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Is Somebody Going to Stand Up for Us?

Creator: Jacquelyn Martin Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The Coronavirus is having a life-changing, historical impact on the whole world, but what kind of impact is it having on the disabled community? News anchors, TV commercials, radio hosts and advertisements, as well as, websites all say the same thing: that those with underlying health issues and seniors are considered high-risk with deathly consequences. So, what I hear and know to be true is that Covid-19 will more than likely kill me and the other 60 million Americans like me who are disabled or chronically ill and have weakened immune systems if we contract this virus. Well, the first thing that needs to be recognized is that people with severe chronic illnesses and disabilities are unable to isolate or self-quarantine because they may need help from others for everyday self-care tasks like bathing, toileting, dressing, food-prep and/or feeding. For the more independent population of disabled Americans, they still depend on help and support to maintain that independence from aides and caregivers who may be afraid that they will risk spreading and/or catching the virus, interrupting services that are needed for the client’s quality of life. The evidence has not only been centralized to America but worldwide, as we all have seen news coverage of the extremely deadly impact on nursing homes, long-term health and in-patient rehabilitation facilities. There needs to be protections put in place for the vulnerable populations whether living independently, in group homes or long-term healthcare facilities. With a nationwide, even global, shortage of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and regular supplies that are now in high demand, people with disabilities struggle to stay healthy and out of local urgent emergency rooms.

So, what is our government, local authorities and healthcare agencies doing to accommodate disabled Americans to keep them safe? Some positives that COVID-19 has brought to the disabled community include a new standard in workplace flexibility and accommodations by lots of companies and corporations that didn’t have work-from-home options. These new options give people with disabilities a more open and accessible job market. Call centers for customer care and support, as well as, other facility-based jobs and office jobs can be done remotely now which can help level the playing field. According to Rebecca Cokley, the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, there are many policies that would help, more than hurt, the disabled community and a list of legislators who are fighting for change. For instance, the Revised Paid Family and Medical Leave proposal would help the families of people with disabilities as they struggle to maintain with the loss of care attendants due to panic, sickness, and the immense strain on the health care industry. “Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a revised paid family leave proposal” which “provides access to paid family leave for families who normally employ a caregiver but need to take leave to care for an adult child with a disability” (Cokely 2020). In response, the Trump administration passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) on April 1, 2020, that expands the Family and Medical Leave Act for specific reasons related to COVID-19, including paid leave for parents of adult children “who (1) has a mental or physical disability, and (2) is incapable of self-care because of that disability” (U.S. Dept. of Labor). The FFCRA fix grants allowances where there once were none, but, unfortunately, is only applicable for a two-week period. Here in Michigan, where the stay-at-home order and state of emergency has been in effect since March 23rd, those two weeks were exhausted already because schools, rehab, and recreational day programs, frequently used by people with disabilities, were “temporarily closed” on March 13, 2020.

Other policies include the Raised and Eliminated Asset Limits policy which requires SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) recipients to keep their savings under $2000 or risk losing their benefits. With stimulus payments and an unclear vision of our future, now is not the time to punish and take-away from the most vulnerable for being smart, proactive and cautious about their finances. State Senators, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Chris Coons (D-DE) are fighting at Capitol Hill for the Allowing Steady Savings by Eliminating Tests (ASSET) Act, which would eliminate asset limits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs and increase asset limits to $10,000 for those on Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).

Our own Michigan Representative, Debbie Dingell, along with Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has introduced legislation that would provide support for direct-care workers and home and community-based services that the disabled community relies on. They are fighting for the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act of 2020 which would provide wage increases, overtime pay, paid sick, medical and family leave to home health workers, emergency funding for community-based meal distribution and Senior Food Box programs full service 24/7 during this emergency, as well as, respite care and support for family caregivers, and virtual ombudsman programs. Other benefits include increased funding for nursing home surveys in order to promote infection control and cover the cost of treatment for low-income seniors and boost the economy by leveraging existing low-income assistance programs for people with Medicare to ensure that seniors and the disabled community who live on low, fixed incomes can afford the treatments they may need if diagnosed with COVID-19.

Other legislation proposed to help people with disabilities that have been passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic include the temporary suspension of continuing disability reviews (CDRs) for Social Security by Sens. Brown and Casey. The elimination of work requirements for Medicaid recipients which recently passed March 4th, overturning Michigan’s newly adopted policy which just started in January. Also, the enactment of the Defense Production Act for the mass production of medical equipment and resources by Sen. Tammy Baldwin which the Trump Administration passed on March 27th and expanded on April 2nd.

These policies, although extremely beneficial for people with disabilities, would benefit all Americans, but they would have an extremely positive impact on the healthcare system and the economic status of the disabled community. They would help to ensure that disabled Americans are protected, cared for and not left behind. All of these policies are still up in the air and have to be passed with the exception of the temporary suspension of CDRs, which lawmakers would like to make permanent. Legislators hope to get these proposals passed soon but many were brought before the Senate in March and April with no progress.

If you care for, assist or serve the chronically ill or disabled, please take the risks seriously so you can remain healthy and able to continue to help those who depend on you and need you most. Thank you, essential workers!

K. Austin-Baker

Dapdet President


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