U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand co-led a letter alongside Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) urging Congress to protect people with disabilities in the next coronavirus relief package. As Congress begins negotiations for a fourth stimulus package, Gillibrand and her Senate colleagues are pushing to prioritize the needs of the more than 60 million Americans with disabilities, in order to mitigate the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated inequalities that people with disabilities face in our country, putting them at even greater risk of harm and economic uncertainty,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Congress has a responsibility to support every American during this crisis. We must prioritize relief for those in need and I’m proud to work to ensure people with disabilities are prioritized in the next legislative package.”
The coronavirus outbreak has posed a unique threat to the estimated 25 percent of U.S. adults who have a disability. People with disabilities are two times as likely as those without disabilities to live in poverty and make up half of the U.S. population living in long-term poverty — rendering the disability community extremely vulnerable to the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. People with disabilities are also more likely than those without disabilities to work in part time and low-wage jobs without access to health insurance or paid sick leave, making it hard for them to access affordable COVID-19 care and other health care. Despite this, Congress has so far failed to prioritize essential support for people with disabilities in recent COVID-19 legislative packages.
In the letter, the senators called on Congressional leadership to include the following priorities in the upcoming COVID-19 package:
- Boost Medicaid funding to support people with disabilities, including an increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) to ensure that state governments can continue to provide people with disabilities with the care they need;
- Provide at least $50 billion in additional funding for Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) programs to keep people with disabilities in their homes and get them necessary support;
- Provide emergency income relief for people with disabilities, including through confirming that COVID-19 stimulus checks do not impact their benefit eligibility in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income;
- Protect the civil rights of people with disabilities, including through strong oversight to ensure anti-discrimination laws and guidance are adhered to and through collecting disability-specific COVID-19 outcome and testing data;
- Expand paid leave protections for the disability community, including ensuring that caregivers who must take time off of work to care for family members with disabilities can access paid leave;
- Ensure people with disabilities can access food and medication by requiring access to 90-day supplies of medication and medical support services, food and medicine delivery, and other critical services; and
- Expand access to Personal Protective Equipment for people with disabilities and their caregivers to ensure that medical services can be safely provided.
Senator Gillibrand has consistently pushed to support people with disabilities throughout the COVID-19 crisis. When reports emerged early in the coronavirus pandemic that people with disabilities were at risk of disability bias and discrimination within medical decision-making, Senator Gillibrand led a bipartisan, bicameral call to protect civil rights for people with disabilities. In addition, she has urged HHS to ensure older adults and Americans with disabilities are protected from health care discrimination and that health care providers are prevented from denying care based on age or disability during this crisis.
Full text of the letter can be found here.