By Sarah K. Lanzo
In the last three decades, except for the full awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragedy of 9/11/2001, if there is any single event that has more keenly focused the public’s attention than the upcoming National Election, I don’t know what it is! It’s mentioned in every newscast, current affairs program, talk show, and many broadcast ads. There is a very sharp divide between the attitudes of the two sides, and the potential consequences to the community of people with disabilities could not be more dire.
If you’ve been reading my columns, you may have noticed that my primary concern is supporting people and the programs that help individuals with disabilities to improve the quality of their lives, live more independently and perhaps become gainfully employed tax-payers, themselves. But rarely have those programs been more at risk than they are now.
On the one hand are those who have steadily worked to cut down Medicaid and other government supports that are particularly valuable to the disability community, in the name of providing meaningful tax cuts. But, due to the curtailment of so many jobs by COVID-19 restrictions, there are fewer dollars flowing into government coffers to be used for the programs to aid citizens who are disabled or in need.
Since July, citing the costs of dealing with the pandemic having vastly worsened a pre-existing multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, New York State began withholding 20 percent of funding that had been promised to a wide array of not-for-profit and private organizations that actually provide the vital programs. They are not calling them “permanent cuts”, saying the money could still come by the year’s end, as they continue to press for a federal pandemic relief bill to provide assistance to states and localities. Regardless, the agencies have their own expenses for personal protective equipment, Plexiglas partitions and so forth, and with diminished monies, are curtailing programs and laying off employees, which only adds to the economic impact. And those vital federal economic relief measures? They have been stalled for months in political wrangling that could continue into 2021.
Let’s put it this way: whatever your positions on the issues, there has never been a more urgent time for you to exercise your right to vote. Some plan to go to the polls on the official day, Tuesday, November 3rd; some have already submitted absentee ballots, or soon will; and one can still go to an official Early Voting site through Sunday November 1st. In Niagara County, they are found at Saint John De LaSalle Center, 8469 Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls NY 14304 and Cornell Cooperative Extension in the Niagara County Fair Grounds, 4487 Lake Avenue, Lockport NY 14094. Both are open to all voters registered in the County and accessible to those with physical disabilities. Remember, unlike your usual polling place, they close at 3:00 PM!
As Tuesday, October 27th was the cut-off for requesting absentee ballots, our readers with disabilities can request a free van ride – some with wheelchair lifts – to their regular poling site or to Early Voting from Independent Living of Niagara County’s Independence Express (IE) division, during certain hours. Call 716-284-4131, extension 150, to inquire, preferably at least two days before the day it’s needed. IE will also deliver absentee ballots for those who have them, regardless of disability status.
The point is, with the importance that your vote carries this year, we want to help you to be able to make it, whatever your allegiance. That’s just how democracy works!
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.