After months of hardship and danger from the COVID-19
pandemic, and relentless advocacy by The Arc and advocates across the country, last
night Congress passed a COVID-19 relief package without critical funding for
people with disabilities to access the services and supports necessary for a
life in the community.
As COVID-19 continues to spread nationwide, people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to access the
services they need to continue to live in the community, and their families
struggle with balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. Congress should
have allocated desperately needed funds to support home and community-based
services but they fell short. They also failed to provide funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and resources for the workforce that has supported people with disabilities tirelessly throughout this pandemic.
Congress did authorize a second round of smaller stimulus payments,
but once again left out many people with disabilities – those who are defined
by the IRS to be “adult dependents.” This group was inexplicably cast aside despite
bipartisan support for including them.
Congress extended tax credits available for business to cover
paid leave, but eliminated rules about when business must provide leave and did
not extend the tax credits to cover all caregivers as the pandemic continues.
Congress also failed to provide a solution to a COVID-related overpayment issue
with Social Security benefits. The needs of people with disabilities, their
families, and the workforce that supports them were excluded to honor an
arbitrary bottom line.
“It’s unconscionable that Congress ignored the dire needs of people with disabilities, their support staff, and families as this pandemic rages across the country. For months, our leaders have known the consequences of their inaction. People with disabilities are getting infected at higher rates. Support staff are putting their lives on the line day and day out with the protection they need. And families are struggling with it all. Yet in the waning days of 2020, they have shut us out in the cold in COVID-19 relief legislation,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.
Home and community-based services, or HCBS, make life in the
community possible for millions of people with disabilities who often need help
with things like eating, dressing, personal hygiene, and managing health care
or finances. As COVID-19 spread in congregate settings out of the community,
like nursing homes and institutions, HCBS became even more important for
health, safety, and independence. Without this critical federal emergency
funding, as state budgets continue to take hits due to the pandemic, the HCBS
systems will be hit hard.
Through The Arc, almost 150,000 calls and emails have flooded
Congress in recent months to demand action for funding for these services,
along with the PPE needed by staff to safely deliver these services to people
with disabilities. Chapters of The Arc across the country have been scrambling
throughout the pandemic to access PPE and other medical supplies. They are in
need of resources to cover these costs as well as the funding to pay their
direct support professionals fairly for the vital work they do.
“This is not hyperbole – this is life and death for people with disabilities and their support systems. Before, during, and someday after the pandemic, a life in the community is vital for people with disabilities. Congress turned its back on desperately needed funds to support these services, protect the staff doing the work, and pay them for the risks they are taking in this public health crisis,” said Berns.