With a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, Congress yet again denied stimulus payments to some people with disabilities and failed to offer funding for home- and community-based services.
Under pressure, federal lawmakers approved the massive stimulus package after much wrangling in late December. The measure includes $600 cash payments for many Americans — including those receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits — who earn less than $75,000 annually, with tiered amounts beyond that.
But disability advocates say that despite months of intense lobbying, the legislation is most notable for what is left out.
Much like previous COVID-19 relief legislation passed last spring, there is no dedicated funding for home- and community-based services or to help people with disabilities transition out of congregate settings, which have been ravaged by the virus.
Meanwhile, adults with disabilities who are considered dependents for tax purposes are once again ineligible for the latest round of cash payments. And, a provision in an earlier coronavirus relief bill expanding paid leave from work for parents needing to care for their children with developmental disabilities during the pandemic was allowed to expire at the end of 2020.
“It’s unconscionable that Congress ignored the dire needs of people with disabilities, their support staff and families as this pandemic rages across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
The nonprofit indicated that its supporters inundated Congress with nearly 150,000 calls and emails in recent months asking for extra funding for home- and community-based services as well as sorely needed personal protective equipment for direct support staff.
“For months, our leaders have known the consequences of their inaction,” Berns said. “Yet in the waning days of 2020, they have shut us out in the cold in COVID-19 relief legislation.”
Disability service providers have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. A survey last summer of nearly 200 organizations serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the nation found that 77 percent had already shut down or discontinued programs as they faced higher costs and lower utilization because of the pandemic.
Advocates have warned that could just be the beginning, with COVID-19 also putting pressure on state and local budgets, a situation which may prompt cuts to disability services.
In a statement, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network said the latest relief package “abandons” people with disabilities.
“While the just-passed COVID relief package includes funding for unemployment insurance, SNAP and other important benefits to help people devastated by the pandemic, as well as funding to help states distribute the vaccine, it fails to respond to the crisis facing the disability community,” the group said. “We will keep advocating for a real response to this crisis.”