Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate completes RespectAbility Candidate Questionnaire
Washington, D.C., Jan. 7 – Posted last week on her website, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has released a comprehensive statement on disability policy covering critical issues such as employment, health care, education, technology and the social safety net. Subsequently, the campaign completed the 2020 Disability Voter Questionnaire by the disability advocacy group RespectAbility.
Her responses to questionnaire reflect technical expertise drawn directly from diverse leaders in the disability community.
“People with disabilities are still fighting for economic security, equal opportunity, and inclusion – and they are not fighting alone,” Warren said. “As president, I will work in partnership with the disability community to combat ableism.”
Further, she aligns her campaign commitments to the “the four goals of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.” Establishing a new “National Office of Disability Coordination to ensure that federal programs work together to support people with disabilities” is one way she intends to keep her promises if elected.
The Warren campaign’s attention to detail and commitment to inclusion is clearly seen in her proposal related to economic empowerment for the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities. She cites her past support of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as evidence of her commitment to workforce opportunity and financial security for people with disabilities. “Building economic security for people with disabilities means rewriting the rules of the economy to foster inclusivity, value their labor, and end labor market discrimination and exploitation,” she said.
The senator signaled her commitment to expanding competitive, integrated employment by mentioning the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which would specifically support individuals with disabilities to find competitive employment, invest in community providers working to transform their business models and phase out subminimum wages over a six-year period.
This legislative goal is backed up with several proposals around strengthening federal executive branch efforts to advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Enforcement actions by the EEOC, U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Labor against disability discrimination would be an essential element of a Warren administration. Likewise, Warren’s response to the questionnaire includes a commitment to meet or exceed the Obama administration’s past efforts to make the federal government a model employer for people with disabilities.
Her visions for a new economy also depend on supporting immigrants and immigrants with disabilities. “Immigrants grow our economy and make our communities richer and more diverse,” Warren said, adding that “immigrants with disabilities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.” U.S. Census Bureau data shows there are more than 44 million immigrants living in the United States and out of that number, up to 6 million are probably living with a disability.
New federal rules prohibit immigrants with disabilities and other people the government thinks are at risk of needing government benefits from entering the country. Disability and immigration advocates have condemned this proposal as clear discrimination against people with disabilities and people with chronic health conditions.
Immigration advocates estimate that there are up to “1.5 million undocumented individuals … with a disability,” many of whom have ended up detained, arrested and deported. Warren said that accommodation and accessibility need to be “in every aspect of the immigration process.”
Warren’s campaign has made health care policy a major focus of attention and that commitment is reflected in her responses to the questionnaire. From the debate stage to small towns in Iowa, Sen. Warren has presented a transformative vision of health care access in America and that vision includes people with disabilities. “People with disabilities are frequently denied coverage, subject to discriminatory treatment, or receive inadequate services,” she said. “We need a system that empowers all people to live full lives. We need a system that reflects our values. That system is Medicare for All.”
Critically for the disability community, Warren’s proposal includes “long-term services and supports (LTSS) coverage,” “expanding the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program” as well as making “home and community-based services mandatory.”
While Warren’s disability plan touches on many critical issues, there was a brief dustup between the disability community and Warren’s campaign after the initial version of her January plan omitted mentioning the Disability Integration Act (DIA). The DIA has been one of the most important legislation priorities of many disability rights organizations for the past several years. The DIA is critical because it would provide an enforceable right to community integration for millions of people with disabilities trapped in institutions. Warren’s website has subsequently been updated, pledging her administration would “enact and build on the Disability Integration Act.”
In responding to the questionnaire, Warren wrote: “We must ensure every American has the support they need to lead an independent life. I firmly believe in the right of those with mental illnesses and disabilities to live and participate in their communities, and I will end the bias toward institutional care. and guarantee seniors and those with disabilities the right to home and community-based services. My administration will enact and build on the Disability Integration Act and fully enforce the Olmstead decision to achieve the promise of community-based treatment and services under Medicare for All.”
Education is another area where Sen. Warren’s campaign intricately links disability inclusions to her vision of a better future. Nationally, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school each year compared to 86 percent of student without disabilities. That means there is 21-point gap in outcomes. A factor behind that gap in outcomes is the lack of full federal funding to support students with disabilities and special education services. Thus, Warren’s education proposals include prioritizing “free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities by fully-funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and will tackle discriminatory policies and practices in education head-on.” These ideas go beyond the typical political platitudes about making schools better. She is specifically committed to investing “$800 billion in America’s public schools, including increasing Title I by an additional $450 billion and $200 billion additional dollars in IDEA.” Likewise, Warren is committed to “$50 billion in school infrastructure funding” as well as championing “rigorous, culturally relevant, and identity-affirming curricula, and that includes disability history and the contributions of people with disabilities.”
Warren’s questionnaire responses provide critical details around making the social safety net work better for Americans with disabilities. “To build economic security for people with disabilities,” she said. “We must rewrite the rules of government programs that trap them in poverty.” Detailed specifics in the Warren disability plan include eliminating “the “waiting periods for SSDI benefits and Medicare altogether,” increasing “the SSDI and SSI earnings threshold to $2,110 for all individuals” and other key changes.
According to research conducted by RespectAbility in 2018, 74 percent of likely voters either 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 one of the coauthors of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.
“The disability community is unique,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, associate editor of The RespectAbility Report. “It is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to illness, injury, or aging. What that means is that there are people with disabilities in every state, and that the community’s interests intersect with so many issues, including race, gender, poverty, criminal justice and inequality.”
According to a Rutgers University study, “14.3 million citizens with disabilities” voted in 2018. Those voters will be crucial as candidates like Warren vie for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes. RespectAbility has reached out to all of the presidential campaigns and will be posting all responses on The RespectAbility Report. The Warren campaign has made disability inclusion a strong part of her campaign. In addition to her extensive plan on her website, she has completed three disability-related questionnaires, including the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire’s questionnaire in April 2019, the AAPD/NCIL Presidential Questionnaire, and most, recently RespectAbility’s Candidate Questionnaire.
The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Sen. Warren’s responses follows:
1. What policies and actions do you support to reduce the stigmas of people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality?
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA, and the 100th anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation program. Though we have made significant progress for the 61 million Americans living with disabilities, we have a lot of ground left to cover. People with disabilities are still fighting for economic security, equal opportunity, and inclusion – and they are not fighting alone. As president, I will work in partnership with the disability community to combat ableism. I will fight alongside them for justice across all aspects of life and to fulfill the four goals of the ADA: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self sufficiency. I’ll start by making clear that disability is a priority in my administration, creating a National Office of Disability Coordination to ensure that federal programs work together to support people with disabilities.
Building economic security for people with disabilities means rewriting the rules of the economy to foster inclusivity, value their labor, and end labor market discrimination and exploitation. As president, I’ll fight for economic security for individuals with disabilities by supporting opportunities to participate fully in the economy at a fair wage and to ensure financial security for all. My administration will also support children with disabilities and their families by providing crucial early interventions and ensuring meaningful access to education. When children with disabilities are supported and included, they can excel. But right now, we are failing on our country’s promise to give them a great education. My administration will invest in providing a meaningful, free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities by fully funding IDEA and will tackle discriminatory policies and practices in education head-on.
Experts have sounded the alarm about the potential for artificial intelligence and algorithms to discriminate against individuals with disabilities across a variety of areas, including automated job screenings and housing. As president, I’ll create a taskforce that works across relevant federal agencies to promote enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws, new regulations that specifically address discrimination in current and emerging technology, and guidance to the industry to promote compliance. My administration will ensure that technology is used to advance the interests of people with disabilities.
Systemic failures to consider and include people with disabilities have resulted in unconscionable limitations on their freedom to participate in our society and barriers to housing, transportation, and health care. As President, I’ll protect the rights and civil liberties of people with disabilities in areas like voting, criminal justice, and parental custody. My administration will also fight for affordable, accessible, and green housing, accessible public transportation, and environmental justice. We’ll ensure consistent access to affordable, high quality health care, and lead the fight for disability rights around the world. Read more about my plan here: https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/disability-rights
2. What is your record on improving the lives of people with disabilities? What have you done to enable people with disabilities to have competitive jobs, meaningful careers or become entrepreneurs?
Today, it’s perfectly legal for an employer to hire workers with disabilities and pay them below what they pay workers without disabilities for doing the same work. This is absolutely shameful, and I’ve called on the Department of Labor to crack down on employers that abuse this policy. That’s why I’m a proud original co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act, to ensure a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all workers and end the shameful subminimum wage. I also supported the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which has expanded opportunities and investment in Vocational Rehabilitation and other workforce training and programs that support competitive, integrated employment. I pushed for a significant increase in funding for the EEOC to ensure that it has the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. And I’ve introduced the AIM HIGH Act to ensure that instructional technologies at colleges and universities are accessible to students with disabilities and supported fully funding IDEA.
I’ve also worked to help individuals with disabilities build financial security, including by supporting the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, to allow individuals with disabilities to save and pay for disability-related expenses, and pushed to expand the ABLE Act to benefit older individuals and allow for higher contribution limits.
As president, I’ll push to pass the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act to help transition individuals with disabilities and business models from subminimum wage to competitive employment. My administration will fight discrimination in the labor market and the workplace by increasing funding for civil rights enforcement at the EEOC and the Department of Justice. I will also ensure that the Department of Labor is enforcing section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and protecting disabled veterans against work discrimination. And my plan for national paid family and medical leave will ensure that workers get the time off they need to care for themselves – or for family members with disabilities – without risking their financial security.
But there’s more we can do. As president, I’ll make federal employment a pathway to workforce inclusion and competitive wages for people with disabilities. When President Obama prioritized recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities for federal jobs, he was able to raise the level of people with disabilities in federal service to 14% of the overall workforce. I’ll re-commit to President Obama’s efforts, and I will include federal contractors and internship programs, too. I will also explore ways to increase entrepreneurship among individuals with disabilities, including promoting government contracting with disability-owned businesses and financing for startups.
To make the economy work for people with disabilities, we must also take aim at the ways that the financial industry targets people with disabilities, who can face higher risks of identity theft, financial abuse, and financial fraud, as well as limited incomes, making them less likely to be banked and more likely to borrow from payday lenders. I’ll create a position at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to coordinate and expand the Bureau’s existing services for people with disabilities.
3. What specific workforce development strategies do you support that will empower youth with disabilities?
I will fight to make sure that students with disabilities have access to a great public education, including high-quality higher education experiences. I’ll support ambitious individualized education programs (IEPs) for all students with disabilities, require schools to include students’ classroom teachers in IEP development, and ensure they have access to meaningful college and career readiness programs. I’ll also issue guidance for school districts on how best to include students in the development of their IEPs beginning in elementary school and encourage states to develop postsecondary transition plans earlier in a student’s school career.
I’ve proposed a historic investment in public higher education that will eliminate the cost of tuition and fees at every public technical, two- and four-year college in America. I’ll also require public colleges to complete annual audits to identify disparities in enrollment and graduation rates for students with disabilities and propose steps to improve those rates.
As president, I will fight for broad student debt cancellation that will relieve the burden for 42 million Americans. We should also take steps to improve the student loan program and avoid another student debt crisis in the future, including improving the total and permanent disability discharge process. Student loan borrowers who are unable to work due to disability may be eligible for student loan cancellation, but bureaucratic processes keep many borrowers from getting the discharges they deserve. My administration will proactively reach out to borrowers who may qualify for this program to relieve their student debt burdens and provide automatic relief whenever possible.
Finally, my administration will provide people with disabilities access to additional training and services that prepare them for competitive employment. To better support training and work opportunities as part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, I will also invest in Vocational Rehabilitation and other workforce training and programs that support competitive, integrated employment. And I’ll fight to fully fund the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and formally establish ODEP in law.
4. The jobs of the future will largely require post-secondary education or other credentials. Today 65 percent of students with disabilities complete high school. What policies do you advocate to support the academic and career success of students with disabilities, especially for students from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds?
I will fight for every kid in America to have access to a high-quality public education. When children with disabilities are supported and included, they can excel. Making sure that students with disabilities have access to a great public education starts with ensuring a free and appropriate public education and fully funding IDEA. My plan invests $800 billion in America’s public schools, including increasing Title I by an additional $450 billion and $200 billion additional dollars in IDEA.
My administration will invest an additional $50 billion in school infrastructure to repair our nation’s schools and make sure they’re safe and accessible to everyone, with a focus on universal design. We’ll support rigorous, culturally relevant, and identity-affirming curricula, and that includes disability history and the contributions of people with disabilities. I’ll also fight to fully fund research on how to best incorporate culturally responsive practices in special education services and for inclusive, evidence-based health classes and sex education. And my administration will work with states, experts, advocates, and families to develop standardized language development milestones and to provide parents and early educators with the resources they need to help their Deaf and hearing-impaired children and students acquire and develop language skills for kindergarten and beyond.
I will also tackle discriminatory policies and practices head-on. My administration will vigilantly enforce IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA and make sure that parents and students have the resources to seek the supports to which they are entitled. I will ensure that students with disabilities, including those who attend or seek to attend charter schools, have a free and appropriate public education. I’ve committed to expanding capacity at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights so that the federal government can root out discrimination in our schools – including discrimination against educators with disabilities that inhibits the development of a diverse educator workforce. I will also implement Department of Education regulations to ensure that students of color with disabilities are treated fairly when it comes to identification, classroom placement, services and accommodations, and discipline. I’ll ensure that appropriate services are available to English Language Learners and immigrant students with disabilities, and I will fight to require states to include steps toward inclusion in their ESSA state plans and to invest in technical assistance for schools and teachers toward true inclusion.
To fully support students with disabilities, I will tackle discriminatory policies and practices headon. Despite strong anti-discrimination laws, students with disabilities still face discriminatory policies and practices that disproportionately impact them. That’s why I’m also committed to breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, fighting zero tolerance disciplinary practices and school pushout practices that contribute to chronic absenteeism and dropping out, closing the mental health provider gap in schools, investing in social emotional learning and restorative justice, ending the militarization of our schools. I’ll oppose the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, and I will push for sufficient training to ensure student, teacher, and staff safety.
5. Immigration is a major social, political and workforce development issue. Given questions around the new “public charge” rule that impacts immigrants with disabilities, the challenges faced by English language learners with non-visible disabilities who want to develop their skills and the talent needs of the business community, what is your vision for enabling immigrants to succeed here in America?
I will establish new protections for immigrants with disabilities. Immigrants grow our economy and make our communities richer and more diverse, and immigrants with disabilities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. As president, I will protect asylum seekers by issuing guidance to limit the use of detention to circumstances when it is necessary because an individual poses a flight or safety risk, and to protect those who are most vulnerable in a general detention facility. I’ll remake Customs and Border Protection and ICE from top to bottom. I’ll insist on transparency and empower internal watchdogs with independent authority to prevent abuse, including maltreatment of people with disabilities, and I’ll designate a Justice Department task force to investigate the most serious accusations. Whether they are held in detention, being screened, or taking the naturalization exam, immigrants with disabilities should have access to appropriate accommodations, and I’ll mandate access to accommodations in every aspect of the immigration process. I will also reinstate and expand DACA, which will protect critical support for people with disabilities. And I’ll withdraw the Trump administration’s policy that forces immigrant families to choose between staying together and ensuring their children have access to critical services which is causing indefensible harm to immigrant families.
My administration will also establish an Office of New Americans, dedicated to supporting new immigrants, including those with disabilities, as they transition into our society and economy. By collaborating with community organizations, immigrants with disabilities can receive support — from early intervention services to vocational rehabilitation — tailored to their needs and experiences.
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. How would you address these issues?
People with disabilities deserve to live their lives free from violence, including sexual violence. As a senator and presidential candidate, it’s my responsibility to promote policies that reduce rates of rape and sexual assault, provide survivors with the resources they need, and hold perpetrators accountable. I have consistently supported federal programs, including those authorized by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act, that support domestic violence and sexual assault victims and their families. And I’ve introduced legislation that would increase the transparency of workplace harassment and discrimination–including sexual harassment and discrimination against people with disabilities.
I will also reform our criminal justice system to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. We need real reform of our criminal justice system. People with disabilities face barriers in the legal system at all levels of involvement. As president, I will enforce the ADA in the legal system and in access to counsel. I’ve committed to strengthening public defenders and expanding access to counsel by providing funding for language and cultural competency training, including on treatment of individuals with disabilities. I’ll also expand training and technical assistance for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and victim services providers, ensuring that all participants in the legal system are able to work with people with disabilities who are witnesses, jurors, victims of crimes, or defendants.
My administration will also affirm and enforce federal protections under Title IX for all students who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault and require coordination between schools’ offices of disability services and Title IX offices.
7. Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars. Many face serious barriers to reentry when they complete their sentences and return home. What reforms do you support to ensure that returning citizens with disabilities have the resources, skills and mental health support to succeed when they leave incarceration?
It is critical that we provide support to people with disabilities who are formerly incarcerated. That’s why I’ll support re-entry by funding partnerships between the re-entry system, Vocational Rehab, and Centers for Independent Living. A Warren administration will also pressure states to eliminate collateral sanctions. Millions of Americans are currently on parole or probation. We know that reducing the barriers to full reintegration in society reduces recidivism, but the system is rife with collateral consequences that hamper reentry for formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions on occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over 3 million returning citizens. We should remove those barriers and allow those who have served their time to find work and fully rejoin their communities. I’ll also fight to reduce needlessly restrictive parole requirements. Technical parole and probation violations make up a large number of all state prison admissions, sometimes for infractions as minor as a paperwork error. While many rules are made at the state level, the federal government should seek to remove those barriers wherever possible, reduce parole requirements for low-level offenders, and remove the threat of jail time for minor parole violations. And I’ll establish a federal expungement option. Many states provide a certificate of recovery for nonviolent offenders who have served their time and maintained a clean record for a certain number of years. This should be replicated at the federal level.
In addition to providing support for those who are formerly incarcerated, we also need to address the serious failures of our prison system. Private prisons have some of the highest rates of abuses and exploitative practices in the system. That’s why I’ve called to ban private prisons and detention facilities, and hold contractors accountable by expanding oversight, transparency and enforcement.
All prisons should meet basic human and civil rights standards, including providing accommodations and protections for prisoners with disabilities and limiting restrictive housing. I will implement a rigorous auditing program to ensure that prisons are adhering to legal requirements to provide accommodations and protect people with disabilities from abuse while incarcerated, and prosecute prison staff who engage in misconduct. I’ll also require all jails and prisons to have working video phones for Deaf individuals and their loved ones. I’ve cosponsored the Solitary Confinement Reform Act, which would reform the practice of solitary confinement and create a Civil Rights Ombudsman tasked with protecting the civil rights of those who are incarcerated. As president, I’ll eliminate the use of solitary confinement and direct the Bureau of Prisons to establish a set of standards and reforms to protect the most vulnerable in our prison system.
8. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood. How would you address these issues?
As president, I will establish a federal standard on use-of-force and increase funding for training. I’ll provide tools and resources to ensure that best practices on law enforcement training are available across America, giving local police what they need to meet federal training requirements, including training on implicit bias and the scientific and psychological roots of discrimination, cultural competency, and engaging individuals with cognitive or other disabilities. I’ll also mandate better data collection on how people with disabilities interact with the criminal justice system.
I will require school districts that choose to employ law enforcement officers or other security personnel on school campuses to train them on discrimination, youth development, deescalation tactics, and interacting with students with disabilities; and I will provide the funding and technical assistance to adequately do so.
A Warren administration will also address laws that penalize people who are homeless and draw them into the justice system instead of giving them access to the services they need. These laws disproportionately impact people with disabilities. My Department of Justice will not fund efforts to criminalize homelessness and will deny grant money to police departments who are arresting residents for living outside.
I’m also committed to decriminalizing mental health crises. Instead of relying on a system that is not meant to meet their needs, we should invest in preventing people from reaching those crisis points in the first place. In addition to investing in Medicare for All to provide critical mental health services, I’ll increase funding for “co-responder” initiatives that connect law enforcement to mental health care providers and experts. And my administration will pilotevidence-based crisis response efforts to provide needed services to individuals with mental illness.
And I’ll fight the criminalization of poverty. That’s why I’ve committed to ending cash bail, restricting fines and fees levied before adjudication, capping the assessment of fines and fees, and eliminating fees for necessary services like phone calls.
9. 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? This relates to private healthcare as well as SSI, SSDI, Medicare and Medicaid.
Health care is a human right, but too many people with disabilities face barriers to quality care. People with disabilities are frequently denied coverage, subject to discriminatory treatment, or receive inadequate services. We need a system that empowers all people to live full lives. We need a system that reflects our values. That system is Medicare for All. My plan reduces health care costs in America, eliminates profiteering, and ensures everyone can get the care they need without going broke. Starting on day one of my presidency, I will protect people with pre-existing conditions, and work to reverse the Trump Administration’s sabotage of our health care system. Within my first 100 days, I will push Congress to give everyone the choice to join an improved Medicare program that covers vision, hearing, mental health, dental, and long term care. I will accomplish this by lowering the Medicare age limit to people over 50 and giving everyone else the opportunity to join a Medicare for All option that will be free for children under 18 and for millions making under double the poverty level (about $50,000 for a family of four). That means increased funding for direct support, home health services, and financial support for those who currently provide home care for loved ones with disabilities without reimbursement.
Then, no later than my third year in office I will push Congress to complete the transition to Medicare for All. Under Medicare for All, I will fight to improve critical elements of Medicaid’s long-term services and supports (LTSS) coverage, which states will continue to manage, including strengthening and expanding the MFP program. As we make home and communitybased services mandatory under Medicare for All, we will work to better standardize these benefits across states and eliminate Medicaid’s estate recovery, marriage penalty, and LTSS asset test. As we transition to Medicare for All, I will roll back harmful work requirements, enrollment caps, and Medicaid premiums allowed by the Trump Administration to ensure that Americans with disabilities can get the care they need. In this period, I will continue to oppose block granting Medicaid, defend funding for critical support services like non-emergency medical transportation, and work with states to pilot demonstrations to improve Medicaid portability for beneficiaries who are traveling or in cases of displacement or disaster.
I will also eliminate the waiting periods for SSDI benefits and Medicare altogether. And I’ll continue to fight to ensure people aren’t penalized for trying to get back in the workforce. My plan would increase the SSDI and SSI earnings threshold to $2,110 for all individuals and index it to inflation and create an offset of $1 for every $2 earned above the threshold so that benefits gradually zero out. And I’ll fight to increase benefits for all Social Security and SSDI beneficiaries by an additional $200 a month and increase the SSI federal benefit to the federal poverty line, update the earned and unearned income disregards, and eliminate the asset limit.
10. 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? Do you have a plan for affordable housing and to reduce homelessness for people with disabilities?
We must ensure every American has the support they need to lead an independent life. I firmly believe in the right of those with mental illnesses and disabilities to live and participate in their communities, and I will end the bias toward institutional care. and guarantee seniors and those with disabilities the right to home and community-based services. My administration will enact and build on the Disability Integration Act and fully enforce the Olmstead decision to achieve the promise of community-based treatment and services under Medicare for All.
My Housing Plan for America will bring down rents by 10% nationwide by tackling the growing cost of housing at its root: a shortage of affordable housing, and state and local land-use rules that needlessly drive up housing costs. My plan would add more than 3 million new affordable housing units and prioritize a portion of these units to particularly vulnerable groups like the chronically homeless, people living with HIV, people with disabilities, seniors who want to age in place, and people who have been incarcerated and are returning to the community. I’ll look for opportunities to incentivize developers to build more ADA-compliant homes, and I’ll also restore funding for the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program to at least 2018 levels.
My plan to Protect and Empower Renters strengthens fair housing law and enforcement, which is particularly critical for renters with disabilities who make up the majority of discrimination complaints. It also strengthens Fair Housing Act anti-discrimination protections to include source of income, like a housing voucher or SSI. I’ll protect HUD’s disparate impact rule against the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken it, so that tenants have the tools to challenge business decisions and zoning regulations that discriminate against people with disabilities. I will roll back the Trump administration’s effort to add work requirements to housing assistance. I’ll also direct HUD to take on chronic nuisance ordinances – local laws that threaten fair housing for people with disabilities by allowing or requiring landlords to evict tenants based on certain incidents, including 911 calls.
In addition to tackling affordability and discrimination, a Warren administration will invest in safe, healthy, accessible, and green public housing. As a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, I’ll work to ensure that we raise the standard of living in all public housing, fight to completely close the national public housing capital repair backlog, and invest in climateresilient, accessible, and new public housing construction.
11. The federal law and benefits system punish people who want to work or whose families want to help them. For example, currently people with disabilities who are on SSI are prohibited of having more than $2,000 liquid assets at any one time. Furthermore, current law limits parents and grandparents to helping their children financially who acquired their disability prior to age 26 but not if they acquire a disability after age 26. What will you do to ensure that people have more options than being forced to choose between access to supports, benefits and service or the opportunity to pursue work, careers and an income?
To build economic security for people with disabilities, we must rewrite the rules of government programs that trap them in poverty. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is meant to provide financial security to people with disabilities when they are unable to work or are facing structural barriers to engaging in the workforce. But low monthly payments and punitive eligibility terms trap beneficiaries in poverty, punish them for receiving support from friends and family, and can even force them to choose between critical benefits and marrying the person they love. As president, I’ll fight to increase the SSI federal benefit rate to match the federal poverty line. And
I’ll establish a hold harmless provision so that recipients don’t lose access to other critical programs from the benefit rate increase. But I won’t stop there. I’ll fight to revise woefully outdated and punitive eligibility and income rules, like increasing the unearned income disregard from $20 to $123 and the earned income disregard from $65 to $399, and repeal the in-kind support and maintenance, transfer, and marriage penalties. I will eliminate the asset limit and update the deeming rule to break down barriers to saving, financial independence, and marriage, and I’ll set the earnings eligibility threshold at $2,110 to match SSDI. I’ll fight to end the loss of benefits for individuals that are admitted to medical facilities or emergency homeless shelters for longer periods of time. Finally, I will fight to expand SSI benefits to citizens in territories like Puerto Rico to establish equal rights to SSI for all Americans.
I’ll continue to fight to ensure people who are SSDI beneficiaries aren’t penalized for trying to get back in the workforce. My plan would increase the SSDI earnings threshold to $2,110 for all individuals and index it to inflation and create an offset of $1 for every $2 earned above the threshold so that benefits gradually zero out.
12. How would you advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent?
My administration will work to bring down the costs of assistive technologies that allow people with disabilities to lead fuller lives. If companies that used government funding to develop their products are unwilling or unable to offer key assistive technologies at reasonable prices, my administration will use its authority under the Bayh-Dole Act to license patented innovations to companies that will ensure that technologies are available to the public on reasonable terms. I will also direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to further integrate information about medical devices into claims data so we can accurately track their safety — an especially important issue for those who rely on medical equipment and devices. And my administration will take seriously the needs of disabled individuals when determining medical necessity for assistive technology. My plan to break up big tech will also promote competition and stimulate innovation that can help bring more products to market that meet the needs of people with disabilities at lower costs. And I’m committed to fighting for $100 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health to expand research that can provide a foundation for affordable and life-changing supports for people with disabilities.
As president, I’ll create a taskforce that works across relevant federal agencies to promote enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws, new regulations that specifically address discrimination in current and emerging technology, and guidance to the industry to promote compliance. I will also ensure full accessibility of federal agency websites, information, and technology and fight for accessibility across all websites. Further, I will massively expand broadband access across the country with an $85 billion federal grant program, and I’ll work to pass the Digital Equity Act, which invests $2.5 billion over ten years to help states develop digital equity plans and launch digital inclusion projects.
13. What are your plans to ensure that the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration supports and serves veterans with disabilities? What is your plan to support veterans with disabilities, especially female veterans with disabilities?
As president, I’ll prioritize the unique challenges that face veterans with disabilities. I have committed to substantially increasing funding for the EEOC to uphold the rights of veterans with disabilities at work and to enforcing protection against work discrimination of disabled veterans.
A Warren administration will invest in the VA, not further dismantle it. And under Medicare for All, veterans will all have high-quality health coverage that gives them the option to seek care from non-VA doctors and hospitals for no additional cost. If there isn’t a VA close to where they live, Medicare for All will ensure that veterans still get the care they need when they need it. Medicare for All will also expand access to long-term home and community-based care, offering critical support and relieving the financial burden on veterans and their families. A Warren administration will also make it easier for service members and veterans to see a mental health professional, including by significantly increasing the number of mental health specialists at DOD and VA, streamlining appointment processes, and enhancing access to telehealth options for those who cannot come to a VA facility.
I’ll task the National Academy of Public Administration to review and overhaul the disability ratings system to better accommodate “invisible” wounds like TBI. I’ll direct them to take into account recommendations for best practices, including training additional staff to evaluate cases and taking into account symptoms that are closely-associated with undiagnosed TBI. I’ll also ensure that DOD tracks and records potential toxic exposure by integrating it into the post-deployment checklist, that adequate funding is allocated to research diseases that may be connected to certain kinds of exposure, and that those affected are treated without delay.
I’ll make sure that veterans automatically get full access to the results of their examinations and put in place rigorous processes to ensure claims are granted consistently nationwide. And to help veterans navigate the system and obtain the benefits they deserve, I’ll also establish a grant program to fund additional caseworkers at Veterans Service Organizations and other communitybased organizations.
A 21st century VA must also adapt to the modern fabric of our veteran population, ensuring that gender-specific care is the norm. That’s why I successfully fought to ensure VA has sufficient resources and expertise in its peer counseling program for women veterans. I’ll also ensure that VA provides full reproductive health care for all veterans, in addition to the full reproductive health coverage they will have under Medicare for All.
Too often, women veterans experience sexually explicit comments and other forms of harassment that make them feel unsafe and unwelcome and cause them to delay seeking care at their local VA or miss appointments altogether. This is shameful and it has to stop. I’ll ensure that a Warren VA has a comprehensive policy to eliminate sexual harassment and assault and hold perpetrators accountable, so that women veterans do not have to feel unsafe at their VA medical center when they seek the care they’ve earned.
14. People with disabilities are at extreme risk from climate change. What are your plans to reduce the climate crisis and to create emergency solutions for people with disabilities when disasters strike?
Defeating the climate crisis will be a top priority of my administration. From day one, I will fight for a Green New Deal, using all the tools of the federal government. I have woven climate policy throughout my plans because we need big, structural change to take on the climate crisis and fight for an economy that works for everybody. As we fight for environmental justice our response to climate change must factor in the impact on individuals with disabilities. I will make sure that their needs are front and center as we tackle environmental justice and climate change.
As president, I will strengthen rules to require disaster response plans to uphold the rights of vulnerable populations. We’ll also develop best practices at the federal level to help state and local governments develop plans for at-risk communities — including for extreme heat or cold — require that evacuation services and shelters are fully accessible to people with disabilities, and make emergency management plans a requirement in IEPs for students with disabilities. During emergencies, we will work to ensure that critical information is shared in ways that reflect the diverse needs of people with disabilities and other at-risk communities, including through ASL and Braille and languages spoken in the community. I’ll push to pass the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters (REAADI) Act, which will establish a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters, ensure that federal disaster spending is ADA compliant, and support people with disabilities in disaster planning. I’ll fight to pass the Disaster Relief Medicaid (DRM) Act, which will make certain that individuals can get health care if they have to leave their community or if there is a disruption in care. And we will ensure that a sufficient number of disability specialists are present in state emergency management teams and FEMA’s disaster response corps.
15. Are your office, website and events accessible to people with disabilities? Have you identified a process for including people with disabilities in your staff and policy advisors? If yes, please describe.
I believe that universal inclusion begins within our campaign and pledge that my campaign – and my administration – will be fully inclusive of people with disabilities. On my campaign, we have a staff member who prioritizes outreach to the disability community so that our campaign is deliberately listening and taking intentional steps towards inclusion. Some of the steps we’ve already taken include: hiring individuals with disabilities, making sure our offices and event spaces are accessible, prioritizing phone and texts banks alongside canvases so that people of all mobilities can participate, ensuring that all photographs on our website have alt-text and that our videos include captions, and asking event attendees about their accessibility needs and reaching out to those individuals directly to confirm what they need so that we can accommodate them on the day of the event. We also have a diverse volunteer disability policy working group. I will continue to hire people with disabilities and work closely with people with disabilities in my campaign, and I’ll work to make sure our government works for everyone.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. View more coverage of 2020 presidential candidates.