As negotiations begin in earnest on Capitol Hill for another coronavirus relief bill, advocates are warning that the needs of people with disabilities are on the verge of being ignored again.
U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled their $1 trillion proposal this week to address the ongoing pandemic. The legislation, known as the HEALS Act, calls for another round of stimulus payments to individuals, liability protections for businesses and funding for schools, among other initiatives.
However, disability advocates say what’s most notable is what’s missing.
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“Despite months of concentrated advocacy, it includes no new funding for Medicaid or for home- and community-based services,” said Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, who described the bill as “a slap in the face for the disability community.”
The Senate GOP plan comes two months after Democrats passed their own bill in the House of Representatives. That $3 trillion measure was widely praised in the disability community for featuring $13 billion in additional federal funding to states to pay for Medicaid home- and community-based services and added benefits for direct support professionals.
Disability advocates have spent the summer pressuring Senate Republicans to include similar provisions as they worked to craft their bill.
“As the disability community has made clear, this funding can be the difference between a person with a disability staying safely in their own home, versus a person with a disability going into an institutional setting where COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire,” Bascom said. “The Senate has made it clear that this is intended to be their final COVID-19 relief package. It is horrifying that they would consider their job done without addressing this.”
Like the bill approved in the House, the Republican measure introduced in the Senate does include another round of one-time $1,200 cash payments to many Americans earning less than $75,000 annually, with tiered amounts beyond that. Dependents of any age — including adults with disabilities — would qualify for a $500 payment and those receiving benefits like Supplemental Security Income would be eligible.
The Republican proposal does not extend liability protections to schools related to implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as had been sought by groups representing school leaders.
But, it would weaken protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act by limiting the rights of people with disabilities to sue businesses for violations of the civil rights law.
“Not only does (the bill) not include components that we want, but it would eliminate many of the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including waiving some provisions for five years, well beyond the pandemic period,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc.
Jorwic noted that this would be the fourth major COVID-19 relief bill to “completely ignore” the needs of the disability community, even though she said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been very understanding of the value of home- and community-based services, particularly amid the pandemic.
“We are hopeful that as negotiations continue, there will be a middle ground,” Jorwic said.