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What Biden’s Build Back Better Framework Means for People with Disabilities

The White House outlines framework for the Build Back Better Act, but what does it mean for 56 million Americans with disabilities?

Washington, D.C., October 30 – As October slips into November, the White House is working hard with Congressional leaders to finalize the details, priorities and projects to be funded by the forthcoming Build Back Better Act. After extensive meetings in recent days, a new framework was announced for the forthcoming legislation.

“This framework will guide the drafting of legislative language,” the White House said in a prepared statement released along with the framework. “When enacted, this framework will set the United States on course to meet its climate goals, create millions of good-paying jobs, enable more Americans to join and remain in the labor force, and grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out.”

This framework has the potential to impact the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities in significant ways through new investments in childcare, health care, and education. However, given how much of this bill is up in the air, a critical question needs to be asked: what specific pieces of this framework directly touch on disability issues?  

The proposed framework is roughly divided into four categories of action: Investments in the Economy, Bringing Down Costs, Affordable Care, and Investments in Clean Energy.

Investments in the Economy

If the Build Back Better Act is passed and becomes law, people with disabilities will directly benefit from approximately $150 billion dollars of federal investment in increasing access to Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). HCBS is a crucial service that supports people with disabilities to live and work in their local communities. Critically, this investment could empower hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities to earn an income without fear of losing their medical benefits. This amount also invests directly in expanding the direct care workforce which is under significant strain due to the pandemic. As the White House proudly notes, the Build Back Better Act would be “the most transformative investment in access to home care in 40 years.”

Other investments with direct economic benefits include expanding access to preschool for young children, limitations on childcare costs, and an extension of the Child Tax Credit which has already helped 35 million households.

Bringing Down Costs

There are two further ways that the proposed elements of the Build Back Better Act would support the aspirations of workers with disabilities. First, the proposal would increase the maximum amount of money that students can receive through the Pell Grant program. This program is one of the most important means whereby students with and without disabilities access money to help pay for college. Likewise, the proposed Act would increase investment in “community college workforce programs, sector based training, and apprenticeships” that directly train workers with and without disabilities for the jobs of the future. This will require increasing “the Labor Department’s annual spending on workforce development by 50 percent for each of the next 5 years.” Second, the bill would also extend the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which helped over 17 million workers last year. The EITC is an important tool for helping workers with and without disabilities maximize their earnings.

Affordable Care

The current version of the framework would also directly support increased access to healthcare for many Americans. By extending Affordable Care Act premium tax credits  through 2025, the framework estimates that “4 million uninsured people” would gain coverage. The proposed provisions of the Build Back Better Act would also directly impact the 9 million older Americans with disabilities currently enrolled in Medicare by expanding hearing coverage.

Investments in Clean Energy

To the tune of approximate $550 billion dollars, the Build Back Better Act would also significantly invest federal resources into a host of clean energy proposals. From expanded tax credits clean energy among utility companies to investments in mitigating “extreme weather” events, this bill would change how America powers its homes, businesses, and communities.

What does the current version of the Build Back Better Act include?

Notably, the framework released this week by the White House is narrower in scope than the grand campaign promises made by candidate Biden. The most significant omission of the new framework is any provision that would directly help workers with and without disabilities to access paid leave. This is a major loss and could directly harm millions of family caregivers who may face choices between earning an income and helping sick family members. This is particularly disappointing given the inclusion of paid leave supports in several of the stimulus bills passed in 2020.

How are Disability Organizations Reacting to this Framework?

Organizations eager to see the President deliver on his ambitious agenda were cautiously optimistic following the announcement about the new framework.

In a public statement on the issue, Donna Meltzer, CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities noted that expanded HCBS funding would help “realize the ADA promise of community integration for people with disabilities.” Meltzer also went on to say that “the Build Back Better framework announced by the President today lays out how Congress can finally deliver for people with disabilities so they can live independently. Congress must seize the opportunity to follow the framework contained in President Biden’s framework to advance access to independent living for people with disabilities.”

Likewise, the Arc of the United States also noted disappointment about the lack of paid leave provisions and called on advocates to continue pushing for more investments. “The pandemic highlighted for everyone how crucial paid leave is for people with disabilities and their families. Leaving out paid leave is unacceptable, and Congress should include paid leave in this package,” said Peter Berns, the CEO of the Arc. Berns went on to also say that “This proposal is a huge down payment on investing in the futures of people with disabilities and their families. It will expand access to services for people with disabilities on waiting lists and start addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages and creating more jobs.”

Would you like to learn more?

A short fact sheet is available here and a longer summary is available here as well. Likewise, you can read the full text of the bill online.

What can people with disabilities do to help?

The staff at RespectAbility will continue monitoring this situation and encourage you to make your voices heard by your elected officials. If you have specific questions about this Bill, please email or call your members of Congress. Locate your U.S. senators’ contact information and find your U.S. representative’s websites.

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