April 30, 2020

Van Hollen, Warren, Colleagues Urge House and Senate Leadership to Prioritize the Needs of People with Disabilities in the Next COVID-19 Package

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in sending a letter urging House and Senate leadership to prioritize the needs of people with disabilities as House and Senate leadership negotiates a fourth stimulus package to mitigate the health, social and economic impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

An estimated 25 percent of U.S. adults-or 61 million people-have a disability. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the disability community is uniquely at-risk. People with disabilities are two times as likely as those without disabilities to live in poverty and make up half of the U.S. population living in long-term poverty – rendering the disability community extremely vulnerable to the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. People with disabilities are also more likely than those without disabilities to work in part time and low-wage jobs without access to health insurance or paid sick leave, making it hard for them to access affordable COVID-19 care and other health care. Even though the disability community faces these disparities, recent COVID-19 legislative packages have not prioritized the needs of people with disabilities.

"This unprecedented public health emergency has exposed the pre-existing scarcity of medical treatment, equipment, and other resources available to the disability community," wrote the senators. "As it develops its next COVID-19 package, Congress must keep the experiences of people with disabilities in mind to ensure that their needs are addressed during this global pandemic."

Pointing to a series of pre-existing bills that leaders could use to develop these priorities, the senators' letter urges House and Senate leadership to prioritize the following policies in its upcoming COVID-19 package: 

  • Boost Medicaid funding to support people with disabilities, including an increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) to ensure that state governments can continue to provide people with disabilities with the care they need;
  • Provide at least $50 billion in additional funding for Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) programs to keep people with disabilities in their homes and get them necessary support;
  • Provide emergency income relief for people with disabilities, including through confirming that COVID-19 stimulus checks do not impact their benefit eligibility in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income;
  • Protect the civil rights of people with disabilities, including through strong oversight to ensure anti-discrimination laws and guidance are adhered to and through collecting disability-specific COVID-19 outcome and testing data;
  • Expand paid leave protections for the disability community, including ensuring that caregivers who must take time off of work to care for family members with disabilities can access paid leave;
  • Ensure people with disabilities can access food and medication by requiring access to 90-day supplies of medication and medical support services, food and medicine delivery, and other critical services; and
  • Expand access to Personal Protective Equipment for people with disabilities and their caregivers to ensure that medical services can be safely provided.

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) also joined the letter. 

The full text of the letter is available here.