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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

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.

The Arc Recognizes Neli Latson and Lisa Alexander With Catalyst Award

WASHINGTON – The Arc is honored to announce Neli Latson and his mother, Lisa Alexander as recipients of our 2021 Catalyst Award. The award recognizes individuals, businesses, and other organizations that have made extraordinary contributions toward greater social inclusion and the advancement of the human and civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“We are honored to recognize Neli and his mother Lisa with The Arc’s most prestigious award. Their strength and commitment to fighting for what’s right and for the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities entangled in the criminal legal system is exemplary and should serve as a model to society. In the face of discrimination and mistreatment, Neli and his mother never stopped challenging injustice. They have been relentless in shining a light on the need to recognize and respect the humanity of all people, including those with disabilities. The Arc is proud to honor Neli and his mother as true catalysts of change,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

Neli persevered in the face of unjust prosecution and abuse in the criminal legal system for more than a decade, throughout his 20s. Displaying courage and an urgency to bring about systemic change, Neli and his mother never gave up seeking justice and fighting for his freedom. They spoke truth: telling the world that Black people with disabilities and all BIPOC people with disabilities experience disparate treatment in policing, in the criminal legal system, and beyond.

Lisa displayed unwavering love and leadership, fighting for her son, throughout this long ordeal. The two are committed to ongoing advocacy to prevent other people with disabilities from suffering from such horrific abuse and discrimination.

In June of this year, after years of advocacy by Neli and his mother, The Arc of the U.S., The Arc of Virginia, a coalition of other groups, and Neli’s attorneys, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted Neli a full pardon.

The Catalyst Awards recognize individuals and organizations that are changing how society perceives and treats people with disabilities. Each honoree has done something remarkable that helps fulfill The Arc’s mission to promote and protect the human rights of people with IDD.

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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Federal Court Blocks Iowa’s Law Banning Masking Requirements in Schools

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal district court today blocked Iowa’s law prohibiting schools from requiring masks. The court ruled that the law violates the civil rights of children with disabilities, including children with underlying conditions, who are more vulnerable to severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.

The decision makes clear that children have a right under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to equal access to their educations, which for some children with underlying conditions and disabilities, requires that schools implement universal masking requirements.

The district court recognized that “forcing children to bear the brunt of societal discord is ‘illogical and unjust’” and cited data showing that “the current level of the delta variant in Iowa has increased the infection rate and severity of infection. Some public schools in Iowa are experiencing COVID-19 infection rates at upwards of 60 percent that of last year’s total for the entire school year.” The court also cited data showing that the number of children hospitalized due to COVID-19 is also on the rise.

The decision comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, and law firms Arnold & Porter and Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. on behalf of The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities.

The following statements are from:

Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and General Counsel, The Arc of the United States:

“The court is making it clear that students with disabilities have the right to go to school safely during this pandemic. The Arc will continue fighting to ensure that students with disabilities are able to attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without disabilities without putting their health and their lives at risk.”

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa:

“We are grateful to the district court for blocking this dangerous law, which put vulnerable kids in harm’s way and violated their civil rights in education. We are relieved that schools across the state will now be able to protect those kids as required by federal law. No parent should be asked to choose between the safety and health of their child and their child’s ability to go to school, but that’s exactly the position that this law put parents across Iowa in.”

Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program:

“This is a huge victory for our plaintiffs and all parents of children with disabilities who have been forced to choose between protecting the health of their children and ensuring they receive an education alongside their peers. This decision opens the door for schools across Iowa to take basic public health measures to protect their students. It also should send a message to other states that they cannot put politics above the rights and safety of students with disabilities. Disability rights laws were passed precisely for this situation – in which children with disabilities health and education would be sacrificed for the convenience of the majority. Banning the possibility that schools may require masks — in the middle of a pandemic — discriminates against school children with disabilities. All students with disabilities should be able to attend school safely, as federal disability rights laws guarantee.”

Catherine E. Johnson, executive director, Disability Rights Iowa:

“The order entered today restores our students’ with disabilities long-held civil rights of equal access to their education and full inclusion with their general education peers in the school curriculum and all other activities and programs offered by their school. Today is a monumental day for all plaintiffs, as well as all Iowans forced to choose between sacrificing their child’s health or education opportunities. Effective today, parents no longer have to make this impossible choice, their children are entitled to both.”

Photos and videos of some clients, attorneys, and organizational logos available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1-XIhBS5ZyNVRRh9lENyhqMbJi5PLqqky

More details about this case are here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/lawsuit-challenges-iowa-law-banning-schools-requiring-masks

The decision is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/arc-iowa-v-reynolds-order-granting-temporary-restraining-order

This statement is here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/federal-court-blocks-iowas-law-banning-masking-requirements-schools

 

The United States Capitol Building

During Congressional Recess, We Must Raise Our Voices for Care!

By: Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy

After a slight delay, both Senators and Representatives are back in their states and districts for August recess, but in fact, it goes until mid-September. That means it is a key time to engage, reach out, and share your stories about why Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) matter in the lives of people with disabilities, their families, direct care workers, and the care infrastructure.

Every year, The Arc sends out t-shirts and signs to support advocates and encourage them to get out and ask their members of Congress to support the legislative priorities of people with disabilities. Those boxes were sent out to chapters this year, but with the ongoing pandemic, it is clear that in-person events may not be the best option. Moreover, we know that accessibility issues at town halls, even virtual ones, are a constant barrier to access.

While The Arc staff continues the work to increase access to the political process for all people with disabilities, an alternative way for ALL people with disabilities to participate fully in recess, and have their stories known had to be created.

That is why today, The Arc is launching the “Raise Our Voices for Care” campaign. Even if you can’t get to DC, your state capital, or a local town hall, your story still matters and must be shared. Our story tool is easy to use. At the end of recess, we will put all of those stories together to show the strength of all the voices rising up to support the $400 billion investment in Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services.

As a sister to my brother Chris, who doesn’t use his voice to speak, I know how incredibly important it is that we ensure that every person has the ability to communicate, and that includes with their legislators. Join us, share your HCBS story, and help us Raise Our Voices for Care because #CareCantWait!

 

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The Arc Celebrates Senate Passage of the $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution to Invest in Crumbling Care Infrastructure

Washington, D.C. – The Arc is encouraged that the U.S. Senate took an important step in favor of respecting the human dignity of people with disabilities and aging adults. Wednesday, the Senate passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution triggering the start of the reconciliation process.

The vote paves the way for Congress to pass a comprehensive spending package that would provide generational investments in our nation’s crumbling care infrastructure and groundbreaking benefits that could reshape the future for millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, American families and their children.

“The historic investment in Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) included in the budget resolution will be transformative for a system that currently leaves almost one million people waiting for services all over this country,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the United States. “People with disabilities and aging adults, have struggled, well before the pandemic, with a system that does not include the resources to support them in their homes and communities. The infrastructure of care for these groups currently includes the labor of unpaid family caregivers who fill in the gaps in the service system, and a paid workforce that is not paid a family sustaining wage. The $400 billion included to both expand access to HCBS and raise wages for the direct care workforce will shore up the care infrastructure so that people with disabilities can live independently, aging adults can age in place, and family caregivers can return to the workforce.”

The Arc also strongly supports the inclusion of a national paid leave program and hope to see other priorities such as long-overdue improvements to the Supplemental Security Income program included in the final package.

Close up of a person holding a small leather wallet in their left hand and pulling out a folded dollar bill

Stuck in Time: SSI Desperately Needs Updating

By: Bethany Lilly

My parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary last year. Fifty years is a long time, and so much has changed—the internet, cell phones, self-driving cars, and we’ve seen so many disability rights victories. Next year, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program will also turn 50. But this milestone for SSI is almost disappointing because in those 50 years, the rules of SSI have barely changed. Passed in 1972, SSI was designed to keep the lowest income adults and children with disabilities and older adults from living in poverty. But Congress has ignored this crucial lifeline and failed to update it, instead leaving people with disabilities and older adults trapped in deep poverty, for fear of going over the limits and losing benefits. Rules that haven’t been updated in a half century govern how much money people who rely on SSI can earn, how married couples who receive the benefit are treated by the federal government, the amount of income the program provides, and how much help family and friends are allowed to give to loved ones on SSI. Rules about how much people can save haven’t been updated for almost 40 years!

SSI is supposed to fill in the gaps of other government support programs, paying for housing and other expenses that aren’t covered by Medicaid. But the current rules make that almost impossible. If someone is relying on SSI, the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment almost anywhere in this country will consume more than the maximum monthly SSI payment of $794, leaving practically nothing for other expenses like groceries and other necessities. And limiting savings to only $2,000 means that many people cannot save enough to even move into an apartment or house. People can end up trapped in institutional settings, with no ability to afford an alternative. Like so many other parts of the disability service system, SSI is crucial infrastructure that is crumbling due to decades of neglect.

Nothing has made that clearer than the pandemic. With a maximum monthly SSI benefit of $794, people with disabilities are struggling to afford the necessities of pandemic life like masks, grocery delivery, and increased prices for so many basic goods. Restricted from saving more than $2,000, no SSI recipient could rely on their savings to get them through the past 17 months and the uncertainty that is ahead during this ongoing pandemic. Accepting help from family, friends, or mutual aid means a benefit cut. And because of marriage penalties, couples face an even harsher financial reality. Even the government’s COVID relief efforts created problems–stimulus checks and unemployment insurance expansions created eligibility issues because the systems used to implement these rules are equally archaic, unable to adjust to new benefits. For the millions of people with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid because they are eligible for SSI, this was not only an issue with income security, but also put their access to health care and home and community-based services (HCBS) at risk.

Just as the pandemic highlights the need to expand HCBS and finally address the workforce crisis for direct care workers, it also shows us that the program that is supposed to pay for everything else is trapping people with disabilities in poverty. Enough is enough. We must fix these archaic SSI rules.

President Biden acknowledge the need for change during the presidential campaign, calling for five major reforms to the SSI system:

1) increasing benefits to at least the federal poverty line

2) increasing income limits to encourage work

3) eliminating harmful rules penalizing help from family and friends

4) eliminating marriage penalties

5) increasing asset limits

Any one of these changes would dramatically improve the lives of the 8 million people who rely on SSI, including almost 1 million children with disabilities. It would help ensure that people with disabilities can live with their families and friends in their own communities, with the supports they need.

We have a rare opportunity – right now – to fix the crumbling disability service system by fixing SSI, expanding HCBS, and passing a national paid leave program. We must act on this opportunity!

#CareCantWait

50 years is a long time. Just ask my parents.

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.

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The Arc and Coalition of Disability and Civil Rights Organizations Urge Court to Allow Britney Spears to Select Her Own Attorney in Conservatorship Case

Washington, D.C. – The Arc, with a coalition of 25 civil and disability rights organizations, joined an amicus brief filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California in support of Britney Spears’ right to select her own attorney for her conservatorship proceedings. The brief also urges the Superior Court of Los Angeles County to ensure Ms. Spears has access to assistance and tools to select her attorney, including Supported Decision-Making.

Ms. Spears is currently under a probate conservatorship and has been represented by a court-appointed attorney for most or all of the 13-year duration of her conservatorship. On June 23, Ms. Spears told the court that she wishes to choose her own attorney. On July 6, Ms. Spears’ court-appointed attorney asked to resign from her conservatorship case.

Often in conservatorships, judges appoint a lawyer to represent a conservatee without allowing the person under conservatorship any say in this decision. The amicus brief argues that the right to choose one’s own attorney is a core element of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and people under a conservatorship should be able to retain this right. The brief also provides background to the court on how Supported Decision-Making could be an effective tool for Ms. Spears to use in choosing her own representation.

Supported decision-making allows a person to retain their legal rights while getting support with decision-making from those they choose and trust. Supported Decision-Making does not require court involvement and can be combined with other legal tools, such as powers of attorney and advance health care directives, that promote self-determination and autonomy.

“For many years, The Arc has advocated for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate to the maximum extent possible in making and executing decisions about themselves and to ensure their civil and human rights are retained and enforced, regardless of conservatorship or guardianship status,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Ms. Spears has the right to self-determination in selecting her own attorney and The Arc will continue to advocate to ensure such rights—for Ms. Spears and the disability community more broadly—are protected in the courts.”

A man lays in a hospital bed as an out of focus doctor in the foreground holds a chart

The Arc Released the Following Statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling in California v. Texas:

“The Arc is relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court has once again upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and today dismissed the latest attack on the law. The ACA is critical to the lives of people with disabilities and low-income Americans. Without it, millions of adults and children would lose their health coverage, or it would become unaffordable, during an unprecedented time of health risk and uncertainty, as well as economic instability.

“The importance of the ACA is underscored by the pandemic. The public health crisis is a glaring reminder of the inequities in health care and discrimination faced by people with disabilities, other groups that are marginalized, and people holding multiple marginalized identities.

“The Arc and our allies have fought relentlessly to defend the ACA from these repeated attempts to undermine the law and we will continue to fight to preserve this lifeline for people with disabilities. In 2020, The Arc, with a coalition of disability and civil rights organizations, joined an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court to uphold the ACA in its entirety. The Arc also provided an amicus brief in support of upholding the law before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019.

“This uplifting moment is about the millions of people with disabilities, their families, and the direct support workforce that rely on the ACA for access to health coverage for preventative care, to maintain good health, and secure vital medical treatment. This moment is about protecting them from discrimination. The lives of people with disabilities have value,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States.