Disabled advocates warn coronavirus stimulus does not address pandemic's impact on community

Disabled advocates warn coronavirus stimulus does not address pandemic's impact on community
© Courtesy Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) office

Although the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package negotiated by the Senate and the White House is likely to pass the House after passing the Senate late Wednesday night, disabled activists and advocates are warning its provisions do not do enough for the community after resources for them have been strained by the pandemic.

“There is nothing that the disability community asked for in these bills,” Rebecca Cokley, director of the liberal Center for American Progress’s Disability Justice Initiative, told The Hill in an email.

“If anything, in their various iterations the legislation occasionally attempted to make things worse for the disability community with attempts at blanket waivers for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and attempts to exempt people on Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance from being able to access any cash benefits tied to the response,” she added.

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While the initial Senate package was defeated in the Senate, falling short of the 60 votes necessary for cloture, Cokley told The Hill there was little improvement on disability issues between that and the final package.

“This is a classic case of ‘everything about us without us,’ where Congress is making policies that largely ignore the needs of people with disabilities and chronic conditions,” she said.

For some, the pandemic and the various changes and shutdowns it has required of Americans has served to illustrate the already fragile state of the social safety net for disabled people, particularly as the health care system has been forced to prioritize those affected by the virus, which experts say is a particular risk for people with underlying conditions.

"Disabled people have always had tenuous relationships and uncertainty with the state,” Alice Wong, a disabled activist who frequently writes on the intersection of politics and disability issues, told The Hill in an email. “This pandemic just exacerbates our survival as we face even more challenges in living day-to-day and accessing basic services such as healthcare."

"On the whole, I see a lot of legitimate fear within the disability community as healthcare systems develop guidelines on triaging treatment and access to ventilators,” she added. “The casual ableism and ageism I see is a slap in the face to so many of us who are working hard to be seen and advocate for of us. It's exhausting and frankly demoralizing.”

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The fallout of the pandemic, Cokley told The Hill, has cost numerous people the home- and community-based services they rely on, indicating a need for increased funding to secure the direct-care workforce.

“We also need robust paid family medical leave that allows parents who have need of it to care for adult children with disabilities to be able to access it,” she added. “Given the shelter-in-place rules being enacted by cities, it makes no sense that people with disabilities cannot access the surpluses of their medications to be able to allow them to stay safe at home. This needs to change.”

Failure to properly address disability issues amid the pandemic, she noted, will affect people who are not disabled as well, “because our folks don’t get what they need to be able to comply with physical distancing, we will need to go out. And that exposes us, and society at a much greater rate. So not only is Congress neglecting us, but their lack of action is endangering many more.”