Washington, Sept. 3 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked Senate candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican seeking the open U.S. Senate seat representing Maryland, along with Democrat Chris Van Hollen who also is running for the seat, completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
There are 321,409 Marylanders with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 22,000 Marylanders ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 90,000 Maryland students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many Marylanders with disabilities have not yet received a disability diagnosis they need, and thus are not yet receiving the school accommodations and supports that they need to succeed. Many students who might need support to succeed academically instead find themselves trapped into a lifetime of poverty or flowing down the school to prison pipeline.
Today Maryland has the opportunity to work hard to improve outcomes in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Currently only 39.1 percent of working-age Marylanders with disabilities are employed compared to 78 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
However, looking at the top-line numbers of Maryland alone can be misleading. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010-2012 American Community Survey, fully 47.97 percent of working-age people with disabilities in Montgomery County is employed. However, in Baltimore city, only 26.5 percent are employed. Of those Marylanders with disabilities who are working, many are working only part-time or at subminimum wages in sheltered workshops. While these statistics are better than the national average, fully 56,600 working-age Marylanders with disabilities are living on government benefits. This costs close to $2 billion a year in SSDI benefits alone.
Maryland’s voters are looking to know where their candidates stand on important disability issues in order to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Therefore, RespectAbility posed the questionnaire to both Szeliga and Van Hollen, who both submitted their responses, making Maryland’s Senate race the second race to have all candidates respond to the questionnaire (following North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Deborah Ross).
We are presenting Szeliga’s answers in full below.
QUESTION 1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. I have some trusted friends who are disabled who advise me on the issues important to them.
QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Absolutely – people of all walks of life are welcome to help with my campaign.
QUESTION 3: Do you have a proven record on improving or a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes, I have worked with people at ARC Maryland to improve the lives of families and children with intellectual and developmental challenges. I was also a cosponsor of The ABLE Act in Maryland, HB1105, in 2015. In addition, I have fought tirelessly to improve our economy as a whole. Often, people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by a failing economy. We need to create an environment where all people, whether they have a disability or not, have the opportunity to support themselves.
QUESTION 4: Do you have a plan/commitment to reduce the stigmas about people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes, we must make sure that all Americans are treated equally no matter what they look like, where they come from, or if they have a disability. As the next US Senator from Maryland, I look forward to continuing to work with ARC Maryland and to work with RespectAbility to make sure that people with disabilities are not being discriminated against.
QUESTION 5: Do you have a proven record on enabling, or a plan to enable, people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and to start their own businesses? Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities and/or sector strategies such as jobs and careers in STEM, hospitality, healthcare and elder care? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: As a former Baltimore City school teacher, I understand the impact a good education can have on the next generation. Right now, our education system is too cookie-cutter and doesn’t properly prepare our students for the economy they are facing. We need to promote careers in the trade as well as college and we need to make sure that our education system is accessible to all students so that everyone can achieve the American Dream.
QUESTION 6: Do you have a plan to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations/services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: As an educator and a mother, I understand the value of an IEP. As the US Senator, I would work closely with the State of Maryland to make sure that IEPs are working in the best interest of our students.
QUESTION 7: Do you have a plan to reform the benefits system (Medicaid, Medicaid buyin) to enable people with disabilities to work to the best of their capacities without losing supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: People with disabilities should not be penalized if they are able to work by losing needed support. As a Senator, I would work with my colleagues to make sure people with disabilities are provided the support they need under Medicaid.
QUESTION 8: Do you have a plan to ensure people with disabilities are eligible for affordable health insurance regardless of preexisting conditions? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Exempting people from insurance because of pre-existing conditions is no longer allowed under current federal law. This is one aspect of the Obamacare that I wholeheartedly supported and I will fight to make sure it remains the law of the land. The best way to ensure people have access to affordable health insurance is by creating competition among insurance companies and ensuring transparency for consumers.
QUESTION 9: Do you have a plan to provide home and community-based services to people with disabilities who would rather live in their own homes instead of institutions, and have the community attendant supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: I believe we must support people with disabilities who prefer to receive care in home and community-based settings.
QUESTION 10: Do you have a plan to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services that would prevent them from being swept up into the criminal justice system, divert individuals with disabilities who are arrested to treatment options in lieu of jail where appropriate, receive needed accommodations in the criminal justice process and while incarcerated, and offer appropriate reentry support to help individuals with disabilities leaving jails and prisons reintegrate into their communities and secure jobs? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: As a U.S. Senator, I approve federal judges and will look for judges that properly carry out the law and do so with respect to people with disabilities.
QUESTION 11: People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood as defiant behavior. Do you have a plan to address these issues? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: We must provide people with disabilities the tools not only to proactively protect themselves from criminals when they can do so and access to law enforcement protection, but also ensure that our legal system provides justice for those who are victims.
QUESTION 12: Both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault. Do you have a plan to address this issue? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: People with disabilities are more susceptible to being victims of human trafficking and I have been a leader in Annapolis on fighting human trafficking and bringing human awareness to it in our state.
QUESTION 13: Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian employment? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: As the daughter of a veteran, I am committed to improving the lives of all veterans including those with disabilities. When elected, I hope to serve on the Veterans committee.
QUESTION 14: Do you have a plan for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to allow people with disabilities to live in the communities where they work or are seeking work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Access to affordable housing in Maryland can be a challenge for everyone because of skyrocketing housing prices near Washington, D.C., and in the Baltimore area. As the next U.S. Senator from Maryland, I would work with the state to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to live in the communities where they work that other Marylanders have.
QUESTION 15: Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that is a barrier to work for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: The ABLE Act, that I cosponsored in 2015, allows for people with disabilities to use the funds to cover transportation expenses.
QUESTION 16: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: We should encourage private sector companies to continually strive to improve the lives of disabled people through technological advances.
QUESTION 17: In your foreign policy and national security plan, do you plan to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of oppressed people, including people with disabilities, around the world? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Absolutely. As a world leader, the U.S. must work with other countries to ensure that all people, including those with disabilities, are treated fairly and equally.
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president and has begun coverage of down ballot candidates. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.