What do you call it when you do the same thing, over and over again, and expect different results?
By Sarah K. Lanzo
So, once again, we see the two houses of Congress attempt to hammer out a COVID-19 stimulus bill, for the purpose of assisting all of us to get through this nightmare we call a pandemic.
Then, just this past Monday, both houses of Congress passed a limited 900-billion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill and sent it to President Donald Trump, who had previously pledged to sign it. And, in the hope of “killing two birds with one stone”, Congress attached it to a $1.4 trillion spending plan to fund the U.S. Government through the Fiscal Year and delivered nearly 5,600 pages to the White House.
However, Tuesday night, the President surprised everyone by criticizing his own administration’s budgeted allocations, characterizing his people’s approval of the relief payments to individuals as “ridiculously low” and obviously didn’t notice that he was disparaging the federal budget as “wasteful and unnecessary”. Once again, the President is proving that his leadership is contingent on making sure that the people remain full of anxiety, his party confused as to what he wants, and demonstrating to all his complete misunderstanding of our Country’s democratic processes.
News reports trumpeted the key provisions of the COVID-19 rescue package, such as: the $600 payments to individuals (reduced for those earning more than $87,000) -- although the President is now pushing for $2,000; continuing $300 per week unemployment insurance for 11 weeks; extending the eviction moratorium to the end of January; a loan program for small businesses; and adding $13 million in benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP or Food Stamps).
While I cannot swear that they are not buried somewhere in those thousands of pages, my online search has not revealed that it included key provisions that Disability Advocates had been urging the legislators to include, In its Action Alert, two weeks ago, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) listed just some of them: “targeted funding for home and community based services (HCBS) to keep people out of congregate settings where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly; an FMAP [Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage] increase to ensure Medicaid and state government can meet the needs of their residents; and permanent reauthorization and funding for the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program to help get people out of dangerous congregate settings where COVID-19 is rampant.” Considering how much that was dear to them that legislators sacrificed to pass this bill before December 26th, I am not confident that anyone fought to include HCBS, FMAP or MFP
I have some reason for optimism: President-Elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration has demonstrated a greater awareness of the needs of people with disabilities, by their acknowledging that this relief bill is just a “down payment” on the federal economic stimulus our nation needs. USA Today quoted the new administration on some of their priorities: "We’ll need more help to fully distribute the vaccine. We are going to need more testing, in order to be able to open our schools … We’ll need more funding to help firefighters and police, many of whom are being laid off as I speak. The same with nurses risking their lives on the front lines."
Still no explicit listing of the needs of people with disabilities as a priority, but we Advocates hold out hope that, with a more sympathetic administration seated in a few weeks, those on both sides of the aisle will see the wisdom of accommodating their constituents with disabilities.
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.