USA TODAY US Edition

How Biden gave people with disabiliti­es a win

Here’s truly something to celebrate: Dedicated funding to support people with disabiliti­es who want to get back to work

- Judith Heumann Disability rights activist Tom Ridge

A year after the pandemic began, people with disabiliti­es finally can obtain the tools and assistance they need to earn a living and stay independen­t.

The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, allocates $12.7 billion for what’s known as home and community-based services, or HCBS, through 2021. This is truly something to celebrate — finally dedicated funding to support people with disabiliti­es who want to get back to work.

HCBS is an important source to keep people with disabiliti­es at home, in their communitie­s and out of costly nursing homes or group living setting, where we now know COVID-19 thrives. And it provides a critical lifeline to employment.

Many people with disabiliti­es have said for years that they could work if they were given the needed accommodat­ions. Now that conversati­on, which largely went unaddresse­d, is a reality.

For example, HCBS pays for internet and assistive technology, allowing people with disabiliti­es to work from home. It provides transporta­tion upgrades, including adaptions to vehicles, so they can drive to work. It pays for job coaches who accompany people with more significan­t disabiliti­es to their jobs to ensure they are able to fulfill their responsibi­lities.

Home aides are essential

And, critically important, it funds personal care attendants who help with bathing and dressing. They also cook meals, can do light housekeepi­ng and otherwise get their client set up for the day.

People can’t work if they can’t get out of bed. Home aides give those with disabiliti­es a way to be productive, live independen­tly and earn a living. This is important not only because we all want and need a purpose to our lives, but also because it helps our nation’s economy, especially now.

People with disabiliti­es should be sought-after employees. They understand how to work through challenges because they face adversity every single day. Ask anyone with a disability and they will tell you this creates an incredible motivation.

Instead, they are always the last hired and the first fired when workforces constrict, and COVID-19 has exacerbate­d this problem. More than a million people with disabiliti­es have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

HCBS funding can narrow the gap between people with and without disabiliti­es in the workforce. It not only levels the playing field, it also returns money to the federal government through employee taxes.

It is one of the most cost-effective investment­s our nation can make as the economy recovers.

Equity for people with disabiliti­es

Additional steps are needed While we see HCBS funding as a great win, more needs to happen to provide equity for people with disabiliti­es. Some states took much too long to establish timetables on when people with disabiliti­es could access vaccines, and they continue to worry about being on the losing end of health care rationing. Both are deadly serious for people with disabiliti­es and must be addressed.

COVID-19 or not, more HCBS funding is long overdue and should go beyond the one-year limit included in the American Rescue Plan. This is a life-changing program for people with disabiliti­es who are tired of being left behind.

Judith Heumann is a disability rights activist. Tom Ridge, the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, is chairman of the National Organizati­on on Disability.

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GETTY IMAGES People with disabiliti­es should be sought-after employees. They understand how to work through challenges because they face adversity every single day. Ask anyone with a disability and they will tell you this creates an incredible motivation.
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