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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.

Rows of empty desks in a classroom

Mask Mandate Preliminary Injunction Continues to Protect Iowa Children

A federal district court today granted a preliminary injunction in our mask mandate lawsuit, blocking enforcement of Iowa’s law prohibiting schools from requiring facemasks.

Previously, the court had issued and then extended a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which also blocked enforcement of this harmful law. A preliminary injunction will stay in place as the lawsuit progresses and until the court makes a final decision on the merits of the case.

The court recognized that COVID-19 rates in Iowa continue to pose a risk of severe illness or death to children with disabilities or immunocompromised children represented in the lawsuit who are too young to qualify for the vaccine. The order continues to recognize that the law prohibiting masking requirements at school is likely to violate the civil rights of children with disabilities, including children with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.

With the law blocked, schools remain free to require masks in school. This is something we urge schools to do, in order to meet their obligations to all students as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act.

“The court is making it clear, once again, 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,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & General Counsel at The Arc.

“With the continuation of this crucial injunction blocking HF847’s masking prohibition, schools are able to require masking in order to meet the needs of kids in their district who have disabilities, including underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19.  They should continue those masking requirements they’ve put in place, and if they haven’t already, take steps now to adopt masking in school in order to comply with disability rights obligations,” said Rita Bettis Austen, Legal Director at ACLU of Iowa.

The lawsuit is 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.

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
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The Arc Recognizes Corporate Disability Champion Sephora With Catalyst Award

WASHINGTON, DC – The Arc is excited to announce Sephora as a recipient of its 2021 Catalyst Award. The award recognizes businesses, individuals, 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).

“It is refreshing to see a beauty brand embrace what is truly beautiful – that people with disabilities belong. In its hiring, ongoing storytelling, and employee engagement, Sephora is genuinely committed to recognizing and advancing how people with disabilities contribute to the workforce and in society. We are proud to honor Sephora as a catalyst of change,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

Sephora has demonstrated a deep commitment to creating an accessible and inclusive work environment for all, and one of the ways they do that is through their People with Disabilities program. Sephora proactively recruits for its distribution centers by partnering with communities, local advocacy groups, and educational institutions in hiring. They provide career training and support to set new employees with disabilities up for success. Sephora’s goal is to ensure at least 30% of the employee population across its distribution centers are people with disabilities and are on track to reach 12% by the end of 2021.

“At Sephora, providing equal employment opportunities, accessible and inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities is at the core of our values, and one of the key areas of focus in our Diversity & Inclusion Heart Journey,” said George-Axelle Broussillon Matschinga, Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Sephora. “As a leader in disability rights, it’s an honor to partner with The Arc to bring our commitments to life, highlighting inclusion in all our efforts, and advocating for individuals with disabilities. We are so honored to be a recipient of the 2021 Catalyst Award and to be recognized for the work we are doing to cultivate accessible environments where our employees can feel like they belong.”

Sephora’s robust charity work with all kinds of social justice organizations, including The Arc, impacts society beyond the workforce. As a Charity Rewards Partner this October, The Arc will have the opportunity to reach all of Sephora’s diverse clients, with the option to donate their points into dollars and learn more about our cause. This kind of support buoyed us in 2020, a year of unprecedented challenges, and will do so again this year as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are proud to support Sephora’s commitment to meaningful employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we are thrilled to be working alongside them to raise awareness of the inner and outer beauty of people with disabilities, in a society that should embrace authenticity and acceptance,” said Berns.

The Arc’s Catalyst Awards began in 2015 to 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 (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of 600 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD 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.

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.

Photo of desks in a classroom with dim, moody lighting

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

 

Lawsuit Filed Challenging New Texas Law Targeting Voting Rights

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), Reed Smith LLP, and The Arc filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League, Houston Justice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, and The Arc of Texas challenging S.B. 1, a new Texas law targeting voting rights. S.B. 1 includes a series of suppressive voting-related provisions that will make it much harder for Texas residents to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, argues that S.B. 1 violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally targeting and burdening methods and means of voting used by voters of color.

The Plaintiffs also claim that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunities to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in SB 1, including:

  • Limitations on early voting hours and a ban on 24-hour voting.
  • The elimination of drive-thru voting centers.
  • The prohibition of mail-in ballot drop-boxes.
  • Limitations on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications.
  • Limitations and possible penalties for voter assistants, including criminal felonies.

Read the lawsuit challenging S.B. 1.

“Despite Texas legislators’ repeated and disingenuous attempts to cite ‘voter fraud’ as their reasoning for implementing S.B. 1, it is clear as day that this law was created to suppress votes,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Georgina Yeomans. “Rather than expand voting access, elected officials are making it harder for Texans to vote – especially voters of color, who will be disproportionately burdened. S.B. 1 was intentionally designed to have that effect.”

“Democracy should make it easier for eligible voters to vote, not harder,” said Ken Broughton, managing partner of Reed Smith’s Houston office. “Democracy should also increase voter turnout, not inhibit it. This legislation will prevent many qualified voters from voting because these laws are anti-voter.”

“Voter suppression is a disability rights issue. People with disabilities have the fundamental right to vote and participate in our democracy, but this right has too often been denied. S.B. 1 disenfranchises voters with disabilities and denies them equal access to voting in violation of federal disability rights laws,” said Shira Wakschlag, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy & General Counsel at The Arc.

“The Houston Area Urban League has a long history of supporting the disenfranchised. Any law that makes it harder for them to have their voices heard under the cloak of rampant voter fraud is disingenuous and contrary to our democracy,” said Houston Area Urban League President and CEO Judson Robinson III.

“The law at its core is anti-democratic and clearly designed to suppress the vote,” said Tina Kingshill, Coordinating Director of Houston Justice. “It will further hinder voting rights of low-income, pre-trial defendants of color unable to post bail who comprise over 70% of local and county jail populations. By prohibiting the expenditure of public funds to facilitate third-party distribution of applications to vote by mail, the law burdens non-profit voter outreach organizations with funding the printing costs of the applications. Many organizations will not have the funds for printing, so essentially the right to request and cast a ballot while incarcerated is taken away.”

“Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated has been fighting for the rights of all U.S. citizens to vote for 108 years. It is our honor and responsibility to continue the fight against oppressive voting laws started by our Founders,” said Delta Sigma Theta President and CEO Beverly E. Smith. “S.B. 1 directly threatens the right to vote of over 20,000 members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and their family and friends in Texas, and we are committed to fight against S.B. 1 on their behalf.”

“Texas voters with disabilities are proud to participate in the democratic process and deserve equitable access to the polls, not more barriers,” said The Arc of Texas CEO Jennifer Martinez. “Unfortunately, these same Texans are accustomed to fighting for their civil rights and must continue to do so against the latest voter-suppression measures passed by the Texas Legislature.”

Texas is among more than 40 other states that have enacted legislative efforts to substantially restrict voting access. LDF and The Arc are also involved in litigation challenging Georgia’s restrictive voting law that also discriminates against voters of color and voters with disabilities. Read more here.

Woman on escalator wearing a face mask; she's holding a cell phone in one hand and her suitcase handle in the other

Lawsuit Challenges Iowa Law Banning Schools From Requiring Masks

Eleven parents of children with disabilities and Iowa disability rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit today challenging an Iowa law that bans school districts from imposing mask mandates in schools. 

The parents and disability rights advocates are taking the action to protect children who are too young to be vaccinated whose disabilities, including underlying health conditions, make them particularly susceptible to severe illness, long haul COVID symptoms, or even death from COVID-19. They argue that the ban on mask mandates discriminates against these students in education, effectively excluding them from public schools and denying them equal access to education. That is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature passed House File 847. It prevents local school districts from requiring anyone to wear a face mask and was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The lawsuit filed today is asking the district court to block the provision of the law prohibiting mask requirements at school as a violation of federal law (ADA and the Rehabilitation Act) and to order the state to allow school districts to adopt mask mandates for their students and staff. 

The clients in the case are The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of minor children across the state with disabilities whose health could be at risk due to the enforcement of this provision. 

They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, the Arnold & Porter law firm, and the Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. 

 

Charmain Alexander of Urbandale is one of the clients in the lawsuit. Her son, Corban, has asthma. “I am doing this to help create a safe environment not only for my own child but for all children, including those with disabilities and other conditions. You would think that schools would make the safety of their students their top priority, but unfortunately, that is not happening because of this law. 

“It’s important that children have the opportunity to learn in person. I think most parents have seen that over the last year. But what are you supposed to do when you’re in my position and are afraid that if you send your child to school so that they can keep up with their education, you’re afraid that the worst might happen?”

Another client, Heather Preston of Des Moines has two school-age children. One has a rare organ disorder, which her doctor has advised her puts him at risk for serious illness if he contracts COVID. 

“I know that a parent can’t protect their child from all things, but they have a responsibility to protect them from serious safety threats. And for my son, going to a school where not everyone is wearing masks puts him at huge risk. Meanwhile, because of his needs, he needs to be learning in person.

  “It’s terrifying for a parent to have to worry every day about the physical safety of their child, and to have to choose between their child keeping up with their education and their child becoming seriously ill, or perhaps even dying. That’s a choice no parent should have to make. I want my children to come home safe from school.” 

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said, “HF 847 is a civil rights violation that puts vulnerable kids in a dangerous situation. We all should be able to agree that it’s not fair to force kids out of school because they have health conditions and disabilities that put them at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID. It’s also not fair to require parents to expose their children to these risks just so they can go to school. We are asking the court to block HF 847 so that our schools will be able to require masks when necessary to ensure an equal education for all kids.

Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said, “Prohibiting schools from taking reasonable steps to protect the health of their students forces parents to make an impossible choice: their child’s education or their child’s health. Students with health conditions or disabilities that make them vulnerable to COVID have a right to attend school without endangering their health or safety. Schools who have children with these conditions have legal obligations under federal disability rights laws.”

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities nor deny them equal access to their education or segregate them unnecessarily. Schools are obligated to provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures in order to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education,” Mizner said. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not absolved Iowa schools from these requirements, and Iowa officials cannot waive these obligations for them,” Mizner said. 

Doug Cunningham, Executive Director of The Arc of Iowa, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said, “This should not be a political issue. It’s an issue that affects the health and wellbeing of the children with disabilities in our state, and I would like to think that all political groups embrace that basic principle.” 

“This law is making it impossible for many students to go to school. I see first-hand how families have to make an awful choice—the health or safety of their child or their education. Being safe at school is a right. Getting an education is a right. I’m hopeful this lawsuit will correct this terrible situation that our state government is creating for nearly any family in the state who has a school-aged child with a condition threatened by COVID,” Cunningham said. 

Catherine (pronounced kath-REEN) E. Johnson, Executive Director of Disability Rights Iowa, said, “Excluding students with disabilities from public education was routine practice prior to Congress enacting federal protections. For more than 40 years, students with disabilities have been protected from discrimination based on disability by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These federal laws guarantee students with disabilities the right to equal access to a public education alongside their general education peers. HF 847 effectively excludes students with disabilities from public education and denies them equal access, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. We request the court block HF 847 so that public schools can comply with their obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and restore our students with disabilities civil rights to equal access to education.”

Other clients have also provided statements:

Erin Vercande of Decorah has a child who has cerebral palsy as well as epilepsy and has strokes. 

“COVID has hit the community of disabled children and their families especially hard. My son loves school. He loves his classmates, teachers, associates, and therapists. He loves and needs the stimulation from the other children at school and all the fun things he gets to participate in. But he’s at risk of serious illness if he gets COVID,” Vercande said. 

“With the mask mandate ban this year and other factors within our school district, my son is currently unable to attend school. The mask mandate ban is in direct violation of precautions recommended by his doctors for him to be able to attend school safely. My son has a legal right to go to school. Our state is denying him, and others like him, that right. My son doesn’t have a voice to fight for his rights. But I do. And I will fight for him and all the other children like him that are being denied that right.” 

Jonathan Craig, a Waterloo father of four children impacted by the ban, said, “Every child deserves an education in a safe environment. As the father of four children, two of whom are immunocompromised and have chronic illnesses, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects of what happens when children are not afforded their right to a safe and equitable public education,” Craig said. 

“Because masks aren’t allowed to be required in public schools in Iowa this year, our pediatrician recommended that all four of our children, who are too young to be vaccinated, stay home and learn through virtual learning, as contracting COVID-19 would be life-threatening to our family,” Craig said. 

“Because of my daughter’s physical and developmental disabilities, she isn’t able to engage with virtual learning and we’re heartbroken to watch her fall through the cracks. We’ve seen our son (who has worked incredibly hard to overcome his own learning difficulties) flourish during his years of in-person schooling but he has fallen behind academically and socially since learning behind a screen for eight hours a day,” he said. 

“If school districts could mandate masks the way they were able to last year, it would give kids like mine the chance to have an equitable educational opportunity and we could make the best decisions for our family’s health,” Craig said. 

The complaint can be found here.

A crowd of graduating students against a black backdrop. They are all raising their right arm and turning the tassels on their caps to the other side.

New U.S. Department of Education Regulation Provides Relief to People With Disabilities

Washington, D.C. – The Arc is pleased that the U.S. Department of Education announced a major step in removing barriers in the path of people with disabilities who pursue an education and career goals. The Arc advocated relentlessly for these changes in response to the outcry from people with disabilities across the country.

The Department’s new regulation will provide important relief to more than 323,000 people with disabilities who have outstanding student loans. These borrowers will receive more than $5.8 billion in automatic student loan forgiveness, without having to jump through bureaucratic barriers to access loan forgiveness. The new policy removes these barriers by automating the process and eliminating burdensome paperwork.

“We are encouraged that The Department of Education is implementing recommendations made by The Arc and other advocates to better serve people with disabilities and get rid of these obstacles to financial stability and achieving goals. This is also a huge step toward making sure that people with disabilities do not risk losing their Social Security benefits if they cannot navigate the bureaucratic discharge process. This change helps ensure that government systems work for people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the U.S.