Now we can turn our attention to the pandemic!

By Sarah K. Lanzo 


As I write this, just about all the mandatory recounts from the Presidential General Election have been completed, and the majority of the legal challenges have not succeeded, although some technical steps may still have to be finalized for it to be absolutely official. From where I sit, it seems pretty likely that Joseph R. Biden will remain the President-Elect of the United States.


Personally, I find that as a relief, not for partisan political reasons, but because, unlike the current Presidential Administration, Joe Biden has never given me reason to believe that he has any doubts about the danger of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and the need to coordinate a consistent response. He has encouraged citizens to observe the precautions of masking and social distancing that you have heard endlessly in the media. Otherwise the recent nationwide spike in infections will continue to grow -- just as the majority of last March’s CARES Act federal assistance to businesses and those left without work due to the pandemic runs out on December 26th.


As always, my concern is for people with disabilities, who have some of the largest rates of pre-existing conditions and thus are in the highest risk group for serious harm from the pandemic. Not to mention the huge concern for our love ones trapped in nursing homes and other congregate dwellings, where the virus runs unabated, killing and seriously disabling many more who have nowhere else to run from the virus.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, before COVID-19 and the restrictions to contain it became a factor in March 2020, only about 19 percent of Americans with disabilities were gainfully employed, compared to 66 percent of able-bodied persons. Nevertheless, among the 12 million who will soon be lacking the extended unemployment benefits, there are still a substantial number of people with disabilities who are now without work and will be unable to support themselves. 


For months, legislators on both sides of the aisle have agreed that America needs another COVID-19 economic stimulus aid bill but have been divided about the quantity of the aid and who all will benefit from it. Even with three or more promising Coronavirus vaccines on the near horizon, it is likely to be many months before they are available in quantity to the general population, and the nation can ease back toward “normality”. But with many pandemic-fatigued people rebelling against the limitations in large gatherings and refusing to mask or take precautions, the formerly flattening curve of positive Coronavirus cases is surging upward, government restrictions on the public to minimize transmission are almost bound to increase, and the economic and personal fallout will climb as well.  


At this writing, portions of Niagara County have been designated Code Yellow by the State due to increasing infection rates, and many Erie County municipalities have been deemed the more restrictive Code Orange, with hints that Code Red is not far off. By the time you read this, the restrictions and business closings could be more severe.


In the interest of their constituents with disabilities – and all others – we urge our elected leaders to put aside their political agendas and pass a new stimulus package, the sooner and the larger, the better. Even if some individuals may not still be here in the next legislative session, by choice or misfortune, why not go out a hero?


Sarah K. Lanzo is the Director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. Family of Agencies. They empower individuals with any disabilities to gain the information and resources needed to improve their quality of life and participate in society on an equal basis. For more information about ILNC's services and programs please contact: (716) 284-4131, ext. 200.