Deficit crisis marks “critical juncture” in disability policy

The National Council on Disability released its 2011 Progress Report on October 31, warning against rash cuts to federal and state services that could reverse decades of progress for people with disabilities.

American flag in shape of USA with a chain and anchor called debt wrapped around it and pulling it underwater
Critical Juncture

“Historically, discussions about deficit reductions have painted people with disabilities with a broad brush and have resulted in sweeping slashes to services and supports without regard to the detrimental, real-life effects of those cuts on the ability of people with disabilities to live, learn, and earn and to contribute to our nation‘s economy,” the report stated.

The employment rate for people with disabilities has dropped nine percent since October 2008. People with disabilities are also three times more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the population.

In the 74-page paper, the council proposed an expansive list of recommendations for improving services and future education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

It called for ending the “institutional bias” of federal Medicaid spending, in reference to how the program still allocates more of its spending for long-term care on services for people living in nursing homes than for individuals living in more integrated home and community based options. Noting that it costs two to four times more to service people with disabilities in institutional settings, it calls the practice “fiscally irresponsible” and counter to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s integration mandate to desegregate people with disabilities from the rest of the populations.

The report praised a number of changes since it released its last report in 2009.

Most significantly, it highlighted the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, including the bill’s ban on insurers barring coverage solely because of disability, the new protections through the act’s Patient’s Bill of Rights and the planned expansion of Medicaid  in 2014, which will expand coverage to a significant number of individuals not currently covered by the program.

Among the report’s other recommendations were the creation of a technology bill of rights to increase accessibility; a federal executive order to include people with disabilities in emergency preparedness plans;  a requirement for states seeking waivers from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to create plans to close the achievement gap  in schools between children with and without disabilities; and increased attention to discrimination against parents with disabilities in child custody cases.

The National Council of Disability, formed in 1978, is an an independent federal agency consisting of 15 members, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. It provides recommendations on policies and procedures for supporting people with disabilities.



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