Click here for an article about many ways to contact politicians; confirming the general theory that the more effort and personalization are involved, the more attention contacts get (visits are better than phone calls are better than emails, personalized emails are better than mass emails, and everything except online petitions help).
The Critical Issues
Until November 2016, our country appeared to be moving forward with respect to public policy relating to autism. There were diverse and conflicting perspectives, but the trend was positive. With the ACA’s direct coverage and mandates for private insurance, we were seeing increasing access to a wide range of options for children and adults (including populations that had long been shut off from services). Simultaneously, self-advocates forcefully made the point that “neurotypical” people needed to work on their own flexibility and begin accepting a broader range of social behaviors in schools, workplaces, and families. That progress is in jeopardy. We are at risk of moving sharply backwards. Trump has said little about autism, and what he has said appears to have come from one or a few personal encounters rather than any systematic attempt to understand issues. He has addressed autism not with thoughts about how to educate people with autism in our communities and eliminate discrimination against them, but solely by blaming vaccines for a condition he treats as inherently devastating.
While that position may have won him some votes among parents of children with autism, his stance is completely hypocritical: While Trump claims to focus on “prevention” of autism, his appointees and the
Republican Congress are putting in place sharp deregulation of industry, agriculture, and food distribution that are resulting in increased exposures to hazardous chemicals during gestation as well as after birth.
For people with autism and their families whose focus is on rights and needs in the fields of employment, community involvement, education, and health care, Trump has been disastrous, and the Republican Party is fully aligned with his positions. He has appointed a Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who is cutting the federal role in protecting students with autism, and who proposes to sharply expand the number of publicly funded schools that are free to exclude students with disabilities. Trump has tried to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and has done what he can through the executive branch to sabotage its functioning. He has renewed the push to allow barebones insurance plans to be sold by out-of- state companies rather than requiring that plans be comprehensive and cover services related to autism. The Republican Party proposes relying on Health Savings Accounts, even though it is unrealistic to expect people with autism or their families to save enough money for care no matter how favorable the tax treatment is. Trump is appointing federal judges who oppose strong employment protections and educational rights, and his budget director is pushing to cut back the safety net of health care and minimal income support for people, including many with autism, who are shut out of the labor market by employer reactions to disabilities.
In this program—where the business model was to get students to spend more money on “advanced” courses and mentoring which did not materialize—employees were encouraged to sign up “students” who by Trump’s own lights were incapable of flipping real estate successfully [source]. One of the course lessons was on how to get disabled homeowners to sell their properties to the course’s “students.” [source] Trump’s attitude towards the many investors who lost money in his Atlantic City casinos and other fiascos has been that they were not “smart.”
In politics as well as business, Trump has no use for consumer protections, and neither do most Republicans in the current, radicalized environment. Trump has criticized the “food police” that protect us from hazards and deceit, and proposed restrictions on lawsuits for medical malpractice which would make it even harder to seek recovery for egregious errors. He has supported Congressional Republicans in eliminating many of the post-2008 restrictions on Wall Street. A particular Republican target is the Consumer Finance Protection Board, which recently uncovered Wells Fargo’s practice of signing consumers up for credit cards they did not ask for or want. [source]
Part of making society accessible for people with disabilities is ensuring that transactions are transparent, and that consumers who cannot research every consumer decision can buy products without taking their lives into their hands. Obviously, it benefits everyone when contracts are clear and products are safe.
The Democratic Party has been mixed on consumer protection issues. Some Democrats have strongly pushed for health and safety regulations and for protection of consumers from financial fraud. Some Democrats have been bad on these issues, or on specific ones related to their geographic areas—like due to a combination of campaign donations and fears that businesses will leave, stranding the localities that depend on them. Unfortunately, Trump and the current Republican Party have been completely resistant to consumer protections.
As Trump’s own marketing displays, some consumers with disabilities are at particular risk for high-pressure, unfair business tactics. He paid $25 million to settle claims for deceptive practices by his “Trump University.”
Employment and Income Support
Employment is critical for adults with disabilities and so far neither market nor governmental approaches have been sufficient. Enforcing anti-discrimination laws is vital, but for some people with disabilities, it is not enough. Many people with disabilities wind up at the bottom rungs of the employment ladder, with wages too low to live on and without benefits.
Most Democratic elected officials have recognized that creating the conditions for employment for people with significant physical and cognitive disabilities is not easy. Sheltered, segregated workshops paying pennies per hour are not the answer, but that system needs to be replaced with something better. The 2016 Democratic campaign marked a breakthrough in that with help of long-time associates in the disability community, the Clinton campaign set forth a path for real, productive, decent-paying jobs. [source]
While some people who receive SSI or SSD benefits based on disability would be able to support themselves in an ideal world—with tight labor markets, accessible transportation, affordable rents, adequate health care, reasonable accommodations, anti-discrimination enforcement, etc.—Democrats know that is far from the world we live in. There are divisions within the party about how extensive and supportive the “safety net” should be, but Democrats agree that we cannot have people starting or dying on American streets due to lack of medical care.
During the 2015-16 campaign, Trump claimed to be a different kind of Republican—a populist who would defend the working class and poor. But in office, he has appointed Executive Branch officials with contrary views, and expressed a desire to sign pretty much “whatever” Congress sends him, so long as it includes a “down payment” on the border wall he claimed Mexico would be paying for.
Trump and the Republican Party have not come up with a plan for helping people with disabilities work, but they do have a plan to take away their income if they can’t. Republicans’ plans for job growth indepressed areas are unrealistic, and they oppose spending money on training and educating workers and family members in ways that would increase their mobility and employability. However, convinced that more people who qualify for SSI “should” somehow work instead, they want to throw many people off this lifeline. Trump’s own companies prefer “pretty” workers and appear to discriminate unlawfully in their favor. [source] [source] Trump has relied heavily on foreign employees for his hotels, perhaps because foreigners have extremely limited protection under anti-discrimination laws.
While Trump has not talked about how to increase employment for people with disabilities, he has long had a concept about their incomes. Trump was clear in Time to Get Tough (2011) that social security is one of the things he wants to get “tough” on. On page 77, he told readers: “Then there’s the disability racket. Did you know that one out of every twenty people in America now claims disability? That adds up to $170 billion a year in disability checks. Between 2005 and 2009, it is estimated that $25 billion were eaten up in fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance filings. He goes on to argue falsely that the food stamps program was only meant for emergencies, and to claim that the fact that some families depend on it long-term means “something is clearly wrong, and some of it has to do with fraud.” Trump also proposed raising the retirement age to at least 70, ignoring family responsibilities and the impact of physically taxing jobs that force many people out of the labor market much earlier. Do not count on Congress to stop any of this: cutting social security has been a mainstream Republican priority for years, as has pushing workers in to private, much riskier investments. New, further right, Republicans are even more enthusiastic about cutting social security.
wants to get “tough” on. On page 77, he told readers: “Then there’s the disability racket. Did you know that one out of every twenty people in America now claims disability? That adds up to $170 billion a year in disability checks. Between 2005 and 2009, it is estimated that $25 billion were eaten up in fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance filings. He went on to argue falsely that the food stamps program was only meant for emergencies, and to claim that the fact that some families depend on it long-term means “something is clearly wrong, and some of it has to do with fraud.”
Once elected, the promise to leave social security, Medicaid, and Medicare alone was quickly abandoned. President Trump appointed a budget director who insists that “entitlements”—like a secure retirement—need to be drastically scaled back. He was willing to go along with Republican plans to cut health care for millions of Americans, which lost in the Senate by just one vote. Cutting social security has been a Republican priority for years, as has pushing workers in to private, much riskier investments; if Republican lawmakers win in 2018, cutting social security retirement and disability benefits will be a main priority. We need to elect Democrats who are committed to improving the safety net and building a just economy that will not force so many people to rely on it.
While some Democrats have considered social security “reform,” such as capping cost of benefit increases and delaying retirement ages, in recent years grassroots organizers have pressured them to commit to expanding and improving the system. Link to Social Security Works. We need to press Democrats to improve the safety net, and to improve employment opportunities so that people who should be able to work can actually find and keep decent jobs.
Trump promised during the campaign that he was an unusual Republican in that he was promising not to cut social security. During the 2016 campaign, he promised not to cut retirement benefits, benefits for disabled workers with a substantial employment history, or SSI (Supplemental Security Income), which was added to the system with bipartisan support in 1975 to support people who have disabilities that limit or prevent their participation in the paid labor force.
This “populism” does not seem to have reflected Trump’s real views. Before running for office, he had proposed raising the retirement age to at least 70, ignoring family responsibilities and the physical demands of some jobs that force many people out of the labor market much earlier. He made clear inTime to Get Tough (2011) that social security benefits based on disability are one of the things he
During the campaign, Trump has criticized Clinton’s proposal to increase federal funding for special education services, calling it part of a “spending spree.” [source] The Republican platform indicated that Congress will soon reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That is frightening, since in 2004 Republicans reduced student and parent protections. Among other things, they tried to remove the attorneys’ fees provisions which make the Act enforceable by parents of modest and no means. Not only is the ability of families to enforce the law important, but so is federal educational funding. Instead of pledging to honor the commitment to fully fund IDEIA, Trump has proposed to cut domestic spending drastically. [source] Federal oversight of compliance with IDEIA is also critical, yet Trump has proposed eliminating or drastically downsizing the Department of Education. He wants educational decisions made at the local and
state level, which has often been disastrous for students with disabilities. He has appointed a Secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, who supports that agenda, and wants to turn over much of K-12 education to virtually unregulated private schools funded by taxpayers. He appointed a Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, whose interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was so radical that shortly before he took his seat, the Supreme Court shot his approach down in a unanimous decision.
There is much that needs to be done to improve special education services, both legislatively and administratively. Parents and students need to organize to hold local agencies accountable. In the current environment, we need to try to keep special education off the national agenda, because to the extent President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress do anything, it will be to weaken current protections.