Washington, D.C., Oct. 17 – Responding today to a questionnaire by the disability advocacy group RespectAbility, Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller outlined his views on training and hiring the 193,100 working-age people with disabilities in Nevada, who have an unemployment rate of 57.4 percent.
According to a recent survey, 74 percent of likely voters have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ thoughts on certain issues.
“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.
Sen. Heller’s opponent, Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen, responded to the questionnaire earlier this month. View her responses on The RespectAbility Report.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Heller’s replies follows:
Question 1: What policies and actions do you support to reduce the stigmas of people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality?
Answer: I have a record of fighting for – and successfully passing into law – policies to help people with disabilities. I introduced the bipartisan Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act, a law that exempts VA aid and attendance benefits for disabled veterans from being considered as income when applying for housing assistance. And recently, my bipartisan proposal to make 100 percent, totally disabled veterans eligible for space available travel was signed into law by the President as part of a larger appropriations package.
I understand the importance of ensuring that all Nevadans have every opportunity to live a productive life. Whether it is employment, education, or housing related, I am a strong supporter of on-the-ground programs in Nevada that are working to break down disability stigmas and improve the lives of those with disabilities and their families.
I have been a long-time advocate of programs that provide vocational training and community job placement for individuals with disabilities in Nevada. I’m committed to making sure that these programs remain operational and have the federal support that they need.
Question 2: What is your record on improving the lives of people with disabilities, specifically in enabling people with disabilities to have jobs, careers or start their own businesses?
Answer: I have been a strong supporter of efforts to improve the lives of those with disabilities and help vulnerable Nevadans gain the skills they need to follow their dreams. I was proud to support the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to improve our nation’s workforce development system and help get Americans, including those with barriers to employment, into jobs and careers. WIOA reauthorized and updated federal workforce development programs including the Rehabilitation Act, which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
I’m also proud that as a result of our work to pass pro-growth policies to keep this economy booming and encourage employers to hire and expand, our country has seen low unemployment rates and more job opportunities for individual with disabilities. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in the last year, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities declined significantly, decreasing from 10.5% in 2016 to 9.2 percent in 2017.
Question 3: Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities? For example, what are your thoughts on apprenticeships for youth with disabilities?
Answer: Congress should be doing all it can to help young Americans prepare themselves for the future. I’ve been a long-time supporter of efforts in Nevada to help people with disabilities find employment, but more should be done to expand opportunities for our nation’s youth to receive the skills they need to compete in the 21stcentury.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which was signed into law in March of this year with my strong support, included increased funding for key education and workforce development programs, including WIOA youth programs and apprenticeship grants.
Question 4: The jobs of the future will largely require post-secondary education. However, on average only 65 percent of students with disabilities complete high school and only seven percent complete college. What policies do you support to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan and accommodations/services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment?
Answer: Education is a top priority of mine as my wife is a teacher and my four children attended public schools in Nevada. I strongly believe that all Nevada students should be given the tools to succeed so they can be more prepared for the future – whether that is the workforce or higher education. I recognize the importance of ensuring students with disabilities receive the support they need, whether that’s through an IEP, a 504 plan, or other accommodations.
I have also supported multiple efforts to educate professionals about proper screening, diagnosis, and intervention for children with autism and many other developmental disabilities. Additionally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which was signed into law in March of this year with my strong support, increased funding for many programs that provide support for individuals with disabilities such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants.
Question 5: Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in our nation. Most of them are functionally illiterate and 95 percent of them will eventually be released. What are your views to ensure that individuals with disabilities who are incarcerated gain the skills and mental health supports that will enable them to be successful when they leave incarceration?
Answer: Criminal justice reform and mental health are very much interrelated, and as the 5thmost bipartisan U.S. Senator, I’m hopeful that Congress will soon tackle these issues as many Americans believe there needs to be an overhaul to the broken, current prison system.
Also included in the 21st Century Cures Act, was S.993, legislation I cosponsored to improve access to mental health services for individuals in the criminal justice system and provide law enforcement officers with the tools they need to identify and respond to mental health issues in our communities.
Question 6: People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. This includes the fact that both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault. They are also far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood. How would you address these issues?
Answer: These crimes are abhorrent, and that is why during my time in the U.S. Senate, I have been a strong proponent of legislation to prevent them and to protect individuals who are at risk of becoming victims. For example, I have been a champion of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation that funds critical programs in Nevada that help protect women and other victims living in danger, day-in and day-out. I have also authored and co-authored legislation to support Nevadans who have survived vile crimes such as sexual assault and rape. Just this week, the President signed into law the Justice Served Act, bipartisan legislation I introduced to deliver justice to victims of vile crimes like sexual assault and direct federal funding to help prosecutors in their efforts to solve – and close – cold cases. I’ve also led the fight in Congress to combat the nation’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits. Earlier this year, the President also signed another law that he authored – the SAFER Act – to assist law enforcement in their work to reduce Nevada’s backlog of rape kits and he also supported federal funding to help carry out DNA analysis of rape kits.
We need to have a larger discussion in Washington about better supporting individuals with disabilities, because while we have made progress there’s a lot of work to do.
Question 7: How would you ensure that people with disabilities have access to healthcare and the benefits they need while enabling them with opportunities to work to the best of their capacities without losing the supports they need to live?
Answer: I was a proud cosponsor of the ABLE Act, which allows individuals with disabilities to save for their future needs without losing access to other resources.
The ABLE Act establishes tax-exempt accounts for disabled individuals and their families to help save and plan for long-term care. I want to ensure that these programs are available to families in Nevada and across the county.
I also helped write the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, H.R. 1, which included an important measure that helps individuals with disabilities to explore the workplace by allowing a person with an ABLE account who earns income for a job to save up to the Federal Poverty Level in addition to their annual contribution limit of $14,000.
Question 8: What are your thoughts on ensuring that people with disabilities have the option to live in their homes instead of institutions and still have the community attendant supports they need to live?
Answer: I support that policy and believe that we should also make sure that our family caregivers have the resources they need. The fiscal year 2018 omnibus package, which I voted for, included increased funding for Lifespan Respite Care programs, which assist family caregivers of children and adults with special needs in accessing affordable, quality care.
Additionally, as part of tax reform which I helped push over the finish line, families of loved ones with disabilities can now save for their child’s future by rolling over funds from a 529 account to an ABLE account.
Question 9: How would you advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent?
Answer: I’m proud to report that because of my leadership, the President recently signed into law two proposals of mine to help Americans with disabilities as part of the five-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. These laws will improve wheelchair assistance for individuals traveling on air carriers and ensure that disabled veterans, wheelchair manufacturers, and other groups have a voice on an advisory committee that will report to the Department of Transportation on disability-related access barriers.
As the 5th most bipartisan U.S. Senator in the United States Senate, I stand ready to work with my colleagues and continue advocating for solutions that will improve the lives of those with disabilities.
Question 10: Are your office, website and events accessible to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
Answer: Yes, and my office stands ready to support any Nevadan who needs help with a federal agency. During my time in the U.S. Senate, I’ve helped more than 15,000 Nevadans – many seniors and veterans – receive the benefits that they have earned.
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Senate 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 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report first posed this down ballot questionnaire to candidates in 2016 while covering all of the 2016 Democratic and Republican candidates for president. Coverage of this and related issues can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/.
The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.