Washington, Sept. 23 – 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. Republican Joe Heck completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities. His competitor, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, previously completed the questionnaire.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
Only four out of ten of Nevada‘s 171,600 working-age people with disabilities are employed. This creates poverty, powerlessness, and poor health. People with disabilities want the opportunity to have the dignity that jobs provide.
Two employers in Nevada that have provided exemplar models for other businesses to follow in hiring individuals with disabilities are PEPSI and Starbucks. Each of these companies stands as a great example of win-win-win policies that help employers, people with disabilities and taxpayers alike.
Today in Nevada, 8,200 youth with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the labor market. They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce.
We are presenting Heck’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 Washington, D.C., office employs a legislative assistant who is specifically assigned to track disability issues and issues that may affect individuals with disabilities. When those issues arise, this individual is tasked with analyzing the legislation and, when necessary, engaging with local stakeholders and thought leaders on the bill and then producing recommendations based on that research.
In addition, my local Nevada office stays engaged with the disability community through relationships built during my time in office. Those relationships allow me to meet with individuals with disabilities and their advocates when I am working in Nevada so I can understand the unique challenges facing individuals with disabilities.
QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. We are running a campaign aimed at including and reaching out to all Nevadans. When we are out in the state campaigning, we make it a point to engage with voters of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity, and capabilities. I am running to represent all Nevadans and be their voice in the Senate. My real world experience and time in the House of Representatives taught me to identify challenges faced by Nevadans and provide bipartisan solutions. That is the approach I will bring to the United States Senate.
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 consistently support policies aimed at improving the welfare and quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Those policies are largely in the areas of jobs, healthcare, education, and support for our veterans.
I also cosponsored H.R. 670, the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015. This bill will enable a disabled individual’s assets to be held in a trust and used to supplement daily living expenses and care when government benefits alone are insufficient, which will empower them to be responsible for their own life decisions and have access to what is rightly theirs.
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. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through my work with Opportunity Village Las Vegas, Easter Seals Nevada, and the Grant-A-Gift Autism Foundation is that individuals with disabilities desire nothing more than to be treated with respect and acceptance. They have a right to live fulfilling, happy lives likes anyone else. I’ve seen firsthand that individuals with disabilities can do jobs just as well, if not better than, those without disabilities. That is a message that all of us have a responsibility to disseminate to the broader community through words and actions. The best way we can do that is to ensure they can access the same job and educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers.
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. As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I worked closely with fellow committee members to draft and pass H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, legislation containing specific language to promote the employment of individuals with disabilities. Once that bill was signed into law, I sent several letters to the Departments of Education and Labor to ensure it is properly implemented, particularly the provisions dealing with the “competitive integrated employment” rules for disabled workers. One area of concern was the interpretation of “competitive integrated employment” by the Rehabilitation Services Administration and how it could affect the employment status of individuals with disabilities at McCarran International Airport.
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. As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I worked closely with fellow committee members to draft and pass H.R. 5, the Student Success Act (signed into law as the Every Student Succeeds Act), legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and containing several provisions to help disabled students. Most importantly, the bill allows states to establish alternate achievement standards aligned to content standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and requires states to ensure their assessments include reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and are allowed to adopt alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Both of these provisions ensure students with disabilities are provided accommodations to achieve success based on their specific needs, not a federal government “one-size-fits-all” mandate.
In the 113th Congress (2013-14) I cosponsored H.R. 3505, the TEACH Act, which requires colleges and universities to ensure instructional materials are accessible for disabled students. Ensuring disabled students have access to an equal educational opportunity is the first step to ensuring they are successfully employed, productive and independent. My hope is that this provision will be included in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
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.
NO ANSWER SUBMITTED
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: I support all people being eligible for health insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions.
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. One of the best ways we can improve quality of life for people with disabilities is ensuring they can live in their own homes on their own terms. I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 3099, the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, a comprehensive bill that would establish a National Caregiving Strategy to provide resources and support to family caregivers.
In addition, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 4919, Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which reauthorizes the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program and expands it to include children with autism and other developmental disabilities. The bill authorizes $2 million per year in fiscal years 2017-2021 to provide grants to law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and non-profit organizations to promote initiatives that will reduce the risk of injury and death related to wandering.
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: There is an important debate taking place in our country regarding the criminal justice system and making it more effective. We need to ensure that local communities have the resources and support mechanisms in place to try and keep individuals out of the criminal justice system to begin with. However, when individuals with disabilities do enter the criminal justice system, it is critically important to ensure all of those involved with processing cases are aware of all available options for rehabilitation and that those individuals receive reasonable accommodations. As we have seen, jail time does not always mean successful rehabilitation. And so we also need community-based solutions for reintegration and job training, especially for individuals with disabilities who already face unfair, unwarranted stigmas of being disabled.
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 ensure that law enforcement personnel are properly trained to handle situations involving individuals with disabilities. Sadly, we have seen situations where that was not the case, resulting in the tragic deaths of individuals with disabilities who intended no harm towards officers. The proper role for a federally-elected official in this area is to provide thorough oversight of law enforcement agencies. Having worked in law enforcement and maintained relationships with law enforcement officials throughout Nevada, this is a role I am prepared to assume.
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: Rape and sexual assault are heinous crimes, but especially when they are carried out against those most vulnerable. All of us must work together to ensure community-based organizations and law enforcement understand what to look for in the aftermath of these crimes if they are not reported and how to respond to cases of rape and sexual assault when they involve a victim with disabilities.
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 a veteran myself, few issues are of greater concern to me than supporting veterans with disabilities. I authored H.R. 1816, the Vulnerable Vets Housing Reform Act, legislation which was recently signed into law and will help reduce veterans homelessness amongst low-income, disabled veterans. The bill reverses a flawed HUD policy that counted a VA benefit reserved for disabled veterans as income, thereby reducing the amount of housing assistance that veteran received. This bill will help keep our most vulnerable veterans in their homes.
I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 1581, the Veterans Education Tax Security Act. The VETS Act ensures that discharged loans would be excluded from gross income in the case of (1) totally and permanently disabled (TPD) veterans, as determined by the Secretary of the VA, (2) deceased veterans, and (3) deceased members of the Armed Forces.
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 options are an important part of leading a successful, independent life for individuals with disabilities. We should encourage the development of integrated communities so that people with disabilities can live close to job opportunities, thus reducing the need for long, potentially dangerous commutes.
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: You can’t keep a job if you are unable to find consistent transportation to and from that job. This is especially challenging for individuals with disabilities who sometimes require special transportation accommodations to meet their unique needs. We must make sure that a variety of transportation options are available and that members of the community and their advocates have all of the information necessary to be able to access it. In addition, there must be proper oversight of any existing transportation programs aimed at serving individuals with disabilities to ensure they are providing the service as advertised.
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. Technological innovations have the potential to transform the lives of individuals with disabilities, allowing them to be more independent and productive members of society. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 3229, a bill to protect Complex Rehabilitation Technology and its essential components for people with significant disabilities. This bill will keep CRT affordable and accessible, improving quality of life and independence for individuals with disabilities by ensuring access to medically necessary, individually configured products such as manual and power wheelchairs, adaptive seating systems and alternative positioning systems that keep people with significant disabilities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis (MS) and muscular dystrophy safe and healthy.
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. The world is a safer, better place when America leads and defends the values we have always held dear. This includes standing up for the rights of the disabled in other countries who so often bear the brunt of the oppressive regimes under which they live. America must remain vigilant as events around the globe unfold and we must be willing to take action when atrocities are committed against those most vulnerable. Fundamental to this robust foreign policy is ensuring we provide adequate funding to our military and national defense apparatus. We cannot exert influence on events around the world and be a global force for good if we are not committed to providing the funding necessary to act when necessary.
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 https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.