Washington, July 29 – “In the year 2015, it is unacceptable that over 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed,” Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said to the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) during its rally on Capitol Hill Tuesday. “People need work. They need jobs.”
NCIL held its annual conference on Capitol Hill in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act, signed into law by George H.W Bush, was designed to eliminate any discrimination of people with disabilities from public spaces, transportation, and employment. However, since its passing, not much has changed by way of employment of people with disabilities. NCIL advocates for the rights of people with disabilities and featured speakers who helped stress this message during its rally.
Sanders, who, on previous occasions when asked, has had little to say about the topic, had a lot to say to the rally participants.
“Twenty-five years ago, our nation made it illegal to discriminate against Americans who have a disability,” Sanders said. “This was a major step forward for the American people. Our job is no turning back. We’re going to go forward. We’re going to expand and strengthen that legislation.”
Introducing policies that create opportunities for employing people with disabilities is not a conservative issue or liberal issue; it is a human issue, and it affects a large portion of the electorate in the United States. The top issue in the disability community is jobs. Government policies that help people with disabilities get and keep jobs are a win-win because they allow people with disabilities the dignity and financial benefits of work and also grow our economy and save taxpayer money.
Sanders also called for expanded opportunities for people with disabilities including educational and housing options.
“In the year 2015, we have got to expand, not cut, educational opportunities, by fully funding the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], and vocational programs for Americans with Disabilities,” Sanders said to cheers.
“There is a housing crisis all over America,” Sanders continued. “It is especially true for people with disabilities. We need to build more affordable housing.”
America has 56 million people with disabilities, more than 20 million of whom are working age. More than 50 percent of Americans report having a family member or close friend with a disability.
Read the full transcript of Sanders’ remarks:
Thank you very much for coming out today, look I don’t have to explain to anybody that big money and trusts have enormous influence over what goes on in Washington. They make huge campaign contributions, they have lobbyists, and everyday they influence the legislation that gets passed or does not get passed. The only way that ordinary people get their needs heard, get their issues addressed is when they stand together. When they stand up and say enough is enough, the congress and the president need to listen to all of the people and not just wealthy special interests, and that is what your presence here today is about. So thank you very much for coming.
Twenty-five years ago, our nation made it illegal to discriminate against Americans who have a disability. This was a major step forward for the American people. Our job is no turning back, we’re going to go forward, we’re going to expand and strengthen that legislation. (cheering)
A nation is judged, brothers and sisters not by how many millionaires and billionaires it has. It is drudged in terms of social justice (cheering). How it treats the most vulnerable people amongst us. How it treats the elderly that are sick. How it treats the children. And how it treats those with disabilities (cheering). And what we are saying loudly and clearly in this nation, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, we are going to treat people with disabilities with dignity and respect. And we have got a long way to go, progress has been made, but we’ve got a long, long way to go.
In the year 2015 it is unacceptable, over 80% of adults with disabilities are unemployed, people need work they need jobs. (cheering) In the year 2015, we have got to expand not cut educational opportunities by fully funding the IDEA and vocational educational programs for Americans with disabilities. (cheering)
There is a housing crisis all over America in terms of affordable housing. It is especially true for people with disabilities; we need to build more affordable housing. (cheering) And at this particular moment we have got to send a very loud and clear message to the republicans that NO we will not cut social security disability insurance by 19%. This is an outrage, this is a phony crisis and we’re not going to let them get away with it. (cheering) As you all know, in order to make SSDI solvent we need to reallocate funds between the social security retirement fund and the disability fund something that has been done year after year in a bipartisan way and that is something we will do this year. (cheering)
We will not allow republican leadership in congress to pit the senior population against the disability community. (Cheering) While some of our republican colleagues are talking about that by reallocating money into the disability fund we are taking funds away from the retirement fund and jeopardizing the retirement security of senior citizens. You know and I know, that is not true. (cheering) And that is why every major organization in this country representing seniors and persons with disabilities supports the reallocation of these funds. The time has come loudly and clearly, for us to tell the Republicans, stop playing games with the lives of people. We are not going to cut disability funding by 19% when billions of people with disabilities are barely getting by today. (cheering)
Furthermore, don’t let anyone tell you that the social security trust fund is going broke. All you know is that social security can pay out every benefit to every eligible American for the next 19 years. Our job is not just to protect social security benefits, it is to extend and expand social security benefits. (cheering)And the way we do that is to scrap our taxable income. It is absurd that people making millions of dollars a year are contributing the same amount into social security as somebody making a 118,000 a year. I have introduced legislation that lifts that cap. It would extend social security for decades and expand benefits for both the elderly and the disabled.
We are also not going to let the republicans make massive cuts in Medicare and Medicaid in order to give tax breaks to the richest people in this country. In fact, what we have got to do as a nation is draw in every other major country on earth and say loudly and clearly, healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege. (cheering) And that is why I believe we move towards a Medicaid for all single payer program (cheering) As Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminded us many years ago, and I quote The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who little. (cheering)
That is the struggle for today, and when we have 45 million Americans living in poverty. When we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth, we know what our priorities must be and that is to take care of the people in need, not give tax breaks to people who have more than enough.
Thank you all very much.