Time to Take Stock
How are Trump and a Republican Congress turning out for people with disabilities and those close to them? Almost half of us voted for them – the same percentage as in the general population. It’s time to take stock.
Here are eight Key Issues Facing People with Disabilities:
1) Special Education
Education is a major part of social and “occupational” life for people with disabilities from early childhood through early adulthood, and the extent to which students learn skills and make personal connections during that time has lifelong effects for them and their families. For those students with autism whose ability to speak and otherwise communicate and think in language often depends on effective educational services, special education is especially critical. President Trump has portrayed himself as a champion for students with autism whose parents report language regression following vaccines, though he has done very little on this front. Looking at what the Administration does rather than what it says, the Trump Administration has done much to undermine special education using executive power. It has increased support for forms of school choice that fail to protect the rights of students with disabilities and cut back on rights enforcement for students in public schools.
The only good news is that a tight labor market means some people with disabilities are more in demand. The recovery that started in 2009 is continuing, little thanks to this Administration or Congress. But wages are stagnant, GOP tax cuts have encouraged automation, and the long-term outlook is poor. Like other Americans, people with disabilities depend on there being a safety net to ensure survival for people for whom markets are either temporarily or permanently not working.
3) “Entitlement reform”
Also known as destroying the safety net: Trump’s book Crippled America denounced Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The Trump Administration and Republican Congress have not been stupid enough to try throwing millions of native-born, white people with disabilities off the social security (SSD and SSI) roll right before mid-term elections. They have made clear that “entitlement reform” is a key priority but are putting it off until after the mid-terms. So far, Republicans are attacking especially vulnerable people with disabilities – people who have been found ineligible for disability benefits or don’t know enough to apply. This includes people who earn little or no money and depend on SNAP (“food stamps”). The Administration is pushing work requirements for Medicaid that favor rural, mostly white people, and penalize urban populations. The Administration has announced plans to deny green cards and citizenship, creating a likelihood of deportation for lawful immigrants if anyone in their family uses safety net programs like Food Stamps and medical insurance for disabled children.
4) "Uninsuring" America
Nearly 20 million Americans have obtained health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act [source]. The number would have been far greater, but Republican-controlled states refused to expand Medicaid eligibility, and with rare exceptions voters did not punish them. Instead, many blamed “Obamacare” for whatever remained wrong with the profit-driven, inefficient American health care system, which was a great deal. Though candidate Trump claimed he would usher in cheaper, better health insurance, he has done the opposite – destroying the progress that has been made since the 1930’s. Instead of faithfully executing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) – which is still the law of the land – the Trump Administration has done all it can to sabotage it. The Administration has come down particularly hard on people with pre-existing conditions, i.e., medical conditions that are or can become disabling. As the public becomes more supportive of Medicare for All and similar proposals, the Republican Party is moving hard in the opposite direction.
5) Access to Public Spaces
Trump the businessman was sued on multiple occasions for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Republican House of Representatives has voted to greatly weaken the ADA. The ADA has been in effect since 1990. But most House Republicans (and sadly, a few Democrats) think that nearly 30 years later, businesses that do not comply should be shielded from responsibility. HR 620, which passed the House, would require people with disabilities to notify business of concerns, prove they tried to patronize discriminatory establishments, and wait months to sue; businesses would be required to make “progress” towards removing barriers, not actually remove them.
6) Veterans’ issues
The Trump Administration has faked concern for disabled veterans in hopes of turning over more public health care dollars to for-profit institutions. The VA system has long been underfunded even as its responsibilities increase with more wars and more aging veterans. As with privatization in education, Republicans do not plan to pay for choice by putting enough money in service systems and letting people decide how to spend it. They plan to take money from existing public programs and turn it over to private businesses.
7) Environmental Issues
People with disabilities are people and depend on a planet capable of sustaining human life without extreme, destructive weather events. People with limited mobility, sensory impairments and the limited incomes that often contribute to and result from disabilities are at particular risk from hurricanes, fires and floods. Donald Trump knows as a businessman that climate change is real and his golf courses plan for it. But because he thinks his base is misinformed and gullible – and knows that owners of fossil fuel assets donate massively to Republicans while victims of climate change do not, he is stopping our country from working to slow temperature changes to a hopefully manageable “level. He has withdrawn from the Paris accord, pretends that coal can "come back" while dismantling efforts to create safer, healthier sustainable jobs in Appalachia and protect drinking water supplies there; and is trying to stop progress on fuel efficiency standards.”
8) CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUES
People with disabilities depend on living in a system in which government aims to improve the general welfare and protects minority rights. Many on the right want “a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.” As Republican strategist Grover Norquist put it, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub [source].” The “philosopher” who inspired Paul Ryan and many others in the Republican Party – “libertarian” Ayn Rand – opposed government support for people with disabilities [source] [source].
The Supreme Court
Disability Voters opposes Brett Kavanaugh for SCOTUS, for reasons well explained by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in their report.
Great electoral news, but much work to do!
Democrats committed to preserving the safety net won big in Virginia and New Jersey special elections and squeaked to victory in Alabama, thanks to African-Americans and smaller numbers of Latino and LGBTQ voters and activists. The Alabama election showed how far people with disabilities have to go to become an effective political force. Turnout was probably depressed, as usual, among voters with disabilities, due to structural and informational obstacles. White voters, including women, strongly supported Roy Moore, who fiercely opposes federal protection for people with disabilities. Only one state has a higher percentage of disability benefit recipients than Alabama. [source] [source] Many of those people live in in the rural areas and small towns that went overwhelmingly for Moore. While the exact numbers are unclear, it is clear that many white people with disabilities and their family members, friends, and associated professionals voted for Moore. Of course, some people with disabilities may knowingly back candidates who oppose their economic, educational, medical, liberty and civil rights interests. Or they may see those interests completely differently from our organization's perspective. But many people with disabilities--and those who could be vital electoral allies--are open to uniting and working. We need to reach them with a 50-state strategy.
Next step: try to kill tax "reform" that is awful in its own right and will be used to justify massive spending cuts
MAKE SURE POLITICIANS KNOW THAT DISABILITY VOTERS ARE ORGANIZED AND WILL REMEMBER THEIR POSITIONS
Both the Senate and House “tax reform” bills would have been disastrous for people with disabilities. [source] [source] [source] The conference version, which is still under wraps, seems likely to omit some of the most bizarre awful ideas; getting rid of deductibility of extraordinarily high medical expenses and interest on student loans and taxing stipends of grad students including those in disability-related fields. It moderates the Trump/McConnell/Ryan dream to penalize residents of states that tax themselves to provide decent public services. But the aspects that remain are very bad. This is still a bill to appease donors, not serve constituents, as Republicans have admitted. See, for example, this article. It contains:
- A massive giveaway to individuals with great wealth, especially inherited wealth.
- Huge tax cuts for corporations that can be used for anything, including dividends for foreign and domestic shareholders, buying back stock, buying robots to replace workers, and shipping work abroad.
- No reform shatsoever as to some of the most outrageous tax loopholes, including those that candidate Trump claimed to understand well based on his smart use of them, and therefore be ideally suited to fix.
- Likely, automatic benefit cuts for "entitlement" programs that Americans have been paying into for years and are about reach the age of using; and at a minimum, powerful arguments that cuts are "needed" because we can't afford costly entitlements. Politicians may not even need to vote to cut future benefits, and if they do, they will have a deficit they exploded as cover.
- An attack on the requirement to purchase insurance that will substantially raise premiums, wiping out tax savings for many families. It turns out that Republican "moderates" postponed disaster for a few months, but seem willing to accept it now.
The tax code cannot be overhauled unless the Senate and House pass an identical bill and President Trump signs it. The likeliest place to kill this disastrous proposal is in the Senate, but here is information about how to approach each possible obstacle:
If you want to engage with Trump, visit: whitehouse.gov. Twitter: @realDonaldTrump. Trump is most likely to listen to former supporters. Tell him that voters picked a populist, not a traditional Republican.
More importantly, press Congress to block the plans of Trump and the GOP leadership.
Ask Republican Senators Collins (Maine), Murkowski (Alaska), Heller (Nevada), Portman (Ohio), Capito (West Virginia), Rubio (Florida), Corker (Tennessee) and McCain (Arizona) to oppose tax giveaways to the rich and corporations as well as cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Capitol switchboard is: (202) 224-3121. Collins, Murkowski and McCain took decent, courageous positions on health care, but all caved on the tax "reform" vote. All may respond to appeals, based on conviction or political pressure.
Contact your member in the House of Representatives. [whoismyrepresentative.com] Even now, a tiny percentage of people are active beyond voting. If you are active, you can schedule meetings and maybe influence votes.
Social Security Works put it very well on the budget, to which the tax plan is a first step:
The House Republican Budget is a Betrayal of the American People
THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO blocked trump “CARE”
• disability activists who risked and experienced arrest and injury
• townhall participants
• people who called and wrote to Congress
• 51 Senators who blocked disaster
Start a Disability Voters chapter in your town, state, or congressional district. Contact us to learn how to organize a chapter with a statement of interest and some information about your interests and experience.
Call your Congress. Learn more about the issues that most affect people with disabilities and their families.
How can people affected by disabilities protect ourselves now and become a real force in US politics?
A president has entered office who mocks people with disabilities, has been repeatedly sued for violating civil rights laws protecting people with disabilities and others, and goes on and on about “genes,” being “smart,” and “genius.” Even more serious, the Republican party has been given nearly complete control over the national government and that of many states. This is not the Republican Party as we have known it under presidents like Eisenhower, Nixon and the Bushes. It is a Republican Party which has been radicalized around a platform of dismantling the social safety net for people with disabilities, seniors and others. It has won power over the executive branch and both houses of Congress, and will soon control the Supreme Court as well. Public opinion has changed: The backlash against “government” and groups that are perceived as “other,” as scary, and as “takers” very much includes people with disabilities. Not only are many people with disabilities also members of other groups that are under attack, but even those who aren’t depend politically on alliances in support of government policies that help people and government systems that have the leadership, vision, funding, and accountability it takes to make them work.
Why another organization – Disability Voters?
People with disabilities and their supporters need to be a powerful presence in both parties, not a group that can be bought off cheaply with symbols. Most people with disabilities and family members stay in the same party as their families of origin (like most other people). Candidates rarely bother to try to change that. We need to become voters who “swing,” evaluating our interests and supporting candidates who support us. Information about where candidates stand on disability issues has been available but scattered and difficult to find. Disability organizations have pressed candidates to reveal their views and collected information about their records, but are generally non- or bipartisan as a result of strategy, conviction, internal differences of opinion, reliance on government funding, and/or maintaining nonprofit status for tax reasons. We intend to bring together critical disability-related information — not just what candidates say, but what they do.
Who are we?
We are people who have disabilities, friends and relatives of people with disabilities, and professionals who work with people with disabilities. We think that at this moment, people with disabilities face acute threats from a new Republican majority that is not conservative but radical and reactionary. Bipartisan support for people with disabilities is a precious tradition, and continues to occur sometimes, for example with autism insurance reform in some states. Trump’s insults to people with disabilities have been the most striking departure from that tradition, but even typical Republicans such as Vice-President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have alarming positions. They do not insult people with disabilities, but propose policies which would be devastating for our community. Trump is attempting to fill the Executive Branch with appointees whose positions on disability issues would be disastrous — as they say in Washington, personnel is policy. We need to block these appointments.
There will be some elections in 2017 and many more in 2018 and 2020. We need to select and elect candidates who respect the rights of people with disabilities and will work to meet their needs. That is a long-term process and we need to start now gathering people and enough money to make our voices heard.
WHAT IS DISABILITY VOTERS?
Disability Voters is an activist group that aims to improve election outcomes for people with disabilities and their families and supporters. It was started in 2016 based on concern about the possible election of Donald Trump and the risk that Republicans would win power to reverse or weaken Medicaid, Medicare, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and state and local protections that are vital for people with disabilities and their families, and in many cases for broader populations as well.
Disability Voters is organizing locally and nationally to help people with disabilities and their allies achieve the political representation that our numbers warrant. We have registered as a Political Action Committee with the Federal Election Commission so that we can raise money to support and oppose candidates. We don’t want to plead with hostile politicians except when absolutely necessary; rather, we want to be selecting and electing politicians who understand that disability is a natural part of the human condition and that we have rights in addition to needs. We don’t want to be bound by rules that keep charitable tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates. We don’t want to be a piece of some individual candidate’s campaign, at risk of disappearing when the election is over. We don’t want to be tied to a single party, since in the not so distant past, disability issues were bipartisan, and we hope that in the long term they will be once again.
WHO IS INVOLVED IN DISABILITY VOTERS?
Disability Voters includes people who can vote, people who cannot yet vote but hope to at some point, and anyone who understands that, in our system, elections are vital. Sitting out elections with a plan to try to work with and/or protest against whoever wins is not enough. There is strength in numbers, enthusiasm, and geographic distribution. Membership in Disability Voters is free; it involves giving us your email address and agreeing to consider requests for action.
PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING US IF YOU ARE:
• A person with a disability
• Linked to someone with a disability as a family member, friend or professional
• Someone reasonable enough to see that you or someone you care about may eventually become a person with a disability
• A political ally of people with disabilities who realizes that the social safety net — providing food, shelter, health care, and a livable, safe environment even for people who can’t pay — matters for us all
WHY DOES UNITY MATTER IF WE WANT TO INCREASE THE POLITICAL POWER OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND THEIR ALLIES?
Not surprisingly, given frustration related to unmet needs, up to this point people with disabilities have been evenly distributed along the left-right political continuum based on longstanding family and personal loyalties. Politicians can reasonably assume that nothing they do for or to our community really affects election outcomes. Candidates and officeholders assume that, when it comes to our community, Democrats and Democratic leaning Independents will vote Democratic, and Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents will vote Republican. The 2016 election undoubtedly reinforced that perception: the disability vote broke down like the general population even though Trump had been sued for violating the rights of people with disabilities and insulted them on the campaign trail, while Clinton pointed to her history and plans relating to disability advocacy. We don’t want to be tied totally to one party, with nowhere to go if our interests are neglected, but it is even worse for us to be seen as immovable and inert. That is where the disability vote is now.
We need to change that.
HOW DOES DISABILITY VOTERS DEFINE PRO-DISABILITY POSITIONS?
The goal of Disability Voters is to turn the massive numbers of people affected by disability policy in the US into a coherent, somewhat unified voting bloc that politicians will need to pay attention to. We share these views:
• Early intervention services need to be based on efficacy research, not on conventional service levels or assumptions that infants and toddlers with disabilities need to be segregated from typically developing peers.
• Special education for students from age 3 to the age of transition (typically 21) needs to enable skill development and curricular access and it needs to be as inclusive as possible.
• Health care geared to physical and mental health needs must be a right, even for people with conditions that are expensive and/or “preexisting.”
• Genetic and prenatal counseling need to be fully voluntary, and if accessed need to be provided by professionals who understand the rights and opportunities available to people with disabilities. No one should terminate a pregnancy based on false or discriminatory stereotypes about the lives of people with disabilities, or because needed supports are not available for people with disabilities.
• Environmental protections, workplace safety and health standards, and substance abuse treatment need to be in place to minimize preventable disabilities.
• Family and direct support provider contributions need to be honored financially and otherwise.
• Employment needs to be fostered, workers’ rights need to be protected, and individualized entrepreneurial supports need to be available.
• Adults with disabilities need to be able to live with family or other companions and caregivers whom they choose, or independently to the extent feasible if that is their preference.
• Income maintenance and housing programs for individuals with disabilities should not assume that poverty and segregation are “natural” states.
• Technologies that make it possible for people with disabilities to communicate, plan and live in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago need to be funded and available, and training needs to be provided for all concerned.
• People with disabilities need to be empowered to save money, develop skills, and plan for their futures, without losing access to critical supports.
• Access to disability-related rights and services should be available in all parts of our country, including sparsely populated areas, and federal oversight needs to be meaningful and responsive.
These principles may seem basic, but so far none have been realized. Both major US political parties have fallen short. Disability Voters aims to improve our options in elections by pushing all parties and candidates to do better, and to help voters, volunteers and donors identify and elect those candidates who are most helpful, or least harmful, from a disability perspective.