In the upcoming November elections, our country faces a decision on the direction in which we will proceed for the future. There are many groups competing to have their issues placed on the national agenda, and create policy that is self serving. One particular group that has sizable numbers, but tends to be under-represented, are the disabled. There are 54 million Americans with disabilities while there are few elected officials who are disabled, and even fewer who are advancing issues that benefit the disabled. Whomever is elected President, either Vice President Al Gore or Texas Governor George W. Bush, will have the greatest opportunity to impact what issues are addressed in the beginning of the new administration and create meaningful policy to assist the most under-represented Americans today, the disabled. Thus, it is important to understand which candidate best represents the disabled so they may vote for a candidate who best reflects their views. This editorial will present the positions of each candidate on issues important to the disabled.
The key issues that we have identified as being necessary to assisting individuals with disabilities are: employment, enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, adaptive technology, federal involvement in education, health care and social security. Each of these issues address policies that have substantial effect on the lives of the disabled. Positions presented on each of these issues by the candidates are summarized directly from their campaign websites, so if you would like more information, you can visit their websites or contact each campaign directly.
Al Gore believes in advancing a national policy to provide employment for the disabled. He is advancing a $1.2 billion spending plan to expand access to employment services, health care, and other incentives allowing people with disabilities to return to work. Also, he proposes a new $1,000 tax credit to relieve costs associated with employment. The Vice President is advancing a strong spending agenda to assist the integration of the disabled into the workforce and providing the means of making adaptive technology more affordable and available. His proposals could eliminate many of the barriers that keep the disabled from working currently. Additionally, Mr. Gore is also a supports the recently enacted Work Improvement Incentives Act, and through this law he would create a Disabilities to Work Program, which promotes the use of adaptive technology to connect people to the workplace. The program would encourage the private section employers to hire the disabled, and Mr. Gore would encourage the appointment of individuals with disabilities in his new administration.
Governor George W. Bush has very recently released his own program to promote employment opportunities for the disabled. The first major provision in this program is tripling the research budget of the Rehabilitative Engineering Research Centers (RERC), from $11 million to $33 million per year for advanced research in development and application of adaptive technology that will allow many of the disabled to return to work. Additionally, Governor Bush has created a new initiative that promotes telework, which allows individuals with disabilities to work out of their homes via the Internet. To help promote this practice, the Governor has offered the following reforms: providing $20 million in federal matching funds annually to states to guarantee low rate loans for the disabled to purchase equipment to allow them to telecommute from home, providing businesses a tax break for contributing equipment that allows employees with disabilities to work from home. And finally, as President, Governor Bush would issue an executive order for swift implementation of the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, allowing individuals with disabilities to return to work without jeopardizing their benefits from federal programs, like Social Security and Medicare.
Al Gore has stated publicly that he feels very strongly about the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and all laws that remove barriers to full participation of the disabled in society, including education and housing. Mr. Gore has stated he will appoint Supreme Court Justices who will uphold the ADA, and empower the Justice Department to eliminate discrimination against the disabled through the legal system, by bringing lawsuits against anyone who violates the law. Mr. Gore opposes a recent 8th Circuit Court decision that declared the ADA unconstitutional within its jurisdiction. He has also publicly opposed any decision narrowing the rights of individuals to sue state governments for job discrimination under the ADA. Based on his past record in Congress, Al Gore has been a strong supporter of disabled rights; he was an original Senate co-sponsor of the ADA and would continue that support as President.
Governor Bush believes that the Americans with Disabilities Act acts as a strong incentive to promote a movement towards full integration of individuals with disabilities into society, but also recognizes that there needs to be more done to sustain and make further advancements for the disabled. Mr. Bush wants to promote further compliance with the ADA by providing financial incentives for businesses to do so. Governor Bush will support full, continued enforcement of the ADA along with providing $5 million annually for technical assistance to aid businesses in complying with the Act, serving customers, and hiring more individuals with disabilities. He would promote awareness of the Disabled Access Credit (DAC), created in 1990, which provides a tax credit for 50 percent of eligible expenses up to $5,000 a year, including expenses associated with making facilities accessible and purchasing adaptive technologies.
Al Gore believes in a strong national commitment to increasing accessibility for individuals with disabilities. This includes providing accessible transportation for the disabled, infrastructure policies that allow expanded access in parks and wilderness areas, and increased housing options. He was involved in the White House budget initiative this year that called for $35 million for investment in the development and use of adaptive technology to aid people with disabilities returning to work. Mr. Gore's view is the federal government should commit to increasing the budget for investment in, and providing information about adaptive technology. He also recommended changes to the Rehabilitation Act that strengthens the obligations of federal agencies to provide adaptive technology for their employees. Because of this measure, the federal government would then be able to use its purchasing power to encourage the private sector to develop technology to meet the new demand for adaptive technology.
Governor Bush has put forth changes that would allow more adaptive technology to become widely available to individuals with disabilities. As stated above, he proposes tripling the RERC's current research budget for adaptive technology, and would also provide low interest rate loans so individuals with disabilities are able to afford the technology they require. Additionally, the Governor proposes further steps that allow more technology transfer from the public to the private sector, and promote incentives to develop new technology. To implement these ideas, the Governor would increase funding for the Interagency Committee on Disability Research (ICDR), by $3 million funding annually to this agency to coordinate the federal effort in eliminating barriers to obtaining adaptive technology. This would include hiring staff who will prioritize immediate adaptive and universally designed technology needs for the disabled community, as well as fostering information transfer and collaborative projects between federal laboratories and the private sector. This would improve federal collaboration and the partnership between private agencies and private companies. Also, a new adaptive technology development fund would be established under the ICDR, this $5 million annual fund will help underwrite technology demonstration, testing, and market assessment to meet specific needs of business.
Al Gore supports strong enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and supports tripling of program funding. He would like to see the Act more strongly enforced along with an increase of federal contributions for the education of disabled children. Mr. Gore also supports creating a special pool for funding for children who require particularly costly education services. The Vice President advocates providing classroom teachers training necessary to educate children with disabilities. Mr. Gore also opposes attempts in Congress to reduce rights for disabled children, guaranteeing them the same education received by all other American children.
George W. Bush's position is that the federal government has not provided sufficient funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, leaving the financial burden solely on the states not guaranteeing all the resources they were promised. Governor Bush would restore the funding for the IDEA to reduce the burden on the states and also increase educational resources for disabled students. Additionally, the Governor wants to increase federal funding to students, including those with disabilities, to create a $5 billion incentive fund for states to teach every child to read by the third grade.
Al Gore supports maintaining the current social security system and would use general federal funds to extend the system without further reform. Also, he would add a new system in which people would contribute up to $1500 dollars a year that the government would match. The funds would not be taken out of current Social Security taxes, instead it would use general revenues. His plan leaves the current Social Security system in place, and adds a new 401k style program. The Vice President also wants the government to expand health care to meet the health needs of people with disabilities. Additionally, the Vice President proposes expanding home and community based care, and protecting Medicaid coverage for the disabled. As President, Gore would call on Congress to pass a strong Patients' Bill of Rights, so Americans with disabilities can receive health care they need.
George W. Bush has proposed an initiative to provide long term care that can greatly aid the disabled by providing incentives to purchase long term care insurance, expanding the ability of the disabled to get proper health care. Governor Bush would provide a 100 percent above the line tax deduction for long-term care insurance premiums. Everyone will be eligible, except for those who already receive employer-subsidized long term care coverage. This includes individuals with disabilities and would allow the disabled to purchase health insurance. He also supports a Patients' Bill of Rights, but his version would be on a smaller scale than Gore's, and would not supersede reforms already enacted by states. He has also proposed reforming Social Security that to allow people to set aside part of their contributions in private accounts, providing more return and growth than the current system provides.
These summaries are the positions on issues important to the disabled, taken by the two major party candidates, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Based on information currently available, Vice President Gore has a very developed agenda for aiding the disabled. He has well-defined positions on all major areas that concern the disabled, and is prepared to act if elected. The Vice President would create a large spending program aimed directed at remedying the issues listed above. Governor Bush very recently has presented his own proposal to provide aid for the disabled. It provides many measures that allow the disabled to achieve more independence, through spending, more incentive based programs, and providing low cost loans for purchasing technology. The Governor and Vice President have both developed very thorough agendas, each choosing different approaches to aiding the disabled. However, the campaign still has several months for the candidates to present new ideas on these issues and further define their positions. It should also be noted that each candidate has positions on issues outside the arena of specific disabled issues that impact the country as a whole, and those should be considered as well when choosing a candidate. We hope this summary will better help you choose the candidate that will best represent you, when it comes time to vote in November.
If you would like more information, please visit the individual web sites of the two candidates, Vice President Al Gore at (This link is no longer available)www.algore2000.com, or Governor George W. Bush at (This link is no longer available) www.georgewbush.com.
Legislation and the Law
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