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The Arc Encouraged by Proposal for Huge Investment in Disability Services and Direct Care Workers

Washington, D.C. – For years, the service system that people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD) and their families rely on has fallen far short of meeting their needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified this problem and exposed the cracks and gaps in the care infrastructure when it comes to supporting people with disabilities. The Arc is encouraged by the Biden Administration’s announcement today that The American Jobs Plan includes a $400 billion investment to support and grow the direct care workforce, expand service delivery and eliminate waiting lists so that people with disabilities and unpaid family caregivers can return to the economy. This investment is long overdue, and like crumbling roads and bridges, the Administration recognizes that the home and community-based service (HCBS) system, a central part of the care infrastructure, needs and deserves the same critical investments. Now, Congress must act.

Growing the direct care workforce, expanding access to services, and supporting family caregivers are key to our economic recovery. The Administration’s plan to provide more funding for HCBS, create jobs and increase wages and benefits for direct care workers addresses the rising level of need for these services. It also targets the longstanding inequities experienced by the direct care workforce that were made worse by the pandemic. These direct care workers are mostly women of color; they are denied a living wage due to underfunding of the Medicaid HCBS system that pays their wages. A well paid, well trained workforce that can grow with and meet the increasing need is critical to recovery and to providing people with disabilities and their families quality supports and services they need and want to receive in their homes and community. The Arc was also thrilled to see the plan include a permanent reauthorization of the Money Follows the Person program, a Federal program that supports people with disabilities and aging adults to move out of large congregate settings and back to their homes and communities. The Arc has been advocating for all of these advances for years.

We are pleased with the Administration’s proposal for this major investment in and recognition of the value of people with disabilities, their families, and the direct care workforce. Congress must now act to make this important investment in the service delivery system and the direct care workforce a reality by including these provisions in any new infrastructure and recovery legislation.

“As the largest disability rights organization in the country, The Arc is pleased to see the value of people with disabilities, family caregivers, and direct support professionals recognized and upheld in the Administration’s bold American Jobs Plan.  The proposal is a welcome first step and we will not rest until the needs of people with IDD and the direct support workforce are fully addressed,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States.

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Part One: For Jud, Chris, and Millions of People With Disabilities – a Bill 70 Years in the Making Has Arrived

By: Marty Ford, Senior Advisor, The Arc

The Arc of the United States was founded over 70 years ago by families like mine who wanted their family members with intellectual and developmental disabilities included in every aspect of life in their homes and communities. Congress has finally proposed a bill, the Home and Community-Based Services Access Act (HAA), that would provide the resources to turn this foundational goal into a reality and ensure that home and community-based services (HCBS) are there to help ALL people with disabilities live their lives in their communities, with their friends and family.

The fuel for change is always the personal experience. In the first of a two-part blog series, Marty Ford, Senior Advisor at The Arc, shares her perspective about the journey to this moment.

Marty: For me, making community life a reality has been a life-long goal. I was three years old in 1956 when my brother Jud was born with profound IDD, including autism, into a large family. Little was known at the time about how to serve someone with his level of service needs. Even though my mother was a practicing pediatrician, my parents, as well as others at the time, were learning through personal experience and they were determined that Jud would be part of our family and community life.

There were no supports available outside of the public schools and the schools were not prepared to serve children with high levels of need. When my brother was kicked out of school at a very young age (before the federal law ensuring a right to education) for his disability-related behaviors, he had nowhere to go except home all day with a very loving caregiver. He missed the routines and rhythms of school and had a hard time staying home while everyone else went to work or school daily. He waited all day for the staggered returns of kids and parents, dinner, and then his beloved ride to the drugstore for a Coke and a long drive listening to rock and roll and beach music on the radio. Jud also had daily trips to the Post Office with our Dad to pick up the mail for his business, trips to the barbershop, church on Sundays, other local gathering places, and a house full of our friends and exchange students who lived with us at various times. He loved all the interaction and was known all over town.

Sadly, as each of his older siblings began to leave home for college, military service, or otherwise, Jud’s physical size and his inability to control his frustrations and emotions became dangerous for our aging parents. After much searching and trying many approaches, the only available service for someone with his needs was the state institutional system. This was devastating for Jud, for our whole family, and for the many friends who had known him over the years. Jud suffered greatly from the travel distance from his family (even though we visited regularly), home and hometown, friends, and routines. And while there were some wonderful staff who supported him in his new location, we were horrified to learn that he also suffered some terrible abuses– the kinds of things that can be hidden when people who are unable to communicate or be understood cannot tell others what is happening to them. My father found that Jud had been burned with cigarettes and that other men in his unit had been more extensively burned. In other incidents, men in his unit died after being subjected to dangerous restraint methods. He also suffered from toxic environmental conditions, including asbestos and sewage leakage. As a family, we were determined to end these abuses.

Jud’s experiences fueled my passion to change the system. I worked in Washington to pass federal legislation to move the Medicaid funding bias away from institutions and to build the community service system, making the community the preferred service setting. My advocacy led me to a career in The Arc’s national public policy office, which I joined in 1984. While our systems have evolved since the 70s through the late 80s when my brother was experiencing so much pain, we still have a long way to go. I am happy to report that Jud was eventually able to leave the state institution and live in a group home about 7 minutes from our widowed mother in his beloved hometown for the last 20+ years of his life. Jud also experienced some serious problems in his group home, but those were able to be discovered and remedied because family were nearby and able to observe how he was doing. For those who understood him, Jud continued his mantra: “Stay at the new house; not gonna keep saying it” throughout those years, lest anyone think he would ever want to go back to the institution.

One of the things I’m most proud of during my nearly 40-year career in disability rights is my work on what was known as the Chafee bill, after Senator John Chafee (R-RI) who was the lead Senate sponsor. In 1983, he proposed sweeping changes to the service system, the kind of shift that families like mine were fighting for across the country. As is typical in major change legislation, the Chafee bill did not pass as originally written, but the bill’s groundswell of grassroots demands for progress, and the resulting recognition at the state level that change was coming, began the hard work in the states for the evolution toward better provision of services. There were so many heroes in this effort: state directors of DD services who pushed their governors and legislatures, parents and families who rallied in support, self-advocates who began to speak on behalf of their fellow friends in institutions, chapters of The Arc and other plaintiffs who took states to court, chapters of The Arc which forced state changes, Members of Congress of both parties in both the House and Senate who supported real reform for the sake of the people affected, and many more.

In the end of the Chafee bill efforts, the Community Supported Living Amendments (CSLA) option was enacted to provide funds to 8 states over 5 years to create new Medicaid community services – 36 states applied for the funds, indicating the pent-up desire at the state level for new approaches. These were new funds available in addition to the Home and Community-Based Waiver program. The CSLA option helped to alter the way the HCBS waiver and long term supports and services for people with IDD were later implemented. There have been many bills which have passed over the years, refining and improving what is available. It was the Chafee bill that laid the groundwork, and thinking back to this bipartisan effort gives me hope that this country can do great things when we work together to improve lives.

The work must continue and advocates should not be discouraged by set-backs. We are much farther ahead than we were when my brother Jud arrived on the scene in 1956, but we still have work to do to make our communities welcoming and ready for each person, regardless of need.

You can make a difference. Tell your Members of Congress why this bill is so critical to your or your family member’s future.

 

 

 

 

Independence Can’t Wait: New Bill in Congress Championed by The Arc Will Make Home and Community-Based Services Available to All

Washington, D.C. – As the nation continues to face a pandemic that has put a glaring spotlight on the health dangers facing people living in nursing homes and institutions, today Members of Congress unveiled a critical bill developed with The Arc and other disability and aging advocates, that will fundamentally change how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and older adults live their lives.

The Home and Community-Based Services Access Act (HAA) is a discussion draft bill that would eventually end waiting lists to receive disability services everywhere and help people with disabilities and older adults access the Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) they need in order to live at home in their communities with their friends and family, instead of institutions and nursing homes. Today, there are nearly 850,000 people on waiting lists across the country. People with disabilities and their families often wait years—sometimes decades—to access these services.

“For over 70 years, The Arc has been fighting for people with disabilities to live independently with the right supports. We believe that everyone benefits when people with disabilities are a part of the fabric of their communities, not locked away in the institutions that to this day, exist in 36 states. Yet this country has treated access to the services that help people with disabilities gain independence as an option, not a right. As we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, this puts people in grave danger. The Arc is leading the charge to change this reality,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

People with disabilities and older adults often need help with things like working at a job in the community, making food and eating, managing money and medications, and bathing and dressing. These services are only available through a part of Medicaid called home and community-based services, or HCBS.

Many state Medicaid programs have long waiting lists for HCBS. And these lists don’t capture those who may not know there is a list to be on, or what services are available. Why the wait? Medicaid is required to cover health care services, provided by doctors and hospitals, as well as many institutional services, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities for people with disabilities without any waiting lists. But states are allowed to treat HCBS as optional – even though they are anything but to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. This is the “institutional bias” in Medicaid – and The Arc has been advocating to change this for decades.

The bill tackles another decades-long problem – low pay for direct support professionals, or DSPs – the people who provide the services to people with IDD and older adults. DSPs are disproportionately women of color, doing critical tasks that support people with disabilities with taking medications, bathing, eating, getting out into the community, and more.  Due to low wages, there is more than 50% turnover annually, and the average wage is less than $11/ hour, making it difficult to provide continuity in services, provide a family sustaining wage, and threatening the quality of care.  The bill will require states to ensure that the direct care workforce is paid a family sustaining wage.

And finally, this legislation addresses an issue people with disabilities and their families face once they are getting services. Often, they end up stuck in one place, tied to Medicaid-funded services in one state that can’t be transferred over state lines. This lack of portability stops adults with disabilities from moving to be closer to their siblings or other family members, when their parents with whom they live can no longer support them or pass away. It leaves parents and siblings of people with disabilities desperate due to the lack of availability of services and long waiting lists, to get what their loved one need in another state.  The problem is particularly hard for military families that move frequently.

The HAA solves these problems by increasing Medicaid funding to states for HCBS, establishing a basic set of services that all states must provide, and providing other tools to help states build the capacity that they need to serve all people who need HCBS.

“Our goal is for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to have timely access to the quality supports and services they need and want to achieve a life of personal significance. This legislation provides real solutions to problems that have persisted for decades, and people with disabilities, their families, and the staff that support their lives can’t wait any longer. We thank the bill’s lead sponsors – Senators Hassan, Brown and Casey, and Representative Dingell, for their commitment and persistence in solving these problems that inhibit the lives of millions of people with disabilities and their family members,” said Berns.

For more information on HCBS and resources, visit thearc.org/medicaidcantwait.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.

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When People With Disabilities Are Forced to Choose Between Love and Needed Benefits: Marriage Penalties

This Valentine’s Day, as many as 6 million couples will choose to celebrate their love by becoming engaged. But for many people with IDD, this dream of marriage forces them to choose between love and necessary supports to live independently.

When Jen Met Eddie…

Jen and Eddie at an advocacy event.

Eddie and Jen first met while planning an Oregon self-advocacy event in 2006. They both noticed each other across a table and shared with friends that they thought the other was cute. Eventually, Eddie and Jen started getting lunch together and going out – and decided to become girlfriend and boyfriend.

At lunch one day, Eddie popped the question for the first time to Jen. She asked him to come to Christmas with her and ask for her parents’ permission. At Christmas, Eddie popped the question again. “I got on one knee and asked her hand in marriage. It was quite nice.”

Both Eddie and Jen are long-time professional self-advocates and knew of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) marriage penalties. The marriage penalties are punitive rules that cut benefits and limit savings for married couples who rely on critical Social Security SSI benefits.

While they wanted to get married, Eddie and Jen were terrified of what getting married would mean for their lives.

Jen, who has a spinal condition that requires 24-hour medical assistance, explains, “I would lose my Medicaid and have to pay out of pocket for medical needs, and I don’t earn enough to pay out-of-pocket for medications or other medical equipment.”

Eddie, who lives in an adult foster home, adds, “It would impact me significantly if I lost my benefits. I would have no money to live on…. I would have no place to live, [as the rental costs in my county are very high].”

In the end, Jen and Eddie decided not to pursue a legal marriage—and this has meant giving up dreams, big and small.

Both Eddie and Jen wanted to foster a child and become parents, and they believed that they would be great parents to a little boy or girl. However, without a legal marriage, this dream seemed far away. Now in their late 40s, they are not sure if it could ever happen.

And, while Eddie and Jen are committed to each other, not having a legal marriage means not having the legal backing to make medical decisions for each other if needed. According to Jen, “we’d like to [be able to] make medical decisions for our partner.” But, without the legal standing, Eddie and Jen may not be able to do this.

For the past several years, Eddie and Jen have been advocating to remove this unjust rule that no couple should have to deal with.

 “It’s an unfair [rule] that has been around forever. We should be able to [get married and not worry about our benefits], just like everyone else. People don’t understand that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. We pay taxes, we work, [and] we contribute to society.”

Jen and Eddie’s story is one of many. Married people with disabilities often experience penalties that force the couple to give up necessary benefits to marry. This may mean taking a pay cut, working less, or having to quit a job altogether.

No one should have to decide between being legally married and getting the support they need to live in the community.

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.

Resolution of Federal Complaint Amidst Nationwide COVID-19 Surge Raises Bar in Prohibiting Blanket DNRs, Medical Discrimination Against People With Disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, amidst rampant spread of COVID-19 infection throughout the country, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a federal complaint filed against Utah. The complaint, brought by the Utah Disability Law Center and a coalition of national groups—The Arc of the United States, Center for Public Representation, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and Samuel Bagenstos—is one of nearly a dozen complaints that the groups have been brought nationwide challenging states’ plans for rationing medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic as discriminating against people with disabilities. Today’s resolution sets a national precedent, with OCR building off earlier resolutions of complaints regarding plans in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee and weighing in on the discriminatory impact of a number of provisions common in many states’ rationing plans.

The complaint against Utah alleged that the state’s plan illegally excluded certain people with disabilities from accessing life-saving treatment like ventilators based on their disabilities and deprioritized others based on their disabilities. In response to the complaint and engagement with OCR, Utah has revised its Crisis Standard of Care Guidelines to comply with federal disability rights laws and ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against even when public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitate the rationing of scarce medical resources.

Most notably, hospitals must now provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives, including the continued provision of life-sustaining treatment, and may not impose blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) policies for reasons of resource constraint. Physicians may not require patients to consent to a particular advanced care planning decision in order to continue to receive services from the hospital. This is the first time OCR has weighed in on this issue.

The following are additional key changes in Utah’s policy to avoid discrimination against people with disabilities:

  • No Exclusions or Deprioritizing Based on Resource Intensity or Disability 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 they have a disability 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
  • No Long-Term Survivability Considerations: Utah has eliminated long term survivability as a consideration in treatment decisions, changing its Guidelines to allow medical personnel to consider only “short-term mortality.” Survivability is a factor that can be fraught with speculation, mistaken stereotypes, and assumptions about the quality of life and lifespan of people with disabilities.
  • Reasonable Modifications Required: Utah’s Guidelines now require hospitals to make reasonable modifications to the Modified Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (MSOFA)—the tool used to prioritize access to medical treatment—to avoid penalizing people with underlying conditions that are unrelated to their ability to benefit from treatment. The Guidelines note that other reasonable modifications may also be required to provide equal access to treatment for patients with disabilities.
  • 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.

“COVID-19 cases are rising nationwide and the threat of care rationing is real. 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 are grateful to OCR for continuing to recognize the rights of people with disabilities during this pandemic and we will keep fighting for revisions to discriminatory policies that could mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities.”

“We are very pleased that our state has worked with OCR to end this immoral and illegal practice of rationing care for people with disabilities,” said Laura Henrie, Associate Legal Director of the Utah Disability Law Center. “Utah has seen cases surge over the last several weeks, which puts pressure on our healthcare system. The fear of not getting life-saving treatment was very real for people like our client, Jacob. We are thankful for OCR’s efforts in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, so that folks like Jacob have equal access to care.”

“Today’s resolution sends a clear message during a dire time: people with disabilities must have equal access to life-saving treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Alison Barkoff, Director of Advocacy at the Center for Public Representation. “Many states’ medical rationing plans have discriminatory provisions similar to those in Utah.  We urge states across the country to heed this warning and revise their plans now to comply with federal disability laws.”

In addition to filing complaints with OCR, the national disability organizations have created resources at the Center for Public Representation and The Arc to assist stakeholders across the country in evaluating and advocating for non-discriminatory medical rationing plans.

For more information about today’s resolution, contact:

Nate Crippes, Utah Disability Law Center

ncrippes@disabilitylawcenter.org or 801-910-5815

Alison Barkoff, Center for Public Representation

abarkoff@cpr-us.org or 202-854-1270

Kristin Wright, The Arc of the United States

wright@thearc.org or 202-617-3271

New HUD Rule Weakens Fair Housing Protections for People With Disabilities

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is moving forward with a harmful rule that threatens the protections of The Fair Housing Act for millions of people with disabilities. The new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, called the “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice,” published today, is a big step backward from efforts to fight housing discrimination and segregation in the U.S.

People with disabilities face a profound and longstanding housing crisis, including the lack of safe, affordable, accessible and integrated housing, and significant housing-related discrimination. These circumstances, based in a history of exclusion and segregation, make it difficult for people with disabilities to live and participate in their community, and puts many people with disabilities at risk of unnecessary institutionalization or homelessness.

Under the new rule, HUD has effectively given up on ensuring that housing agencies and communities receiving HUD funding significantly advance fair housing. It means less oversight, weaker to no standards, and lost opportunities to improve housing for people most in need, including people with disabilities. The new rule strips away the prior regulations and assessment tools, which included relevant data, analysis and public input. It replaces them with a toothless self-certification, where “any action” related to promoting fair housing is sufficient. The final rule also eliminated language requiring steps to expand opportunities for people with disabilities to live in “the most integrated setting appropriate.” And it makes these changes based on a process that ignores the comments received on the earlier, proposed version.

“A home, either rented or owned, is the cornerstone of independence. Living as independently as possible and being part of a community are crucial for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but HUD’s new rule could result in many people with disabilities continuing to be stuck in or forced into institutional settings, into housing that is substandard or unsafe, or homelessness, instead of a life they choose in the community,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “The Arc will advocate to reinstate this critical tool to desegregate communities and continue to fight for fair housing.”

 

Small orange icons of people arranged to form a map of the United States

The Census Must Go On: The Futures of People With Disabilities and Hard-to-Count Populations Are at Stake

WASHINGTON – The Arc is distressed that the U.S. Census Bureau is cutting short efforts to count all persons living in the country for the 2020 Census. Ending the self-response phase and critical door-knocking efforts of the census one month early on September 30th risks severely undercounting already hard-to-count populations like people with disabilities, immigrants, people of color, those who are low-income or experiencing homelessness, and other communities. An undercount means the loss of important federal funding for programs like Medicaid, food assistance, housing vouchers, education services, and more – across communities in every state.

“The Arc condemns last-minute plans to essentially cut short the 2020 Census, particularly at a time when people with disabilities and other hard-to-count populations are experiencing unprecedented crisis and indefinite hardship. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are full members of society and we count. The Administration must not limit our chance to participate in our democracy and be counted,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “We urgently call on Congress to act immediately to extend the legal deadline for reporting census data so that there is more time to finish the survey and include everyone.”

Data collected in the decennial census is the foundation for the next decade and must be as accurate as possible for allocating federal funding and ensuring that communities are not shortchanged. Furthermore, the Constitution’s enumeration clause of the 14th Amendment makes it clear that dividing representation and seats in the U.S. House of Representatives must be based on a count of all persons living in the U.S. Abandoning the adjusted timeline for the 2020 Census will unfairly skew Congressional representation and redistricting for the next decade.

The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to executing the census. In April, the Census Bureau determined that additional time was needed to safely collect data and to protect the health of the public and census workers who will soon be going door to door to households that have not yet responded. The Census Bureau’s new hastily expedited timeline creates confusion, disrupts the planned public education efforts, and makes the job of counting everyone even more difficult.

The Arc also opposed the Administration’s directive issued last month to exclude undocumented immigrants in the 2020 Census count as it applies to Congressional representation.

“This action to rush the census further undermines the ability of the Census Bureau to complete a fair and accurate count. We will continue to push back against attempts to undercut an accurate count and dismiss people with disabilities and other hard-to-count populations. The Arc and our coalition partners have long advocated for the importance of people with disabilities participating in the census and we will not stop here,” said Berns.

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.

"Americans With Disabilities Act 30th Anniversary" graphic against a purple background

ADA 30: Carrying on the Legacy

“I think we made great strides when it came to all the advocacy that went into the ADA. I do think if we didn’t do all of the advocacy for the ADA, we might not be where we are today in regards to people with disabilities.” – Joseph Damiano, Self-Advocate.

Joseph Damiano of Belfast, New York has never known life without the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA.

“The ADA was in place when I was born, so the ADA has been my viewpoint with everything that has gone on in my life,” Damiano said.

Damiano, 25, is a determined self-advocate who graduated from Alfred State College in June.

“I myself was able to go to college and you never heard about a lot people with disabilities going to college prior the ADA,” said Damiano.

As we mark 30 years since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, we reflect on the momentous fight for rights for people with disabilities, like Joseph Damiano and millions more. We give thanks to advocates everywhere who never gave up. We consider how the ADA can be improved and we envision what we want the future of the law’s promise to be, as advocates continue to demand better.

“We need to get more allies who know about the ADA and people to teach them it has lots of improvements still to be made such as accessible restrooms not always being accessible,” said Katie Griffith, a 34-year-old self-advocate from Gilbert, Arizona, who served as Ms. Wheelchair Arizona in 2016. “We need more advocates to unite.”

The Arc was instrumental in the fight for the ADA. The Arc’s Senior Policy Advisor Marty Ford served as one of many champions of the legislation. While Justin Dart, Jr. was the recognized leader of the substantial coalition effort to pass the law, Ford noted that former leaders of The Arc Elizabeth Boggs and Paul Marchand were integral in its passage. In addition, the grassroots actions from chapters and members of The Arc and other coalition organizations were critical to passage.

“One thing that is really important about the advocacy around the ADA is that everyone joined together. All of the advocacy organizations were in it together. One for all and all for one – no special deals,” said Ford reflecting back on the unified front to advance the rights of people with disabilities. “We didn’t allow ourselves to be pulled apart.”

Ford, whose brother Jud had intellectual disability, credits the ADA with laying critical groundwork.

“Through the success of ADA advocacy, the disability community became much more visible. Congress was much more aware of our issues and had more respect for the needs and the rights of people with disabilities. They started listening,” said Ford. “My brother lived most of his life before the ADA passed. I’m thrilled to see young self-advocates take leadership and take advantage of the ADA’s opportunities.”

“I look up to and have high respect for all the people who worked so hard to put the ADA in effect, as well as other disability laws,” said Griffith.

But thirty years later, our work is not done.

“It seems like they refuse to understand the ADA,” said Anthony Nash, a self-advocate from Richland, Washington, who was a little boy when the law passed. Nash says he regularly encounters businesses that are not in compliance with ADA regulations.

“We are fighting for respect and the right to live our lives,” said Nash, who is chairman of the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council Public Policy Committee, “The ADA needs to be improved by being enforced in all businesses and schools. Respect what we want and not what they want. They are supposed to be supporting us in what we want in our lives.”

Nash is also a board member of The Arc of Washington State and Disability Rights Washington. He is also the web coordinator of Self-Advocates in Leadership.

As the ADA turns 30, Joseph Damiano is preparing for a new chapter of his life. He’s making plans to start in an employment training program while continuing his advocacy as chairman of self-advocacy group the Collaborative of New York.

“We shouldn’t stop advocating for the ADA right now even though the ADA is passed. We still need to fight for that and make sure the ADA stays in place,” said Damiano.

A strong advocate for independent living and home and community-based supports, Griffith has a message for other young people with disabilities who are carrying on the legacy.

“Is this the world we want to live in after your parents are gone? Is this the land of the free? Don’t ever be afraid to listen to that inner voice inside of you that tells you it’s okay to be the light and fight for your rights and the next generation and those with disabilities.”

Griffith, Damiano, and Nash are officers of The Arc’s National Council of Self Advocates