Washington, Aug. 30 – 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. Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat who is running for his old Senate seat, has 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.
These issues are important for the fully one-out-of-five voters who have a disability, and 52 percent of likely voters have a loved one with a disability. Only 34 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities have jobs, despite the fact that the vast majority want to work. More than 11 million working age people with disabilities are now living on government benefits in our country.
Wisconsin’s 39.8 percent labor force participation rate (LFPR) for people with disabilities is well above the national average of 30 percent. However, states like North and South Dakota have both achieved a 50 percent LFPR level for people with disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
As Baby Boomers retire and Wisconsin’s economy evolves, the Badger State is starting to experience an increasing talent shortage. There are 312,200 people with disabilities between the ages of 21 to 64 in Wisconsin and 60 percent of them are outside of the workforce. Many of those who are working are only working part time and/or are under-employed. A recent detailed study by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire shows the 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are striving for work.
RespectAbility also is seeking answers from Feingold’s opponent, Republican Ron Johnson, current senior U.S. Senator for Wisconsin, and will publish his response when it is received.
We are presenting Feingold’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. My most important advisors are the people of Wisconsin, and over the course of my campaign, I’ve heard from many Wisconsinites with disabilities about the issues they face. And as I’ve listened to Wisconsinites with disabilities, I hear over and over about the importance of affordable health care, of accessible housing, and of equal access to educational and professional opportunities. Over the course of traveling to each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties twice, I’ve also heard about the unique challenges that people with disabilities living in rural areas face, particularly access to health care.
QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: My campaign is an equal opportunity employer, and we welcome staff and volunteers with disabilities. Our campaign office is ADA accessible, and we are always open to hearing additional ways that we can be more accessible and inclusive.
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 throughout my time in public service to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I have a record of improving access to education, voting, and health care for people with disabilities, and I am committed to further expanding that work if elected.
I voted for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2002 and supported Senate reauthorization of the bill in 2004. In 2004, I voted for an amendment that would have required annual funding increases for special education. I believe that education funding for people with disabilities should not be subject to the annual whims of appropriators, but instead should be given mandatory funding. I also voted for the Help America Vote Act, which helped remove some barriers to voting access for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, people with disabilities continue to face barriers as they exercise their constitutional right to vote, and I oppose unfair and unnecessary voter ID laws that disenfranchise Americans with disabilities.
I also supported the Affordable Care Act, which banned denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions and expanded access to health care for Americans with disabilities, and in 2008, I was a cosponsor of the ADA Amendments Act, which restored the intent of the ADA by broadening legal protections for people with disabilities. In the same year, I voted for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, a legislative step towards preventing discrimination in health care and employment.
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. The rights of people with disabilities are fundamental, and while progress has been made towards achieving full equality of opportunity for Americans with disabilities, there is still much more to be done. When legislators talk about health care, education, and jobs, they need to ensure that people with disabilities are an integral part of the policies that are written. I am committed to making sure that this happens.
I also believe that in order to reduce stigma, we must shed old ideas and prejudices about people with disabilities. Nowhere is this more evident in current policy than in the persistence of the subminimum wage for people with disabilities. It is unconscionable that in 2016 it is legal to pay people with disabilities pennies for their work, and low wages only further stigmatize and segregate people with disabilities in the workplace. It’s time to end the subminimum wage.
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: Yes. In 1996, I voted for legislation to create the work opportunity tax credit, which helps to create new employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I also support full implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in order to better connect people with disabilities to vocational programs and employment opportunities. I have been an advocate for affordable and accessible higher education, which is one pathway for people with disabilities to build careers across sectors, including STEM.
I also support funding for small businesses owned by people with disabilities. Meanwhile, my opponent was one of just three Senators to vote against the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Plan and also voted against doubling the tax credit for hiring veterans with disabilities.
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: Yes. Every student with a disability deserves access to a free public education that gives them the resources they need to succeed in school and beyond. I voted for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and support extending the act to make funding for special education mandatory. I also support full implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, particularly the measures on testing accommodation and preventing bullying and harassment. We need to make sure that the reports mandated in the act, like state reports on bullying, result in real changes that improve the learning environment for people with disabilities.
I also support the federal PROMISE grant program, which has helped young people with disabilities throughout Wisconsin connect with career opportunities. My opponent, on the other hand, has actually introduced legislation that would limit the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act in charter schools that receive taxpayer money.
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: Yes. I’m running for Senate because I believe that everyone, not just multimillionaires, deserves a stable and prosperous life. Social Security, including SSDI, should never be privatized or used as a political bargaining chip, and we should be expanding Social Security, not cutting it. I voted for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which created the Medicaid buyin program, and I believe that more needs to be done to remove barriers to accessing Medicaid, particularly when people move to a new state.
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: Yes. People with disabilities should never be denied health insurance based on a preexisting condition. I voted for the Affordable Care Act and I am committed to further expanding access to health care for all Americans.
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: Yes. People with disabilities should not be forced into an institution because of financial need. The Affordable Care Act created some important reforms, such as barring insurers from denying coverage based on a preexisting condition, but it’s just the first step towards realizing the goal of equitable health care. State lines should never be barriers to accessing community attendants, and I am open to proposals for how we can make care accessible in all fifty states. I also voted for the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which created an assistance program for family caregivers of veterans with disabilities, and I am committed to full implementation of the act.
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: Yes. I support bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system and prevent overincarceration. We must do more to divert people away from the criminal justice system who would be better served by an alternative institution, including people with disabilities. I also support full implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires young people in the criminal justice system to be screened for disabilities. Common sense measures like this can help prevent young people with disabilities from being caught up unnecessarily in the criminal justice system. I support training for correctional staff to ensure that they are able to accommodate the needs of incarcerated people with disabilities as well as access to appropriate health care for people with disabilities who are incarcerated.
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: Yes. I support police training in deescalation tactics to mitigate potentially violent encounters. I also support greater police training on meeting the diverse needs of people with disabilities in the communities they serve.
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: Yes. The statistics on rape and sexual assault of people with disabilities are appalling. I believe that our society must do more to prevent sexual assault and to ensure that victims of rape and sexual assault are listened to and believed by law enforcement and by their communities. I am a strong supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for sexual assault prevention, and which my opponent, Senator Johnson, voted against reauthorizing. Some progress has also been made by the Justice Department, which issued new forensic examination guidelines that specifically address treating people with disabilities. But we must also do more at a grassroots level to support men and women with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault. I support outreach campaigns that raise awareness among people with disabilities and their allies about community resources for people affected by rape and sexual assault.
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: Yes. Veterans with disabilities have valuable skills to contribute, and I support policies like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that promote veteran hiring. But a tax credit alone doesn’t eliminate the barriers that veterans with disabilities encounter as they transition into civilian employment. I support comprehensive health care for veterans, including mental health care, and I would oppose any effort to privatize veterans’ health care. I also support programs that give veterans opportunities to pursue further education and training, and I voted for the post 9/11 GI Bill. My opponent voted against the Veterans Jobs Corps, which would have employed 20,000 veterans and doubled the tax credit for hiring veterans with disabilities.
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: Yes. I believe that safe and affordable housing gives people the foundation on which they can build their lives. In 2007, I sponsored the Affordable Housing Expansion and Public Safety Act, which would have increased the number of section 8 housing vouchers by 100,000 and created a first step towards the creation of a national affordable housing trust fund. The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) was then established in 2008 as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which I voted for. The NHTF has been used to distribute funds for affordable housing nationwide, and accessibility modifications are eligible for funding through the trust. I also supported legislation in 2009 to create $20 million in new housing vouchers for disabled Americans.
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: Yes. Equality of opportunity in the 21st century depends on updated, efficient, and accessible transportation, and people with disabilities must be able to access affordable and reliable transit options. I’ve released the Badger Innovation Plan, which calls for the federal government to partner with states to modernize American infrastructure. I also support full enforcement of the ADA to ensure that sidewalks have curb ramps and street crossings have audible signals.
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: Yes. I believe that our government must do more to invest in developing new and innovative assistive technologies that help people with disabilities. One area where this happens is university research. Funding cuts to universities don’t just harm students, they also affect the many people who might benefit from the new technologies that universities incubate.
Assistive technologies must also be affordable and accessible to people with disabilities. If, for example, an insurer will only cover a manual wheelchair for a person who needs a power wheelchair in order to thrive independently, then the benefits of technology are not being fully realized.
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: Yes. People with disabilities in America and around the world deserve equal dignity, respect, and opportunity, and the United States must lead by example by supporting the rights of oppressed people at home and abroad. A foreign policy that integrates disability isn’t just important for people with disabilities living in other countries, it’s also vital for Americans with disabilities when they work or travel abroad. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms the essential rights of persons with disabilities and creates standards that will make the world more accessible, yet the incumbent Senator, Ron Johnson, voted against it.
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.