Guest Op-ed: Supporting People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

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).

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