So we see again the two Houses of Congress trying to work out a COVID-19 bill to help us all overcome this nightmare we call a pandemic.
Then, just last Monday, both Houses of Congress passed a limited $ 900 billion aid bill and sent it to President Donald Trump, who had previously pledged to sign it. In the hope of “killing two birds with one stone,” Congress included a $ 1.4 trillion spending plan to fund the US government during the fiscal year and delivered nearly 5,600 pages to the White House.
However, on Tuesday evening, the president surprised everyone by criticizing his own government’s budget allocations, calling his people’s approval of individual aid payments “ridiculously low” and apparently failing to notice that he was cutting the federal budget as “wasteful and unnecessary.” “Once again the President is proving that his leadership depends on keeping the people frightened, his party confused about what he wants, and demonstrating all his utter misunderstanding of our country’s democratic processes.
News reports trumpet key provisions of the COVID-19 bailout, such as: the $ 600 payments to individuals (reduced for those who earn more than $ 87,000) – although the president is now pushing for $ 2,000; Continuation of weekly unemployment insurance at $ 300 per week for 11 weeks; Extension of the eviction moratorium until the end of January; a small business loan program; and adding $ 13 million in benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP or Grocery Brands).
While I can’t swear they’re not buried somewhere on these thousands of pages, my online search didn’t reveal any important provisions that disability advocates had asked lawmakers to include. In its action alert two weeks ago, the National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) listed just a few: “Targeted funding of home and community-based services (HCBS) to keep people out of congregation environments where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly; an FMAP [Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage] Increase to ensure Medicaid and the state government can meet the needs of their residents; and ongoing re-authorization and funding of the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program to get people out of dangerous gathering environments where COVID-19 is prevalent. “
Given how much they cared about what our federal legislature sacrificed to get this bill passed before December 26th, I’m not sure anyone has struggled to include HCBS, FMAP, or MFP.
I have reason to be optimistic. The new administration of President-Elect Joe Biden has shown greater awareness of the needs of people with disabilities by recognizing that this relief bill is just a “down payment” on the federal economic stimulus our country needs.
USA Today quoted the new administration on some of its priorities: “We’re going to need more help to fully distribute the vaccine. We’re going to need more testing to get our schools open … We’re going to need more funding to.” Help out firefighters and the police, many of whom will be fired as I speak. The same goes for nurses who risk their lives on the front lines. “
There is still no explicit listing of the needs of people with disabilities as a priority, but we advocate the hope that those on both sides of the aisle with a more personable administration will see the wisdom in a few weeks to accommodate their constituents with disabilities.
Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living in Niagara County, a member of the Independent Living Inc. family of agencies in Western New York that serves people with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131 ext 200.