a suit, speaking in front of a group of activists. The US Capitol is behind them, and beside the Senator are 5 large white boxes stacked.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 07: Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) speaks at a 24-hour vigil outside of the U.S. Capitol building, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) joins people with disabilities and advocates to demand funding for home care services in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” package before Congress on October 07, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Unbendable Media)

Senator Bob Casey met disability rights activists and care workers who participated in a 24-hour storytelling vigil and reiterated his commitment to fully fund services critical for the health and well-being of people with disabilities and aging adults. Flanked by dozens of ADAPT activists in wheelchairs, SEIU members in purple shirts and other prominent caregiving advocates, Senator Casey closed out the vigil outside the Capitol Thursday by imploring his colleagues in Congress to vote “yes” on the transformative Build Back Better plan that could “put the country on the road to having the best caregiving in the world.”

Advocates from the diverse “Care Can’t Wait” coalition of disability rights, labor, health, aging and caregiving groups also shared the steep health and financial costs that families pay as a result of poverty wages paid to care workers and long waitlists for home and community-based services (HCBS).

“I came here today because I am literally fighting for my life and freedom,” said Latoya Maddox, a mother from Philadelphia who has used HCBS for the past 17 years and is active in Philly ADAPT. “Home and community-based services and accessible housing keep me from being stuck in an institution to get my needs met-something nobody of any age wants. I want Congress to understand that their political games are putting my life and my freedom at risk, and to stop the posturing and realize what your inaction is doing to real people.”

Earlier in the vigil, advocates traveling from states hard hit by COVID-19—including Tennessee, Texas and Kansas—continuously read stories collected from thousands of impacted individuals—disproportionately people of color— across the country who were unable to travel to D.C., in part because they do not have access to paid leave, childcare or long-term services.

More than 800,000 people with disabilities are on waiting lists for HCBS, such as in-home care, meal delivery, transportation services and respite care. The Better Care Better Jobs provisions in the budget reconciliation seeks to eliminate long standing HCBS waitlists and allow states to expand the number of people who are eligible to receive these essential services.

“We need Congress to pass the Better Care Better Jobs Act and invest the proposed $400 billion in Medicaid HCBS funding,” said Nicole Jorwic, Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy at The Arc and one of the advocates who participated in the 24-hour vigil. “Together, we must recognize this unprecedented opportunity to begin fixing our nation’s inadequate care systems and transform the way we treat people served, and those providing the care, who deserve dignity, respect, and opportunity. Our nation must finally recognize the value of all people and significantly invest in care during this historic moment.”

Even as negotiations around the biggest jobs plan since the New Deal have stalled, the long-term care provision in the Build Back Better plan is still popular with the overwhelming majority of people across the country.

“People across the political spectrum overwhelmingly want Congress to invest in the care infrastructure that is the backbone of our economy and our lives,” said Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of Caring Across Generations and National Domestic Workers Alliance. “Increasing wages for care workers will ensure that they can care for themselves and their own families. Increasing wages will also make care work more sustainable in the long-run and ensure a more robust workforce that can meet the rising demand for these services.”

The event was co-hosted by ACLU, ADAPT, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, AAPD, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Be A Hero, Care Can’t Wait Coalition, Caring Across Generations, Little Lobbyists, Justice in Aging, National Council on Independent Living, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Council on Aging, National Health Law Program, and SEIU.

A group of activitists poses in front of the US Capitol at night, holding light up signs that say Care Can't Wait

The United States Capitol Building

Disability Rights, Care Workers to Hold 24-Hour Vigil at the U.S. Capitol to Hold the Line on Care Funding

As negotiations around the biggest jobs plan since the New Deal stall, care advocates from across the country will hold a 24-hour vigil outside the U.S. Capitol to urge elected leaders to hold the line on caregiving funding in the Build Back Better plan.

People with disabilities, direct care workers, older adults, and caregivers will share the steep health and financial costs that families pay as a result of poverty wages paid to care workers and long waitlists for home and community-based services (HCBS). Advocates traveling from states hard hit by COVID-19—including Tennessee, Texas and Kansas—will continuously read stories collected from thousands of impacted individuals—disproportionately people of color— across the country who aren’t able to travel to D.C. in part because they don’t have the paid leave, child care or long-term services that enable them to do so. Overwhelming majorities of people across the country want Congress to invest in long-term care and support the Build Back Better’s plan to do so.

WHAT:

A 24-hour vigil in front of the Capitol during which advocates will continuously read stories of those struggling to access home and community based services and to make enough money to care for themselves and their families. The vigil will culminate in a closing ceremony with advocates delivering boxes of printed out stories to members of Congress.

The event is co-hosted by ACLU, ADAPT, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, AAPD, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Be A Hero, Care Can’t Wait Coalition, Caring Across Generations, Little Lobbyists, Justice in Aging, National Council on Independent Living, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Council on Aging, National Health Law Program, and SEIU.

WHEN: 

Vigil: Wed, Oct 6 at 7 pm to Thurs, Oct 7 at 7 pm

Closing Program: Thurs, Oct 7 from 6-7 pm

WHERE: 

Union Square in front of Capitol Reflecting Pool

The area is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue, NW; First Street, NW/SW; Maryland Avenue, SW; and Third Street, SW/NW

Live Stream: https://fb.me/e/3WaL3atkg

WHO:

Closing ceremony speakers:

  • Bob Casey, S. Senator representing Pennsylvania
  • Maria Town, President and CEO, AAPD
  • Mike Oxford, National Organizer, ADAPT
  • Nicole Jorwic, Senior Executive Officer of State Advocacy and Public Policy, The Arc
  • April Verrett, President of SEIU, Local 2015

Vigil speakers available for media interviews:

  • Domonique Howell, a Black and disabled advocate from Philadelphia. She is an independent living specialist and co-chair of ADAPT’s housing work group.
  • Latoya Maddox, a Philadelphia-based Black disabled mother who has used home and community-based services for the past 17 years
  • Lydia Nunez, Ombudsman and organizer with Gulf Coast ADAPT in Texas. She is white and disabled and fights for home and community-based services for other people with disabilities and older adults.
  • Josue Rodriguez, a Latino organizer with El Paso ADAPT who uses HCBS for attendant services.
  • Family caregivers and care workers 

VISUALS:

People holding posters and banners featuring portraits of care workers, family caregivers, aging adults and people with disabilities. Miniature houses featuring portraits of care recipients, caregivers and care workers

BACKGROUND:

More than 800,000 people with disabilities are on waiting lists for home and community-based services (HCBS), such as in-home care, meal delivery, transportation services and respite care. The Better Care Better Jobs Act—introduced in the Senate by lead sponsor Sen. Bob Casey and in the House by lead sponsor Rep. Debbie Dingell and supported by over 480 organizations—provides a blueprint for how $400 billion investment in HCBS could support a profoundly undervalued and underpaid workforce and get hundreds of thousands of people off waitlists by helping to:

  • Increase access to HCBS: expanding financial eligibility criteria for HCBS and supports for family caregivers, and adopting programs that help people navigate enrollment and eligibility.
  • Make permanent “Money Follows the Person,” a federal demonstration program that helps aging individuals and people with disabilities transition back to their homes and communities from institutions by providing federal matching funds that incentivizes HCBS in states
  • Support oversight and monitoring of the quality of HCBS
  • Increase HCBS payment rates to promote recruitment and retention of care workers
A woman sits in a motorized wheelchair with the US Capitol building in the background. She is smiling and wearing glasses, colorful floral pants, and an orange shirt with The Arc's logo that reads "Disability Rights are Human Rights"

The ADA Turns 31

Today, we mark 31 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Arc is proud of our long history advocating with and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and working to ensure that their most fundamental rights and the protections guaranteed by the ADA are recognized and fulfilled.

Thelma Green, 61, is a self-advocate in Washington, D.C. who The Arc profiled in a story in 2017 about the importance of Medicaid in her life. On this anniversary of the ADA, Thelma, a wheelchair user, shared reflections on what the landmark law means to her. She was a young woman when the ADA passed in 1990.

“The biggest change is that I got more than once choice for transportation and being able to get around and have stuff more accessible,” she said.

Thelma says before the ADA was passed into law, navigating the community was tough.

“Back then, they didn’t have accessible cabs or Metro Access. It was really difficult,” Thelma tells The Arc.

And she says daily living was more challenging and people treated her with less respect.

“I think it was more difficult before because people weren’t really listening to us. They weren’t taking people with disabilities seriously enough until a family member stepped in,” she explained.

The ADA transformed the country in important ways, changing expectations for the lives of people with disabilities. The law requires accessibility and bans discrimination in almost all private businesses, and has significantly reduced discrimination in state and local government services. The transportation and paratransit provisions have yielded greater mobility and community participation. Employment provisions have been important, for example, providing protections in the hiring process and expanding the use of job accommodations for workers with disabilities. The built environment has tangibly changed based on the requirements of the ADA, for example, ramped building entrances and curb cuts on sidewalks are now common. In major ways, people with disabilities are closer to the goals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency defined in the law.

But Thelma knows the fight for equity is far from over, and The Arc and our allies are advocating for stronger enforcement of this civil rights law.

“You have to continue on fighting for the same rights that everybody else has. We need to have more accessible places for people with wheelchairs and crutches to make it much easier for them to get it and more accessible buildings,” she said.

On this anniversary, Thelma also wants people to recognize and be sensitive to people who have hidden disabilities that are not always obvious. Across the United States, more than 6 million people have hidden, or invisible disabilities, like autism, sensory disorders, or dyslexia. And, they also entitled to the protection of the ADA.

As we renew our commitment to the ADA, and the charge to eliminate unjustified segregation and exclusion of people with disabilities from American life, The Arc reaffirms our goal to protect against forms of discrimination based on disability, race, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other protected status. We will keep fighting to defend the rights and lives of Thelma and all people with disabilities and their families, and advance toward full inclusion for all.

A mother, father, and two adult sons stand smiling with their arms around each other. They are indoors and have nametags and business clothes on.

The Social Security Law That Keeps Parents Awake at Night

By Micki, Grassroots Advocate

My husband and I consider ourselves to be informed parents. When our twin sons Zach and KC were diagnosed with intellectual disability in infancy, we tried to learn all we could to be a good mom and dad. We attended educational programs, joined local organizations that focused on families like ours, and did what we thought was best for our sons.

When they reached the age of 18, we were advised to apply for Supplemental Security Income, a federal income program for those 18 and older who are blind, have a disability, or are aged and have very little income. That went without a hitch. A few years later, one of our sons received a letter from Social Security stating that because he had worked for several years in the community, his benefits would switch from SSI to SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance, a program for those with disabilities who are part-time workers. He qualified because after graduating from high school, he started working as a front-end clerk/bagger at a supermarket. It has always been and because of our son’s disability, will always have to be, part-time work. He has continued to work in this position for 21 years. He is very proud of this achievement. Again, the switch from SSI to SSDI went without us having to complete any paperwork.

During the first few years that he worked, we were still figuring out how much work he could do. On occasion, the store manager wanted him to put in extra hours because another employee called in sick or didn’t show up to work. It was difficult for him to say no, even if he couldn’t really manage the work. We received a few letters from Social Security stating that he earned too much money when that happened. We spoke to someone from Social Security, but nothing was said about him losing out on higher benefits when his parents retired or passed away. Nor was anything explained to us about how much he could earn while still maintaining benefits. Since he continued to receive payments, we assumed the past problems were just that: in the past.

Foolish assumption.

Some 15 years later, in 2016, when my husband turned 66 and applied for Social Security, he requested that Zach and KC receive SSDI benefits as Disabled Adult Children (DAC) under his work record. DAC benefits would be far more generous than our sons’ own benefits because my husband worked for many more years and also earned more.  My husband and I were counting on these benefits to help our sons with their living expenses when we were no longer able to provide financial support. My husband was told that our son who was the front-end clerk would never be able to receive DAC benefits because he earned too much money a few times, occurrences that took place 14 and 15 years ago. Social Security sent us a document showing when his income was too high—it was seven times total, and each time was under $40.

What should we do? Everyone we spoke with was stumped, including attorneys who specialize in denied Social Security Disability applications. With much persistence, we eventually found someone who explained that the things our son had paid for to help him work, like the medication he took to help him focus or the costs of his job coach, could be used to offset the income that exceeded Social Security’s requirements. We learned these are called Impairment Work Related Expenses, IRWEs.

Even though we’d been told that throwing away backup documents from tax filings after seven years was safe, we never did. Luckily, we had the receipts showing those costs which filled a box large enough for a 10-ream case of paper. We took it to the local Social Security office and requested that they review the materials and reconsider our son’s denial of DAC. The Social Security employee was taken aback by the number of documents in the box. He said he wasn’t allowed to work overtime and had no idea how long it would take him to go through it all!

After several nerve-wracking months, we heard from Social Security. They reversed their decision. Our son was approved as a DAC!

There are many families like ours who had and/or continue to experience a similar nightmare. Many of our loved ones work part-time in jobs with fluctuating hours which results in income varying from one month to another. Countless families don’t know about IRWEs or understand the complex rules of Social Security. We are all understandably terrified of doing anything that might put our children’s future benefits in jeopardy. Some find it easier to have their family member not work at all, thereby isolating them from the community and depriving them of self-worth.

The current law is a huge disincentive to work and it’s just too complicated.

Our son is now living by himself in the community. Being self-sufficient means the world to him. His DAC benefits along with his limited earnings cover his expenses, such as rent, utilities, groceries, etc. Without the SSDI DAC benefits, he would no longer be able to live independently in the community.

Parents of adults with intellectual disabilities want the assurance that their loved ones will continue to have meaningful lives after they’re gone. Knowing that their adult children can work and maintain DAC benefits is one critical way of guaranteeing that—the law needs to change.

 

Find out how you can help Micki’s family and others in the same position.

Learn more and act now!

 

A young man sits smiling on a white couch with white blinds in the background. He is wearing a black shirt with the yellow word "ARMY" on it.

Advocates Applaud Full Pardon of Neli Latson, a Young Black Man With Disabilities, After Decade of Injustice

After more than a decade of unjust prosecution and abuse in the criminal justice system, Neli Latson, a Black man with multiple disabilities, is finally a free man. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted Mr. Latson, 29, a full pardon late Monday.

A young man sits smiling on a white couch with white blinds in the background. He is wearing a black shirt with the yellow word "ARMY" on it.

Mr. Latson, who has autism and intellectual disability, now has the chance to live a satisfying and self-directed life in the community, free from burdensome, unfair restrictions and the constant threat of reincarceration, but unfortunately never free from the painful truth that Black people with disabilities live at a dangerous intersection of racial injustice and disability discrimination. Mr. Latson’s case, which began in 2010, galvanized disability rights activists, bringing national attention to overly aggressive and sometimes deadly policing, prosecution and sentencing practices and the horrifying mistreatment of people with disabilities in jails and prisons.

The Arc has been seeking justice for Mr. Latson for more than a decade. A coalition of nearly 50 advocacy groups and legislators sent a letter to Governor Northam in July 2020 calling for him to grant Mr. Latson a full pardon. With tremendous relief, we thank Governor Northam for issuing the well-deserved full pardon. And on today’s 22nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead decision, we are even more deeply reminded that people with disabilities are members of the community – not to be shut away and restricted because of their disability.

In 2010, Mr. Latson was an 18-year-old special education student, waiting outside his neighborhood library in Stafford County, Virginia for it to open. Someone called the police reporting a “suspicious” Black male, possibly with a gun. Mr. Latson had committed no crime and was not armed. The resulting confrontation with a deputy resulted in injury to an officer when Mr. Latson understandably resisted being manhandled and physically restrained. This was the beginning of years of horrific abuse in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors refused to consider Mr. Latson’s disabilities, calling it a diagnosis of convenience and using “the R-word,” and rejected an offer of disability services as an alternative to incarceration. Instead, Mr. Latson was convicted, sentenced to ten years in prison and punished with long periods of solitary confinement, Taser shocks, and the use of a full-body restraint chair for hours on end for behaviors related to his disabilities.

Virginia and national disability advocates, including The Arc and Autistic Self Advocacy Network, urged then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to pardon Mr. Latson.  In 2015, with bipartisan support from state legislators, Governor McAuliffe granted a conditional pardon. Although this released Mr. Latson from prison, it required him to live in a restrictive residential setting and remain subject to criminal justice system supervision for ten years. The terms of the 2015 conditional pardon meant Mr. Latson could be sent back to jail at any time, causing constant anxiety. Today’s pardon from Governor Northam recognizes Mr. Latson’s success since 2015 and relieves him from that ongoing threat.

“Neli Latson has spent almost his entire adult life entangled in a legal system that criminalized his disability and race. We believe Governor Northam’s full pardon will end this painful chapter of Mr. Latson’s life so that he can move forward. However, it is important to acknowledge that this blatant injustice has caused devastating harm to Mr. Latson and his family. The Arc will always fight for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system and against the systemic racism that deepens the indignity. This moment proves that advocacy matters,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the United States.

“Justice should never have been delayed for Neli,” said Tonya Milling, Executive Director of The Arc of Virginia. “Yet we are thrilled that his decade-long struggle has finally come to a conclusion, and he will now be able to move forward with all the numerous opportunities that he should have been able to experience all along.

“Archaic and biased systems continue to exist all around us – particularly for BIPOC and other marginalized individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For many years, The Arc of Virginia has worked both independently and with a broader coalition of advocates, towards desperately-needed reforms in how intellectual and developmental disabilities are viewed and treated in the criminal justice system. In the years since Neli’s unjust conviction, we have seen steps of progress in legislative policy. One example is legislation recently signed into law, that specifies in Code that intellectual and developmental disabilities may be considered at various junctures and touch points of the court system – ensuring that all defendants can be provided every opportunity for fairness and justice throughout the process.

“It is impossible to undo all the harm that was caused to Neli, but Virginia can and must continue working to prevent future harm from being inflicted on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc is wholly committed to continuing our partnership with advocates and legislators, on measures that will ensure justice for all,” said Milling.

“We’re excited that after years of advocacy, Neli Latson will soon be free to engage with the community on his own terms. We recognize that the restrictions he was forced to follow – including isolation in institutional settings – functioned as a form of continued incarceration even after his release from prison. We’re very grateful to the many community members who fought for Neli by writing letters, making calls, and continuing their advocacy even after the initial pardon was issued,” said Sam Crane, Legal Director of Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

 

For more information, contact:

Kristin Wright, The Arc of the United States, wright@thearc.org or 202.617.3271

Tonya Milling, The Arc of Virginia, tmilling@thearcofva.org or 804-649-8481 x.101

Sam Crane, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, scrane@autisticadvocacy.org

A man and his son each kneel beside an air traffic controller, mimicking his outstretched hand signal. Behind them is the wing of a plane and a city skyline.

A Father’s Love: The Rewards of Disability

A father and adult son stand together, smiling, in front of a black train with green hills and mountains in the background. To the left of the train is a yellow building. Jose Velasco is thankful for the incredible journey of fatherhood. The father of two did not foresee the life he and his wife, Deya, and their son and daughter created, together. This Father’s Day, Jose reflects on nearly three decades of being a dad and how disability has rewarded his life in ways he had not imagined when the family began their autism journey. Each day of that journey, Jose has only wanted one thing.

“The single biggest thing we want is for our kids to be happy,” he said. “Seeing the resilience my son has demonstrated has been absolutely phenomenal. I’ve learned so much about kindness.”

Jose’s 27-year-old son is named in his father’s honor. Jose, Jr. is on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis that has presented challenges along the way, while instilling determination and a growing realization that disability does not minimize ability.

When asked to describe his best memories with his father, it is clear there are just too many. Jose, Sr. has always been there for his son.

“Where to begin … I think it goes all the way since I was born,” Jose, Jr. told The Arc. “He is the equivalent of my best life-long friend. We have done great things together, from flying on a biplane, to riding numerous trains (steam, diesel, old and new) to high-adventures in the Rocky Mountains, like hiking and white water rafting. Spending a lot of time together has been one of my favorites things, including various journeys around the U.S. and Mexico.”

Jose, Sr. is a member of The Arc of the United States Board of Directors. He is program director in the Business Process Intelligence organization of global software company SAP. He is also ambassador of the company’s Autism at Work program, which has provided more than 600 employment opportunities for people on the spectrum. But Jose is most proud of his title as dad.

“Seeing Jose, Jr. succeed, happy, and how he has inspired people,” he said describing the greatest rewards of being Jose’s father.

This spring, Jose, Jr. accomplished a major achievement. After several years of setting goals, persisting, and working hard, he graduated from Austin Community College earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Technology – Computer Programming – Software Testing Specialization.

“He worked so hard for that. He worked really, really hard,” said Jose, Sr. “It was a reward for my wife and me, but for him as well.”

“The equivalent of winning a race. It was two-year degree, it took me close to 7 years and it felt great to have finished something I started,” Jose, Jr. said with pride.

Jose, Sr. is a disability rights advocate not only for his son, but – for all. He joins The Arc and other advocates who are urgently calling on Congress to act to fund $400 billion for the Medicaid home and community-based service (HCBS) system, increase wages for the direct care workforce, and create more of these jobs.

For years, the service system that people with intellectual and developments disabilities and their families rely on, Medicaid, has needed an update. People are stuck on waiting lists, the direct care workforce is underpaid, and too often, unpaid family caregivers are filling in the gaps in service. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these problems and exposed the cracks and gaps in the care infrastructure when it comes to supporting people with disabilities.

Jose, Sr. is hopeful this investment by Congress would help secure a life of opportunity and independence for his son in the future and the disability community as a whole.

“There are very high hopes from our IDD community for the HCBS investment to take place. Expanding access to services, the creation of direct care jobs, and an increase in wages are cornerstone elements of a sustainable platform to deliver quality services that so many people need.”

Being a father to a child with a disability has taught Jose many life lessons.

In high school, Jose, Jr. went out for the wrestling team. He fell in love with the sport but the skills didn’t come naturally. After several early elimination losses, Jose, Sr. and his wife felt heartbroken for their son and lovingly suggested that he help support the team as a student assistant. But, Jose, Jr. – determined – taught his parents a valuable lesson.

“He said ‘you guys don’t get it. I want to be a wrestler,’” Jose, Sr. explained.

Jose, Jr. started training and working out and it paid off.

“He won. The gym went crazy. It was the beginning for him of something special,” Jose, Sr. shared holding back tears.

It was in that moment Jose, Jr. decided he wanted to go to college.

Today, Jose, Jr. works for the Internal Revenue Service. He started a new position earlier this year and has risen to the challenges of the new role.

This Father’s Day, Jose, Jr. has this message for his dad:

“This is what I would put in a card for Father’s Day: Dad, all I want to say is thank you. Thank you for being my father, for raising me, teaching me, and protecting me.”

Like father, like son. Jose, Sr. is also thankful. The rewards of disability and fatherhood are immeasurable.

Three people, two standing and one seated with a blanket over them. The two women standing in the back have face masks on.

One Family’s Story of Moving From an Institution to the Community

We Were Afraid of Change, But The Arc Was There

When Amy was born in 1967, her family was told that she needed to live in an institution to get the medical care and services she needed due to her inability to speak and move independently. Her family followed doctor’s orders and placed in her an institution in California, where the family lived at the time. All her sister, Laurie, recalls of the institution is her sister’s tears. She cried every time the family left from a visit.

Amy lived in institutions for many years—but she and her family never could have imagined what waited for them on the other end of her time there.

 

Life at the Northern Virginia Training Center

The family moved to Virginia in 1975. Amy and Laurie’s parents found eight-year-old Amy a place in the Northern Virginia Training Center—another institution. For many years, the institution was all that Amy, Laurie, and their family ever knew. Amy appeared very happy there. As a child and teenager, Amy attended a day program in the local school system, and there were dentists and doctors on the campus of the institution. Amy and Laurie’s family would even invite staff from the institution to join them for family dinners. As an adult, Amy began to seem a bit sad when she aged out of the services available by the school system. Her post-high school activities included a day program where she crushed cans.

Amy’s family was dedicated to Amy and making sure she could get out and do things she liked. However, the institution did not have the resources to take Amy and the other residents off the institution campus and they did not even have a lift that could help them move Amy around. So, if Amy wanted to go somewhere, her family had to take her. As Laurie and their parents got older, they weren’t as able to do this and it really limited Amy’s ability to get out and go shopping or see movies. Similarly, when Amy would get sick or have surgery, Amy and Laurie’s parents would have to stay with her in the hospital because there was not enough staff from the institution to provide care, and the hospital staff were not trained to take care of her properly.

When Virginia decided to close the institution in 2016, Amy and Laurie’s family were one of many who would fight for the institution to remain open—firmly committed to the center that had served their family for so many years. This at times put Amy and Laurie’s family and other supporters of the institution in direct conflict with The Arc and its local chapters, which were powerful advocates to expand community-living supports and end the use of institutions.

However, Amy and Laurie’s family could read the writing on the wall and began talking with The Arc about what life could look like next for Amy.

 

The Arc: New Freedom

Four people in a selfie. Three are in the background of the photo wearing black masks and shields, and one person is in the front, smiling without a mask. They have short brown hair.

Laurie was working for an elected official in Virginia and knew the leadership at her local chapter of The Arc.

While they had different opinions, The Arc of Greater Prince William County’s leader, Karen Smith, was very respectful to Amy and Laurie’s family. Karen learned about Amy’s unique needs and preferences and helped build a group home setting that would work for her. Through it all, The Arc never gave up on Amy and Laurie’s family and made sure to reassure them that Amy would get the help she needed in the community.

The transition went smoother than the family expected. Amy’s group home was near Laurie and her parents, and the family could visit Amy as much as they wanted.

Most importantly, there were huge and wonderful changes for Amy.

Laurie and her parents worried at first about Amy having her own room. In the institution, Amy shared a room with the same roommate for nearly 30 years. They thought she would be scared and would want them to stay overnight with her. Laurie had even packed an overnight bag just in case Amy needed her. However, Amy loved having her own space—and decorating her own room. According to Laurie, “she has more new comforters than I have ever had in a lifetime.” Amy also enjoys the atmosphere of the home. She is treated as an individual, lives in a beautiful neighborhood with a garden out front to explore, and sits on the screened porch to enjoy the view of the woods behind her home.

Amy is also able to go out on her own and do things she wants to with Laurie or the group home staff. Amy, a housemate, and her staff go to shows together and her group home staff take her out to shop at the mall and go to the movies regularly. Amy also attends a day program for adults in the community that she is always very excited for. The day program is also only a mile from Laurie’s home and Laurie is welcome to visit her sister at any time. According to Laurie, “it is really nice to be able to pop in and say ‘hey, how’s it going’ and hang out with her.”

In this past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life has changed again for Amy and Laurie. However, even in a terrifying pandemic, the group home staff have still helped Amy do things that matter to her. Though she has not been able to get out as much, Amy has been using her iPad and phone extensively. Laurie regularly gets videos of Amy where she makes faces and expresses to Laurie how she is really feeling. Laurie can send gifts to Amy to keep her cheerful and in early April 2021, Laurie and Amy were finally able to reconnect in person. They are hoping to take a shopping trip soon!

 

Advice for Others on Embracing Change and the Possibilities it Brings

We asked Laurie what she would want to tell others about her family’s experience over the years. She said that “there is always a fear of change,”— but in that change is a possibility for growth you may not have imagined before.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much The Arc of Greater Prince William County was there to make sure that people are happy. They go out of their way to make sure that people get what they need, like getting a much-needed haircut in the pandemic. The people there put a real personal stamp on everything they do. I just want to make sure that they get all the credit the deserve—especially the group home manager, who is wonderful.”

 

How You Can Help

There are still institutions open today in 36 states across the United States. For many, the institution is all they know– and they and their families may fear what change means for them.

There may be fear from past failed attempts at community living or concerns that people with more support needs can’t be safe and healthy in the community. But that fear can be overcome with the right level of supports and a caring community-based disability service provider, like The Arc of Greater Prince William County and The Arc’s chapter network.

What we know is that most people with disabilities and their families do want access to a life in the community, no matter the level of supports necessary to make that happen. But when they try to find what they need, too often the system fails them and makes them wait for services. This must change.

 

Join us to help make sure that everyone can get the support that they need in their community!

Visit thearc.org/MedicaidCantWait to learn more and see how to advocate with us.

Celebrating Strength This Mother’s Day: A Mother’s Persistence

This Mother’s Day, The Arc celebrates the unconditionaA selfie of a mother and her two teenage children on a couch, with checkered blinds in the background. l love and infinite strength of mothers. We recognize the mother figures and grandmothers who nurture and support us – no matter what. We embrace the challenges of motherhood. We revel in the joys.

If you ask Kendra Mendoza, a mother of two in North Providence, Rhode Island and friend of The Arc, what her role as a mother means to her, the answer is clear.

“It means everything to me. It is my sole first purpose in this life – being a mom,” she shared with us.

Kendra is a mother and a fighter, a force of nature to be reckoned with and admired. The single mother has taken on the state disability services agency, school boards, health care providers, and landlords. Kendra stops at nothing to make sure that her 17-year-old son Joshua receives respect, compassionate care and support, and opportunities to thrive in school and beyond.

Joshua was born with a rare genetic disorder and several other developmental disabilities. He requires complex medical care and supervision around the clock. Kendra says he is a blessing.

“Whenever I look at Joshua, I see ability and potential,” she said. “He has taught me so much. He takes life and smiles through it.”

Joshua underwent brain surgery at two days old. He has had two more brain operations since. With his mother by his side every step of the way, Joshua has far exceeded doctors’ expectations.

Joshua lives in the moment. When asked for this story during breakfast what he loves most about his mother, he replied: “You feed me!”

Eating is one of Joshua’s favorite activities. He is known at his local Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Joshua also loves reading and art. He enjoys playing Memory on his tablet and going on car rides and walks to the store. He likes listening to music, especially John Legend and Ed Sheeran. Joshua helps out around the house, clearing the table and putting dishes in the sink, as well as tying up the trash.

Kendra’s determinatioA mother and her son in a wheelchair testify in a public policy hearing. n as a mother extends into advocacy. Working with The Arc Rhode Island, she advocated in the General Assembly in support of special education reform to give parents and guardians more rights in the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, process. In testimony before the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Kendra and Joshua shared challenges with the IEP process for families and why is critical that students with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, as mandated by federal and state law. Kendra is also part of a group of parents, guardians, and educators in Rhode Island advocating for the creation of an independent special education ombudsman office to investigate special education disputes and serve as a resource for parents and guardians. The office would also provide an outlet for anonymous reports of possible violations.

In her advocacy, Kendra has worked closely with Joanna Scocchi, Director of The Arc Rhode Island.

“Kendra is an example of the many parents who are fighting not just for their own child, but for all children to lead a full life with opportunities, hopes, and dreams,” said Scocchi. “It takes the determination of parents and advocates to advance the goal of ensuring that society understands every child is entitled to – and deserves – an education that meets their unique needs and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

Like so many mothers, Kendra manages to persist, one battle after another, but always with the nagging feeling that things should be easier. It’s nearly a universal feeling across the disability community.

“I don’t understand why we have to fight all the time for things that should be common sense,” said Kendra.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kendra has worked closely with Joshua’s IEP team to try to ensure that he continues to receive an education remotely. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at higher risk of contracting the virus and health outcomes are often worse. Trying to keep Joshua safe and in virtual learning has felt like a second and third job. Kendra hopes Congress passes a national paid leave policy so that unpaid family caregivers don’t have to choose between a paycheck and the health and well-being of their loved ones.

The Arc and many other groups that represent caregivers urged the White House and Congress to include paid leave in forthcoming legislation and President Biden has urged Congress to do so. The pandemic has highlighted what family caregivers have known for decades—we need paid leave now.

There is one more thing about Kendra Mendoza you should know. When she’s not with Joshua, she’s supporting women with disabilities in a group home. Kendra is employed as a direct support professional, or DSP. She helps the women she serves with dressing, eating, and preparing for their day.

Many years ago, Kendra decided to pursue a career in health care in order to learn as much as possible about the road ahead as a mother to a child with multiple disabilities. This Mother’s Day, she reflects on her children and how she is the lucky one.

Kendra says the simple moments mean the most.

“The moment your kids smile and they know they’re safe,” she said. “They remind me of my purpose. They push me to grow as a person.”

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No One Should Have to Live Like This: Steve’s Nine-Year Wait for Freedom

Thousands of people with disabilities in the U.S. use Medicaid to get the supports and services they need to live and be healthy every day. But, people with disabilities must often wait several years to get access to the type of supports they want and need in their own homes. Many are forced into nursing homes and institutions to get the services they need.

But this comes at a critical cost: freedom.

Meet Steve

Steve has cerebal palsy. For most of his young life, and like many people with disabilities, he lived with his mom. When Steve was only 22 years old, his mom became very ill. Because she could no longer provide the supports he needed, Steve was forced to move into a nursing home to get the care he could no longer receive in his childhood home. Even though Steve knew he could make it in the community with the right supports, he was forced to make this move. This was because his family was concerned about his well-being if he lived independently, and because they feared the appropriate supports were not available to him.

The nursing home put Steve in the long-term Alzheimer’s unit with people who were often in their 80s and 90s. This was not Steve’s choice. Steve was placed in an available bed where all long-term residents were put.

Steve hated living in the nursing home and often felt like the care he got from staff was lacking.

“I had to wait an hour for someone to respond when I asked for help. Sometimes, the nurses would come in and turn the call light off instead of helping me. I was always the last to be fed. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I would wheel my chair out to the hall and tell the staff—but they would walk away. I had to fight with the nurse to get medications. If I told someone I wasn’t getting taken care of, the care would be worse because the staff would get mad at me. At night, I couldn’t sleep because the other residents were screaming or because staff were buffing the floor.”

After a year in the nursing home, Steve’s case manager got him on the waiting list for Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS). Access to HCBS would allow Steve to move out of the nursing home and get the help he needed in his own home in the community.

“I spent eight years on the waiting list… Every year, I got a letter about where I was on the waiting list. Every time I got that letter, I was so discouraged and disappointed because it felt like my name was not coming up. And, I thought that I would never get out.”

Finally, after nine years in the nursing home, Steve’s name did come up, and he got out.

“On my last day in the nursing home, I went to the administrator and told her, ‘thank you for kicking me out—you made my wish come true.’ When I got out and got [HCBS services], I finally had the freedom to do what I wanted to do… I could eat when and what I wanted—and the food was actually warm. I could sleep better at night. I could use the bathroom when I needed to. I could go out with friends without having to come back at a certain time. I did not have to fight nurses to get my medication. I had freedom—and a life like yours.”

Now, Steve lives independently in his own home in the community, with support from paid caregivers. While he does still experience challenges with things like getting transportation services, finding safe and affordable housing, and finding paid caregivers, he believes he is where he belongs.

Steve’s nine years in a nursing home profoundly impacted him and he wants to make sure no one has to live the way he had to.

“Just because we are disabled, [doesn’t mean we don’t deserve] equal rights—we do not belong in an institution. We should have the same opportunities as anyone else. Everyone should get the help they need in their home, [and everyone should have the right to live the life they want].”

To others with disabilities, Steve offers these words of encouragement.

“People will say there are no other options for you in your area besides an institution…Do your research. Have a backbone, be tenacious, and don’t ever give up. You are always going to have roadblocks—but you have to find your way past them. You can do it.”

Check out this video to learn more about the role of Medicaid HCBS and Supplemental Security Income in Steve’s and other advocates’ lives.

This injustice must end.

No one should have to give up their freedom to get the services they need. The Arc works every day:

  • To make sure people can get the Medicaid HCBS they need
  • To end long waiting lists for HCBS services
  • To close institutions, which still exist in 36 states nationwide

Join us! Visit thearc.org/MedicaidCantWait to learn more and see how to advocate for HCBS with us.