By Sarah K. Lanzo
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.
As you take the helm of our great country and steer the ship of our hope directly into the winds of civil unrest, division, and pestilence, I am delighted that your powerful Inaugural Address acknowledged the extraordinary confluence of difficult challenges you have before you, more than have been faced by any incoming American President for decades, and that you have pledged to confront them by recruiting the efforts of us all. Two of your statements stood out for me: “History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.” … “And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans.” I cannot tell you how much optimism you have stirred in many Americans who felt forgotten!
These elevated expectations begin with: your respect, and the use, of science to coordinate the offensive against the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding testing, and the ramped-up production and distribution of vaccines; requiring masks and social distancing in federal facilities and by government employees; and rejoining the World Health Organization to reinforce the common struggle against the Coronavirus. On another front, you signed back onto the Paris Climate Accords for joint action against global warming; stopped commercial use of protected environments and halted the building of the damaging Keystone XL pipeline. And for immigration? You encouraged diversity and inclusion by ending discrimination against immigrants from other nations, halting construction of the Mexican border wall; and promoting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented “Dreamers” in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
Not to mention ending the barrier to transgender recruits for the U.S. military and other government positions … extending assistance to those who are out of work due to the pandemic by prolonging eviction and foreclosure bans and allowing delays in student loan repayments, plus improving access to government benefits such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or Food Stamps) … and promoting a higher federal minimum wage.
But hold on! …I cannot help but notice a major area that has been addressed only coincidentally: the specific needs of citizens with disabilities who want to live in our neighborhoods, work in their communities, and engage in society! You must not forget that a third of those who have died from COVID-19 are those who were forced to live in congregate facilities because the more economical option for community living was not available. There is a great ongoing need for assistance in enabling these citizens to secure housing in the community, such as permanent funding for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS), and the Money Follows the Person program. To ensure health concerns are addressed by existing systems, we need an FMAP [Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage] increase to ensure Medicaid and state government can meet the requirements of their residents. According to pre-pandemic figures from the Brookings Institution, only 40% of disabled adults were employed, compared to 79% of the able-bodied; while both of these figures have since decreased, the disabled are twice as likely to be unemployed. Greater access to education, transportation, and more vigorous enforcement of non-discrimination laws is needed to aid them.
Mr. President, when you act on these last measures, you will go down as the President for all Americans –- and they will be grateful!
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.