By Joe Gravellese, Candidate for State Representative
On Monday night, I participated in a conference call with leading advocacy groups for persons with disabilities, including the Arc of the United States and the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Unfortunately, efforts to provide relief and support to Americans during the COVID-19 crisis have not properly included the needs of people with disabilities. We must urge our state and local government to do more to make sure our friends, relatives and neighbors with disabilities are not left behind.
Advocates are focusing on these important priorities to better support people with disabilities during this pandemic:
• Support for home and community-based services
Home and community-based services – like home health aides, personal care attendants, and adult day health services – are crucial in ensuring that people with disabilities’ constitutional right to independence and self-determination is protected.
These services are funded by both the federal and states governments through the Medicaid program, and it is vitally important that Congress specifically increases funding for these services in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
Making sure people with disabilities are not left out of the $1,200 stimulus relief checks
Congress passed a bill to send Americans a $1,200 “recovery rebate” to help during this challenging time – but currently, many people with disabilities face hurdles to actually receiving this money.
Instead of sending the stimulus checks through the Social Security Administration, they are being sent out by the Treasury – meaning that if you don’t file a tax return, you may not get the rebate. Many senior citizens and people with disabilities only receive income from either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and do not earn enough to have to file a tax return.
The administration has ensured that recipients of SSDI will receive checks, but they have not done so for people on SSI – meaning some of our most vulnerable residents, whose bank information is already on file with the government, face needless paperwork and hurdles before being able to access emergency relief.
This loophole must be closed to protect Americans with disabilities.
• Extending paid leave for caregivers
Congress’s initial coronavirus relief package extended two weeks of paid leave – but it’s clear that this crisis will go on much longer than two weeks. To protect caregivers and people with disabilities, these provisions must be extended – and family caregivers must be included in paid leave legislation.
• Ramping up production of personal protective equipment
In this instance, the needs of Americans with disabilities are the same as the needs of all of us all over the country – the immediate ramping up of production of personal protective equipment, like ventilators and face masks, not only for hospitals, but also for home-based providers of care for people with disabilities.
The administration must unleash the full power of the Defense Production Act and end the current shameful spectacle of states bidding against one another for critical protective equipment, or hatching schemes to go around the federal government, like Massachusetts just did last week.
People with disabilities are especially vulnerable if we lack proper protective equipment during this surge in COVID-19 cases. If the administration won’t act, Congress must make them act.
Locally, I was proud to be part of the team that re-launched Revere’s Commission on Disabilities, fought to ensure ADA compliance across the community, and worked with the Recreation department to increase programming for children with special needs.
Residents with disabilities are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like all Americans – and government must fight to protect these rights, especially during times of crisis.
Joe Gravellese is a candidate in the Democratic primary for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea and Saugus).