In the annual State of the Union address, President Barack Obama addressed several policy areas of importance to the 56 million Americans with disabilities and their families. As the independent federal agency which advises the President and Congress on disability policy, the National Council on Disability (NCD) applauds the significant agenda proposed by the President and recommends the following actions to guarantee full participation and integration in all aspects of society for Americans with disabilities.
The President called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by stating “in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”
NCD agrees. In 2010, statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that nearly 28 percent of Americans with disabilities aged 18 to 64 live in poverty.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities earn less than minimum wage under a little-known relic of employment policy that assumed people with disabilities were not capable of meaningful, competitive employment.
As the President said, “America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”
Twenty three years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the time has come for minimum wage to be available to everyone who works, including Americans with disabilities. Over a quarter of a million Americans with disabilities work under the Fair Labor Standards Act 14 (c) program resigning people with disabilities to earning less than minimum wages and the poverty, isolation and segregation that often results.
In our August 2012 Report on Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment, NCD recommended a gradual phase out of the 14 (c) program. The ladders our nation builds to opportunity must be accessible to every American – including those with disabilities. As America works toward increasing minimum wage, implementation of a comprehensive set of supports and targeted investments in integrated employment services to make it possible for people with disabilities to rise to the same heights as other Americans must also be assured.
In addition, the President announced a non-partisan commission to improve voting in America by emphasizing “our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans ... are denied that right ... we are betraying our ideals.” A Fact Sheet on the Voting Commission issued by the White House lists voters with disabilities and “physical barriers” among the issues to be corrected.
NCD appreciates inclusion of the difficulties faced by voters with disabilities as part of the Commission’s work. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found as recently as 2008, only 27 percent of polling places were barrier-free. In fact, the Federal Election Commission confirmed that, in violation of state and federal laws, more than 20,000 polling places across the nation are inaccessible, depriving Americans with disabilities of their fundamental right to vote. People with disabilities and senior citizens are particularly disenfranchised by long lines at polling places and by constraints on and, in some places, the discontinuation of early voting.
To address this disparity, NCD has been collecting the experiences of voters with disabilities in the November 2012 General Election from across the nation in coordination with the National Disability Rights Network and EIN SOF Communications. NCD will issue a report on our findings later this year.
NCD urges the Voting Commission to consider the findings of our upcoming report and to include voters with disabilities on their Commission.
The President also stressed the importance of key reforms to realize cost savings in the Medicare program, including the shift from a fee for service payment system to a managed care model designed to pay for performance. NCD understands the importance of shifting to payment models that both manage costs and increase quality for our health care financing infrastructure. However, it is crucial that people with disabilities and seniors retain the ability to have their needs met.
Over the last two years, NCD has conducted a detailed exploration of managed care within Medicaid, issuing comprehensive recommendations on due process safeguards, program design, performance measures and other facets of responsible managed care frameworks that consider the needs of Americans with disabilities without causing adverse consequences on the quality of care we receive. As the Administration considers various measures to enhance health care quality while controlling costs, NCD stands ready to apply this expertise to Medicare reforms.
As President Obama affirmed, “the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.” NCD looks to continuing its role in developing and promoting robust disability policies in close collaboration with the Administration, Congress and the public.
-- Jeff Rosen, Chairperson
On behalf of the National Council on Disability