Georgia-Based Disability Rights Groups Join Fight Against Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law S.B. 202

Three groups joined pending litigation AME Church v. Kemp in an amended complaint that explains how S.B. 202 violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act

ATLANTA — Three prominent Georgia-based disability rights groups have joined the broad-based alliance of Georgia voters, civil rights groups, and activists fighting against the implementation of the state’s unconstitutional and discriminatory Senate Bill (S.B.) 202.

The groups are: The Arc Georgia (an office of The Arc of the United States), Georgia ADAPT and the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO).

These organizations, whose core missions are to advocate for disability rights and support voters with disabilities, are the first disability rights-specific groups to join as plaintiffs in any of the pending lawsuits against S.B. 202.

S.B. 202 was passed by both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp all in one afternoon.

In joining AME Church v. Kemp in the amended complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), WilmerHale, and Davis Wright Tremaine, these groups are making it clear that — in addition to targeting Black voters, Latinx voters, other voters of color, new citizens, elderly voters, and student voters — Georgia legislators and the governor have discriminated against people with disabilities.

Voters with disabilities have received scant attention in Georgia’s battles over voting rights but have borne the brunt of historical and continuing discrimination and neglect in all spheres of public life. Rather than celebrating the strong turnout in the 2020 general election and runoffs, S.B. 202 doubles down on making voting even more inaccessible for the disability community.

As detailed in the amended complaint, S.B. 202 unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote of people with disabilities and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 31th anniversary on July 26, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunity to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The amended complaint in full, which also adds the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as a client, is available here:

https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/083_ame_et_al_fac.pdf

Other plaintiffs in AME Church v. Kemp include: Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, and Latino Community Fund Georgia.

“Georgia’s voting process already presented barriers to people with disabilities and S.B. 202 has made the process even more inaccessible in violation of the law,” said Stacey Ramirez, acting state director of The Arc Georgia. “This lawsuit is critically important to the future of over 850,000 Georgian citizens with disabilities eligible to vote who have a fundamental right to participate in our democracy. If this law is not struck down, the walls it puts around our voting rights will be even harder for people with disabilities to scale, and that’s unacceptable.”

To read more about The Arc Georgia’s work, please visit the SPLC’s profile series Battle for RepresentationThe Arc’s story, released today, is the fourth in the series profiling some of the clients in AME Church v. Kemp. 

The Arc Georgia story is available at:
https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/05/24/arc-georgia-nonprofit-helps-people-disabilities-cast-ballots-joins-splc-suit-against-voter

“I served in the U.S. Army, giving my body and soul to defend our Constitution. Now, as a Cherokee Two-Spirit disabled vet, and as an ADAPT activist, I joined this lawsuit to make sure every citizen — whether disabled, Black, Native American, Latinx, or Asian — can participate in the sacred act of voting,” said Zan Thornton of Georgia ADAPT.

“Voting is a fundamental right. Access for people who experience disabilities is generally an afterthought if it’s thought of at all. The change in the voting law creates new barriers for everyone but those barriers could be insurmountable for people who experience disabilities,” said Devon Orland, legal director of the Georgia Advocacy Office.

TRANSLATIONS OF THE ABOVE:

  • Plain language available immediately upon request
  • ASL video available shortly upon request

RELEVANT LINKS:

Contact: Graeme Crews
graeme.crews@splcenter.org / (334) 224-0002

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Civil Rights Groups Secure Federal Approval of Revised Crisis Standards of Care in Arizona

Phoenix, AZ – Today Arizona and national civil rights groups, in close collaboration with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announce the approval of revised crisis standards of care. These standards determine who does and does not receive care in the event of a shortage of health care resources. The revisions announced today ensure that the standards comply with federal civil rights laws and prevent discrimination in the provision of health care during this pandemic.

The following are the critical updates that were made to prevent discrimination in health-care decision-making:

  • Health care decisions that discriminate against protected groups are prohibited. Triage decisions will be made without discrimination on the basis of individuals’ disability, age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, sex, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  • No Exclusions or Deprioritizing Based on Resource Intensity or Diagnosis: An individual can no longer be excluded from, or deprioritized for, medical treatment based on the fact that they might require more time or resources to recover or because of a person’s diagnosis or functional impairment. Rather than making assumptions about a patient’s ability to respond to treatment based solely on stereotypes, medical personnel must perform an individualized assessment of each patient based on the best objective current medical evidence.
  • Resource Decisions Based Only on Short-Term Survivability: Determinations about treatment can only be based on short-term survivability. Since long-term predictions of the outcome of treatment is fraught with speculation, mistaken stereotypes, and assumptions about the quality of life and lifespan of older adults and people with disabilities, they are explicitly prohibited.
  • Reasonable Modifications Required: Hospitals must make reasonable accommodations to the support needs and communication styles of persons with disabilities, and reasonable modifications to the Modified Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (MSOFA)— or other tools that may be used to prioritize access to medical treatment—to correct against the impact prior conditions may have on the assessment of organ failure scoring. Other reasonable modifications, including modifications to no-visitor policies, may also be required to provide equal access to treatment.
  • Reallocation of Personal Ventilators Prohibited: Medical personnel may not reallocate the personal ventilator of a patient who uses a ventilator in their daily life to another patient whom the personnel deem more likely to benefit from the ventilator in receiving treatment.
  • Blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Policies Prohibited: Hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives, including the continued provision of life-sustaining treatment, and may not impose blanket DNR policies. Physicians may not require patients to complete advance directives in order to continue to receive services from the hospital.

“Individuals with disabilities have a right to equal access to life-saving treatment. These revised crisis guidelines protect this right, and require that hospitals provide support to exercise this right,” said Steven Schwartz, the Legal Director of the Center for Public Representation.

“Advocates diligently worked for more than a year to ensure older adults are treated with dignity during the pandemic,” said Regan Bailey, Litigation Director for Justice in Aging. “This most recent policy out of Arizona further recognizes that discrimination against older adults has no place in the decision of who gets limited life-saving treatment.  Arizona’s new policy is an important step in eliminating ageism, ableism, racism, and all other forms of discrimination in health care.”

“Today’s resolution makes major progress toward ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to medical care during the pandemic and beyond,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer for The Arc. “We will keep fighting for revisions to policies that could mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities.”

Those involved in the resolution included Arizona and national advocacy groups for persons with disabilities, communities of color, and older individuals: Arizona Center for Disability Law, The Arc Arizona, Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Native American Disability Law Center, Justice in Aging, Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

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

The Arc Demands a Public Apology from U.S. Capitol Riot Attorney for Offensive Comments about People with Disabilities

The Arc is appalled and disgusted by the offensive remarks made by Albert Watkins, an attorney representing Jacob Chansley, the self-described, “QAnon Shaman” who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 with an angry mob. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Watkins described defendants in the Capitol attack as “all f—ing short-bus people.” Watkins went on to say, “These are people with brain damage, they’re f—ing ret—ed, they’re on the goddam spectrum.” He has also made statements to the press that his client has Asperger syndrome, something that is not an indicator of criminal intent or behavior.

“These two sentences encapsulate the hate, discrimination, and vitriol that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have faced for decades,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Make no mistake, this hurtful, demeaning, and unacceptable language is not a relic of the past – it’s still in the hearts and minds of many in our society. When it’s vocalized, it takes my breath away, because we have come so far with people understanding that those with disabilities are valued members of every community. Yet, here we are, as stereotypes and disgusting language are being used to defend the indefensible – an assault on the heart of our democracy at the U.S. Capitol.

“Particularly infuriating is the use of the R-word. The Arc has successfully fought alongside people with disabilities for decades to remove the R-word from federal and state policies, and from society as a whole. Unfortunately, the word is still used by those who do not recognize the humanity and value of people with disabilities and those who do not understand the detriment of their words.

“We also want to make clear – disabilities do not cause people to engage in violence or commit crimes.

“We demand a public apology from Albert Watkins and that Watkins takes the time to learn about the disability community and the impact of such derogatory language. We also call on the media to reflect the perspective of people with disabilities and their families throughout their work, but particularly when incidents like this one happen. They can accomplish this by interviewing people with disabilities and families and by seeking them out for information and education to inform their coverage. Watkins’ remarks threaten to deepen discrimination against people with disabilities. The Arc and our allies have fought too hard.  We are committed to moving forward and creating a society that values and respects the humanity of all people.”

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The Arc Receives Funding from Verizon to Expand Emergency Preparedness Across the U.S.

The Arc of the United States is thrilled to announce it has received an award from Verizon to implement the Building Community Resilience through Inclusive Disaster Preparedness program in 2021. Through this initiative, we will award chapters of The Arc and community organizations grants to offer online volunteer opportunities that focus on the importance of emergency-preparedness and ensuring that people with disabilities and their perspectives are incorporated in emergency-preparedness plans from the beginning.

Organizations will engage in a variety of virtual volunteering activities, such as creating disaster kits, developing emergency plans and important documents to be distributed, training, and much more. Grantee activities will be featured on Verizon’s employee volunteering platform, enabling   Verizon employees the opportunity to serve their communities alongside people with disabilities. A key piece of each grantees’ plan will be to host a virtual volunteering opportunity on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a day now dedicated to volunteering and giving back to communities.

“People with disabilities and their needs are frequently overlooked when it comes to emergency planning.  With this additional funding from Verizon, The Arc will be able to continue changing that narrative and expand upon the emergency preparedness work we began last year,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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The Arc Unites With the Black Community in Response to the Conviction of Derek Chauvin

Washington, D.C. – The Arc unites with the Black community following the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

“Mr. Floyd’s life was valuable. His life matters. Black lives matter. Mr. Floyd’s murder, at the hands of Chauvin, shows us once again that racism and white supremacy plague our country and are a matter of life and death for the Black community. The Arc is united with all Black people who continue to experience discrimination in every aspect of society and will continue our fight to achieve civil rights and social justice.

“Chauvin’s conviction on all three charges should serve as a clear directive that police brutality will not be tolerated. The jury’s decision is a step in the right direction in addressing the systemic racism, hate, and fear that continues to fuel murder, violence, and injustice.

“We grieve with Mr. Floyd’s family and the larger community and recognize that this verdict does not bring him back. But it does bring hope that we are closer to holding those accountable who routinely use their power to oppress marginalized communities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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.

The Arc logo

The Arc Condemns Killing of Daunte Wright

The Arc grieves the senseless death of a young Black man with a disability at the hands of police – yet again. Daunte Wright was killed by a 26-year veteran Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer who says she fired her gun instead of her Taser by mistake during a traffic stop. The officer has since resigned and has been arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter.

“Daunte Wright should still be alive, but instead, the 20-year-old father is dead. As we have seen, time and time again, the lives of Black people are too often not valued. Black lives matter.

“According to media reports, Daunte’s father says the young man dropped out of school because he had a learning disability.

“For Black people with disabilities, the odds of death or injury at the hands of law enforcement are even higher.

“The Arc is deeply saddened and angered by this pattern of violence by police against Black people in our country. It must stop. Daunte’s life was just beginning.

“We must address the systemic racism, hate, and fear that fuels this ongoing violence and police brutality. The Arc condemns racism and white supremacy that are at the root of these injustices.

“As an organization, we advocate for human and civil rights. We stand in solidarity with the Black community. We remain committed to social justice and our own efforts to fight all forms of oppression,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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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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The Arc Condemns Racism and Escalating Violence Against Asian Americans and Asians Around the World

The Arc is grieving the immeasurable loss of life and condemning the racially motivated killings at three spas in the Atlanta, Georgia area. A white gunman shot and killed six Asian women and two other people during the rampage. The Arc condemns these killings and continues to condemn all actions motivated by racism and hate.

“Sadly, we have been witnessing an escalation of racism, violence, and harassment against Asian Americans and Asian people around the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must recognize these incidents as racially motivated, and we call on our nation’s leaders to support the Asian-American community and take action to ensure that those responsible for the brutal attacks in Georgia and elsewhere are held accountable.

“The Arc is unified in solidarity with Asian and Asian-American communities. It is not enough to simply reject racism. We must be anti-racist to truly address the hateful attacks on these communities and all communities of color.

“At The Arc, we advocate for human and civil rights, and as an organization, we continue our efforts to better understand and address the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and the impact on those who live at the intersection of multiply marginalized identities. We commit to continuing our own equity journey as an organization and pledge to lift the voices of those who are directly impacted by racism, ableism, sexism, and all other forms of oppression.

“There is no time or place for such hate,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

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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New COVID-19 Response Legislation Finally Recognizes Urgent Needs of People With Disabilities

The Arc is relieved that Congress has finally taken action to tackle the dire challenges people with disabilities face as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second year. The Arc and our advocates have fought every day since the start of this crisis to ensure that the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are included in relief legislation to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on them, their families, and the direct support workforce.

The COVID-19 Emergency Relief legislation, passed by Congress on Tuesday, includes vital dedicated funding to strengthen and expand access to Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS), which help people with disabilities live as independently as possible in their community and out of the danger of institutions and nursing homes.

“After almost a full year of leaving the most urgent needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of relief legislation, Members of Congress are finally providing the resources necessary for people with disabilities to live safely, in the community, with the support they need,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc. “This funding is desperately needed by the systems, providers and workforce that support people with disabilities.”

Many people with disabilities rely on HCBS to live at home in their own communities with family or roommates with support. They 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 almost solely available through Medicaid HCBS funding. For over 70 years, The Arc has been fighting for people with disabilities to live independently with the right supports and lead the same kind of life as everyone else – Medicaid HCBS makes this possible.

Over the last year, while the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the country, the system that provides HCBS has buckled under the pressure without a single dedicated dollar in federal aid to address the crisis. Meanwhile, the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities has been at grave risk, with too many people stuck in the very places that have proven to be the most dangerous during the pandemic – large, congregate settings like the institutions that exist in 36 states, and nursing homes. Families have been left to scramble and scrape together supports for their loved ones to keep them out of harm’s way, and direct support professionals have been skipped over and over again in priority for personal protective equipment and supports as the essential workforce that they are. This bill provides a significant, yearlong 10% increase in the federal match for the Medicaid program, a state and federal partnership, which will invest billions of federal dollars into this strapped system.

“This significant boost for home and community-based services will make an immediate impact for people with disabilities across the country. Robust HCBS funding is critical to keeping people with disabilities healthy, safe, and out of nursing homes and other institutional settings where the virus runs rampant. We have more work to do because the reality is, the system needed reform and investment before COVID-19 arrived on our doorstep. The new relief legislation reassures us that our work with and for people with IDD matters, and we will carry that energy forward in our ongoing advocacy,” said Berns.

Congress also authorized another round of stimulus payments, this time including all people with disabilities, even those who are defined by the IRS to be “adult dependents.” The Arc led efforts earlier in the pandemic to ensure that people with disabilities on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits received their stimulus payments automatically.

In addition, we are pleased to see the following provisions in the legislation:

  • Extension of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase through September to help people access food;
  • Temporary increase in premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act to make it easier to have health insurance in this public health crisis;
  • Extension and expansion of tax credits to cover COVID leave, so that families can support loved ones while care is interrupted;
  • Expansion of Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults to help family finances; and
  • Expansion of and refundability for the Child Tax Credit to help low-income families.