The United States Capitol Building

The Arc Supports National Coronavirus Commission Act to Assess Response to Pandemic for People with Disabilities

Today, Members of the U.S. House and Senate introduced the bipartisan National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2020. The proposed legislation seeks to create an independent, non-partisan commission to assess the nation’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission would also make recommendations to improve readiness in the future. The Commission has a specific charge to review the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities.

The Arc supports the bipartisan bill and believes establishing a National Coronavirus Commission is important to ensure that as a country we fully understand the extraordinarily detrimental impacts the pandemic has had on millions of people with disabilities across the country. The pandemic continues to disproportionately harm them. Recognizing where the country’s response has fallen short and committing to doing better in the future is key to truly moving forward in a way that is intentional and inclusive of people with disabilities.

“We are pleased to support this important bi-partisan effort to ensure that we have a full accounting of the National response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We specifically thank Senators Menendez and Collins for ensuring that the Commission is charged with reviewing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on people with disabilities, a population that is far too often overlooked in the face of crises, this information will be vitally important,” said Nicole Jorwic, Senior Director of Public Policy at The Arc.

We are hopeful the bill will move swiftly through Congress as people with disabilities work to rebuild their lives.

Eviction Moratorium Welcome Step, Further Action Needed

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has taken vital action to help millions of tenants, including many people with disabilities. The Arc is encouraged that this week the CDC issued a national, broad moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. The temporary halt on evictions authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has expired. The CDC’s order is crucial to help ensure that people with disabilities who are suffering job loss and economic instability are not forced out of their homes and into homelessness or unsafe living situations during a global pandemic.

“Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have few financial resources and remain among the country’s poorest. During the pandemic, many people with disabilities and their families face even more economic uncertainty, loss of steady income, and unemployment. It would be deplorable to add homelessness to the list. We are encouraged to see the CDC recognize the potential housing disaster that is upon us,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “Keeping people affordably and stably housed during this public health emergency is critical.”

This national moratorium is a welcome step, but we need further action. We continue to call for an extended eviction moratorium into 2021, sufficient emergency rental assistance to help cover back-rent when the moratorium ends, and strengthened foreclosure protections.

“Even before the COVID-19 crisis, people with disabilities and their families faced a national shortage of accessible and affordable housing, particularly low-income renters. Now, the long-term consequences could be dire. Without additional measures to prevent, and not just postpone, evictions and foreclosures, many people will still be at risk of losing their homes, and people with IDD will face even greater obstacles to living in the community rather than segregated institutions and other congregate settings. We must ensure that people with IDD can stay in their homes and remain in the community during a time when our health and safety may depend on it,” said Berns.

Congress Adjourns for Recess, Failing to Address Needs of People With Disabilities

WASHINGTON – The negotiations around a fourth COVID relief package have reached a stalemate and people with disabilities will be worse off for it. Despite the House passing a comprehensive relief package on May 15, 2020, the Senate has not brought that bill to a vote. They adjourned last night for August recess, which will only make the struggles facing people with disabilities, their families, and support system infinitely worse.

Negotiations have collapsed, and by walking away from the table, our leaders have failed to address the dire needs of people with disabilities, their families, and direct support workforce in the middle of a pandemic. We are outraged that Senators are returning home to their districts for recess without passing coronavirus relief legislation to help the millions of people who are suffering.

“This political standoff is at the expense of millions of people with disabilities, their families, and service providers like our chapters scrambling to make sure that people with disabilities have the care they need. Three months of inaction are inexcusable, and now, they’ve left town without a resolution. The Senate must return and take up the House bill and provide solutions to the millions of people who do not know how they will get through this national crisis,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

This impasse means that the very systems that people are relying on to address the crisis and that provide the services that many people with disability rely on, such as Medicaid, are in jeopardy. Without proper funding, these systems will face massive budget cuts and people with disabilities will be the ones who lose.

In May, the House of Representatives passed legislation that includes many of the things that people with disabilities need, but a recent proposal from some Senators does not address most of the critical needs of people with disabilities and has not even been brought up for a vote. The Senators returning home this week have abandoned the millions of people with disabilities who are relying on them. Congress must pass a bill that includes:

  • Dedicated funding for Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS). These funds are necessary to serve people with disabilities in their homes and communities and will provide better wages and support for the DSP workforce. Access to HCBS will limit the risk of people with disabilities being put in institutions.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) for direct support professionals. This is urgently needed to protect the health and safety of this critical workforce. DSPs must be designated as essential workers so that they can get access to the PPE and medical supplies they need.
  • Paid leave for all caregivers. As more people with disabilities lose their usual sources of care, family caregivers are scrambling and need access to paid leave and sick days to help their loved ones. Congress should include all family caregivers in the emergency paid leave provisions.
  • Economic impact payments for all people with disabilities. Stimulus payments need to be available to everyone, including adults with disabilities who are claimed as dependents.

“People with disabilities and those who support them can’t be left behind. #WeAreEssential and it is far past time for Congress to recognize that and act,” said Berns.

New HUD Rule Weakens Fair Housing Protections for People With Disabilities

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

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

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

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

The Arc Honors the Legacy of Civil Rights Icon Representative John Lewis

The Arc issued the following statement in remembrance of Representative John Lewis (D-GA):

“The Arc mourns the loss of a fearless leader whose lifelong commitment to civil and human rights made a difference in the lives of countless individuals across the country. From his experiences on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama to weathering racist attacks at the lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee, Representative Lewis’ career as a leader in the civil rights movement and Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District was characterized by his indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and championing the rights of marginalized people and communities.

“As we reflect on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we remember the critical role he played in fighting discrimination and injustice in all its forms. He embraced the rights of people with disabilities in his fight for racial, economic and social justice for all people. He staunchly opposed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act – he appreciated the importance of that law in guaranteeing access to health care for people with disabilities. While Representative Lewis will no longer be among us, his passion will live on in the generations of Americans who continue the fight for justice, equity and inclusion today.

“In honor of Rep. Lewis’s legacy, The Arc commits to continue fighting all forms of discrimination based on disability, race, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other protected status. And we will continue our work to promote the voting rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, whose participation in our democratic process must be recognized and valued. To quote Rep. Lewis, ‘The vote is precious. It is almost sacred.’,” Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

A woman and her brother take a selfie in a car. The woman is smiling and the man has his eyes closed and a neutral expression.

Three Years to the Day Since Senator John McCain’s Thumbs Down: Congress Is Still Forgetting #WeAreEssential

By: Nicole Jorwic, JD, Senior Director of Public Policy

I was up at midnight when the clock turned over to July 28, 2017, my brother Chris’ 28th birthday. My brother has autism and is the person I have on my shoulder, in my heart, and in my head when I advocate every day. I watched Senator McCain come to the Senate floor to give his infamous thumbs down with tears streaming down my face, realizing that it was the end of the fight that the disability community just won.

And now we sit three years later, and that win feels so long ago. We have been waiting two months to see what the Senate will do with the $3 trillion HEROES Act that passed the House on May 15, 2020, a bill that included many priorities for the community.

Individuals with disabilities, their families, the workforce, and allies have been diligently reaching out to their Senators since May. And yesterday when Senate Republicans unveiled their plans, it appears that almost nothing of what the disability community needs is part of the new proposals. In fact, the HEALS Act—introduced the day after the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—would gut the civil rights protections of the ADA in the face of the pandemic. The HEALS Act is a non-starter, while the HEROES Act that passed the House in May had many proposals that recognize the needs of people with disabilities.

The HEROES Act in the House included the top priorities of the disability community:

  • $13 billion in funding for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). Funds that will help keep people with disabilities out of dangerous congregate settings, support recruitment and retention of the direct support professional (DSP) workforce, and prevent rate cuts for service providers.
  • Access to PPE and supports for the DSP workforce.
  • Stimulus payments without limitations for people with disabilities.
  • Paid leave provisions to support family caregivers who must miss work to support their family members with disabilities.
  • Broad FMAP increased to 14% to stabilize the Medicaid program, one of the only funding sources for Long-Term Services and Supports.

From the summaries, the Senate proposals only ensure that people with disabilities are eligible for stimulus payments. The proposals do nothing to support HCBS, Medicaid, PPE and supports for DSPs, or paid leave for family caregivers. Already five pieces of COVID-19 relief legislation have moved, including three large relief packages, and the needs of the disability community have been overlooked in each. We will not be ignored again. The asks of the disability community around this crisis are simple: recognize that whether it is individuals with disabilities like my brother Chris, family members, or the DSP workforce, #WeAreEssential. On the anniversary of Senator McCain’s bold and brave thumbs down, we must all act and tell the Senate to protect the Medicaid programs that people with disabilities rely on.

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

ADA 30: Carrying on the Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But thirty years later, our work is not done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arc Commemorates and Reflects on the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

This Sunday, July 26th, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Arc is proud of our role in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including as a significant player in the passage of the ADA. Consistent with our work for decades on policy development  and legal efforts on key issues including deinstitutionalization, transforming state service systems, and ensuring that people with I/DD have access to education and life in the community, The Arc was committed to advancing the bill creating a national mandate for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability. From educating Congress and the public on the discrimination faced by people with disabilities and their families, helping to organize the grassroots, and supporting Congressional hearings and promotion on the Hill, The Arc was actively engaged in the fight for the ADA. State and local Chapters of the Arc were integral to the movement. Through the tenacious advocacy of The Arc with our allies across the disability community, the bill passed with broad bipartisan support.

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.

Thanks to the work of countless committed advocates, we have taken meaningful steps toward the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. We reflect with pride on the many ways the ADA has achieved its promise. However, even as we honor the powerful progress we have made, there is still much ground to cover. We must end inappropriate and unnecessary institutionalization and ensure sufficient long-term services and supports to accomplish the goal of the integration mandate; address low employment rates for people with disabilities; ensure fair and equal treatment in the voting process; and continue to work to eliminate the architectural, communication, transportation and other barriers and disparities that prevent people with disabilities from sharing in and contributing to the promise of this country.

As we observe the thirty-year landmark of the passage of the ADA, we face a global pandemic. COVID-19 has hit the disability community extremely hard. People with disabilities, particularly people with disabilities in congregate settings and the people who provide their services, are experiencing high rates of infection and death, and this impact is magnified in communities of Black and Brown people, Native Americans, and immigrant communities. In this era, we have utilized the ADA and other disability rights laws to oppose illegal disability discrimination in treatment rationing protocols being developed in response to COVID-19. But more must be invested into the home and community-based system so that people with disabilities can be safe and stay in their homes and communities. We continue to champion the #WeAreEssential campaign, because we must sustain the fight for the lives of people with disabilities and to dismantle the serious and still pervasive remnants of discrimination on the basis of disability.

We know that the intersection of disability with poverty and racism increases the prejudice and harm that many people experience. Right now, our nation is engaged in social justice and civil rights struggles to address systemic racism and violence. 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 people with disabilities and their families, and advance toward full integration and inclusion for all.

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COVID-19 Hotspots Arizona and Texas Crisis Standard of Care Plans Challenged by State and National Groups in Federal Complaints

WASHINGTON – A coalition of state and national disability and civil rights advocacy groups have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) challenging the crisis standard of care plans in Arizona and Texas, two states hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.  These crisis plans are used to decide who receives life-saving treatment. Along with state partners, the national groups—The Arc, the Center for Public Representation, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and Justice in Aging—argue that the plans discriminate against people with disabilities, older adults, and people of color, placing these communities at risk of substantial and imminent harm—and the real risk of being denied basic and emergency treatment—during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 situation in both states is dire. Arizona is ranked at the top of the list for the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per million residents in the world. In Texas, COVID-19 cases continue to set new records with each passing day, with Dallas County recently reporting over 1,000 new cases for six days in a row. Based on the unprecedented spread of the virus, medical officials in both states have warned that some hospitals have reached capacity and the crisis plans have been activated. While decision-making in these scenarios is bound to be challenging, it is unacceptable and illegal for the guidelines for decision-making in life-or-death situations to be discriminatory.

Since Texas has never adopted statewide crisis standards despite repeated requests from the disability community, the Texas complaint challenges the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guidelines issued by the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council. This Regional Advisory Council is responsible for overseeing the provision of emergency medical services for 8 million Texans or 30% of the state. The Arizona complaint challenges the statewide Crisis Standard of Care guidelines along with the recently-issued COVID-19 Addendum.

The complaints allege that, among other things, the plans categorically exclude people with certain disabilities from life-saving treatment; fail to modify policies and procedures that discriminate against people with disabilities, including no-visitor policies and the use of assessment instruments; and fail to prohibit treatment decisions that are based on discriminatory assumptions regarding future medical resources the patient may require. In addition, denying life-saving treatment to people who have certain illnesses or underlying conditions, as well as those with life-expectancy of less than five years will inevitably have a further discriminatory impact on Black, Native, and Latinx communities who are more likely to have certain underlying conditions and a shorter life expectancy than whites. These communities also face a disproportionate risk of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization, putting them at greater risk of being subject to these discriminatory plans. As such, the plans reinforce current and historical inequities in access to health care, and risk importing quality of life criteria and unconscious bias into the triage process, which will inevitably lead to inconsistent and subjective decision-making, higher rates of clinical error, and discriminatory allocation of care.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and at a higher risk of dying from it than people without disabilities,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc. “As states like Texas and Arizona see alarming new surges in the spread of the virus, it is imperative that the civil rights of people with disabilities be at the forefront. People with disabilities must have equal access to health care under federal law and cannot be left behind during a life-threatening public health crisis.”

“Right now, given the limited supply of hospital beds and life-saving equipment, the medical rationing plans in Arizona and Texas could result in a death sentence for some persons with disabilities, older adults, and people of color.  They are clearly discriminatory in light of OCR’s recent guidance and resolutions,” said Steven Schwartz, Legal Director of the Center for Public Representation. “We call on OCR to take urgent action to protect the lives of people with disabilities, whose lives are at imminent risk as these discriminatory plans are being activated.”

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

For more information about these complaints, contact:

Kristin Wright, The Arc of the United States

wright@thearc.org or 202-617-3271

Alison Barkoff, Center for Public Representation

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

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The Arc Reacts to Trump Administration Memorandum to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants in Count for Congressional Representation in 2020 Census

Washington, D.C. – The Arc released the following statement regarding the Trump Administration’s directive to exclude undocumented immigrants, including those with disabilities and their family members, in the 2020 Census count as it applies to Congressional representation:

“The Constitution is clear – the Census counts every person in our country. We know that there are many hard to count populations, including people with disabilities, that require extra effort to make sure they are counted. Excluding any group is harmful to our nation’s commitment to counting all persons, not just some, so that Congressional representation accurately reflects the population.

“The Census affects the lives of everyone in our country. For people with disabilities, the data is used to determine how much money state and local governments get for important programs like Medicaid, housing vouchers, food assistance, and education services. When there isn’t enough money, services and programs for people with disabilities will not be available to all who need them.

“The US Supreme Court has already ruled that the Administration could not add a question about citizenship status to the Census. They should not be allowed to make an end run around that ruling and remove people from the Census rolls, based on immigration status, when the Census count is transmitted to Congress. It is more critical than ever that people complete the Census and that everyone, including undocumented immigrants with disabilities and their family members, are counted. The Administration’s directive is harmful to achieving a fair and accurate Census and must be reversed,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

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 over 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.