Negotiations among federal lawmakers on a new package of coronavirus relief measures have largely stalled. (Thinkstock)
Another round of stimulus checks for people with disabilities and long-sought funding to ease the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on home- and community-based services are looking increasingly uncertain.
Disability advocates have been pressing lawmakers in Washington since the start of the pandemic to address the needs of people with disabilities, who have been especially hard hit. Advocates were optimistic when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a wide-ranging relief bill in May, but since that time, negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have dragged.
Now the situation appears to have hit a new low. Last week, a pared-down coronavirus relief proposal failed in the Senate marking the latest stalemate and coming just weeks before lawmakers are set to break ahead of the November election.
“It’s safe to say that the disability and aging communities are feeling very demoralized and ignored by Congress,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc. “It’s very discouraging to hear that Congress is not feeling the pressure when you have service providers that are ready to close their doors, a direct support workforce that’s putting their lives at risk and family caregivers and individuals with disabilities who don’t know when assistance will be coming.”
The $3 trillion measure approved by the House in May included billions in additional federal funding to states to pay for Medicaid home- and community-based services, added benefits for direct support professionals and more stimulus payments for people with disabilities, among other items.
Senate proposals released since then, however, have not addressed the specific needs of people with disabilities, advocates say, and have included provisions weakening protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Meanwhile, a recent survey of disability service providers across the nation found that 77 percent had already shut down or discontinued programs as they contend with increased costs and lower utilization because of the pandemic. Without help from the federal government, that could just be the beginning, advocates say, especially with the coronavirus also tightening state and local budgets.
“It’s really frustrating because our providers and our DSPs continue to go to work every day. They can’t just put a pin in this until after the election,” said Shannon McCracken, vice president for government relations at the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, a national trade group representing disability service providers.
“They need to get the job done in Congress so we can get our jobs done,” she said.