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Supporters of Legislation for People with Disabilities

November 13, 1999 [Updated January 31, 2001]

The information in this editorial is now dated since the election of a new Congress in November 2000. However, the information presented here is still valid. Some of the members listed here are still in office and continue to support disabled issues. Now, we need to call upon these people to continue their efforts and make new proposals that aid the disabled in the 107th Congress

This editorial is an attempt to simplify the extremely complicated operation of the legislative process and how the individual members of the U.S. Congress affect policy.  In particular, it explores which legislators at the federal level are actively using his or her position to forward issues that benefit the disabled.  Also, it not only identifies these officials that are actively advancing the disabled agenda, but urges for continued support of issues affecting the disabled as well as support for these legislators.

The United States Congress is the primary supplier of programs and funding to individuals with disabilities who are also citizens of our country. Legislation that affects many aspects of the day to day lives of people with disabilities originates in Washington. Congress is a very important actor in dealing with issues that affect people with disabilities because the laws that they pass are enforced uniformly across the country.

In order to affect legislation that would help to benefit individuals with disabilities, there needs to be more public contact with lawmakers. Supporters of legislation that would aid individuals with disabilities need to be further encouraged to continue to introduce and fight for legislation that allow the disabled to be treated equally. Other lawmakers that do not actively support legislation benefiting these people also need to be contacted and instructed to make supporting disabled issues a higher priority.

However, it is not easy for the average person to know who is and who is not in favor of helping people with disabilities. That is the purpose of this editorial. We will identify those lawmakers who are actively supporting disabled issues by introducing legislation, co-sponsoring bills that help people with disabilities, and voting consistently for legislation designed to help people with disabilities.

Defining which lawmakers support disabled issues and which ones do not is not a simple task. Disabled issues are often not addressed as a stand alone bill; typically they are bundled together with other pieces of legislation. That means that a Senator or Representative could be voting against a bill that has provisions for individuals with disabilities, but includes other measures that they oppose. They are not specifically voting against people with disabilities but another unrelated measure within the same bill. However, a legislator may be casting a vote for a bill that contains more support for people with disabilities; but in fact they could really be supporting some other funding in the bill and are not opposed to the disabled issue enough to not vote for the bill. For example, disabled legislation is often combined with measures that deal with the elderly because they share a lot of the same concerns. A lawmaker may vote for this bill because it helps the elderly, the largest voting block in the country, and not really care about the individuals with disabilities in the process. This lawmaker may get credit for helping individuals with disabilities while not actually deserving it. In this article, only bills that deal specifically with the disabled issued have been analyzed to determine which Members of Congress truly support helping people with disabilities.

Support for individuals with disabilities is an issue that does not behave like a traditional issue with each party coming down on opposite sides. Supporters tend to cross party lines, and most specific disabled legislation enjoys broad based bipartisan support. Once there are more aspects contained in the bill, like additional spending, that is when differences arise. However, there are several specific members of each house of the Congress that are leaders when it comes to support for individuals with disabilities and they should be recognized for their work.

The Senate

During the 106th Congress, a larger supporter cannot be found of people with disabilities than the Senator from Vermont. He was the sponsor of the only major piece of legislation passed by the Senate, S.331 the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999. This legislation benefits individuals with disabilities by not penalizing them for working by allowing them to earn more money without losing healthcare benefits. At the same time it protects their social security and establishing more opportunities to work. It also extends availability of health care coverage for working people with disabilities. Additionally, Senator Jeffords is a co-sponsor of S.511, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, which helps to insure the right to vote for people with disabilities. Jeffords has been a leader during this session of Congress on disabled issues.

Senator McCain has been one of the more outspoken supporters of disabled issues during the current session of Congress. He introduced S.511, a bill to amend the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act to ensure the equal rights of individuals with disabilities to vote. He has taken a leadership position on disabled issues, in an attempt to ensure that they have the same access to voting as the rest of the public. Additionally, he voted for the Work Incentives Act mentioned above, encouraging those individuals with disabilities to continue to contribute to society without being penalized for it. Senator McCain's record during the 106th Congress on disabled issues is exemplary.

While only being a freshman in the Senate, Senator Bunning has taken it upon himself to present legislation that directly helps people with disabilities, by introducing S. 88. This legislation would amend Title XIX of the Social Security Act that exempts the disabled from having to enroll in a managed care entity under the Medicare program. The Senator is allowing individuals with disabilities to have more choice in their health care decisions. If passed, the bill would allow more flexibility for people with disabilities to select their own treatments and doctors while still being covered by Medicare. Also, Senator Bunning voted for the Work Incentives Act, the only major piece of legislation passed by the Senate during this session of Congress that helps individuals with disabilities.

These are not the only supporters of disabled issues in the Senate, but they stand out as the most vocal supporters of the entire Senate based on the fact that they introduced and co-sponsored specific legislation that aids individuals with disabilities.

The House

Representative Andrews has been one of the main advocates for individuals with disabilities in the House during the current session. Unlike the Senate, the House has yet to pass any legislation that addresses any disabled issues, but Representative Andrews and others have proposed legislation that would remedy this lack of action. The bill proposed by Andrews, H.R.821, would amend the Social Security Act to require Medicaid coverage of children with disabilities and people who became disabled as children. The bill also does not take income or assets into account, allowing coverage for all people with disabilities regardless of economic standing. This would allow all of the younger disabled who are not included in many of the other disabled programs that are combined with other elderly programs. Legislation like this should be more commonplace, and with some support, representatives like Andrews can succeed in aiding people with disabilities

Representative Lazio also has been a leader on disabled issues in the 106th Congress. By proposing The Emergency Resident Protection Act, H.R.1336, Representative Lazio has created a way to help insure that people with disabilities can help to keep their housing. The bill directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to provide enhanced vouchers for rental assistance, under Section 8 of the United State Housing Act of 1937, for low income elderly and disabled tenants in housing projects. Vouchers would allow those living in housing projects with expiring contracts for Federal assistance to ensure that such tenants can afford to keep their housing. This assistance is necessary to help the disabled to maintain their residences, otherwise many of them would be forced out completely. With more legislation like this and more legislators like Representative Lazio, the individuals with disabilities will be able to keep essential things like housing, via federal legislation.

In the 106th Congress, there has been talk by the Republican Leadership of a large tax cut. Along those lines, Representative Goode has proposed legislation that would amend the tax code and help to benefit people with disabilities at the same time. His bill, H.R.861, the Persons With Disabilities Trusts Tax Rate Restoration Act would repeal the 1993 federal income tax rate increase on trusts established for the benefit of individuals with disabilities. This is a good idea because it would allow families to put money aside for one of their disabled family members and not penalize families for preparing for the future. Additionally, it would help to alleviate some pressure on the government to have the entire financial responsibility of caring for an individual with a disability. Legislation that empowers the private sector to also help individuals with disabilities should become the norm and with Representative Goode's leadership, that may be a reality.

The bill proposed by Representative Lofgren, H.R.1672, is the Smart IDEA Act that amends the Social Security Act to require States Medicaid plans to provide payments of costs of medical services under individualized education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act after they exceed $3,500 in a school year. This would allow individuals with disabilities, mainly younger ones who are attending school, to still afford to get medical coverage while they are getting an education. Medical costs that are spiraling out of control would be paid by the state and hopefully the individual with a disability could continue to afford their education. Allowing people with disabilities who can attend an educational institution and still afford health care is something that should be encouraged and with legislation like this, the possibility is greatly increased for individuals with disabilities.

While the House has passed no major disabled legislation, there have been some bills introduced and with enough public support they could be passed.

In conclusion, there are many Members of Congress that support legislation that benefits individuals with disabilities. Support for the disabled is very broad based and bipartisan in nature, but it is not a very prominent issue and does not receive the attention that it should. The Representative and Senators discussed above have the right idea by trying to propose and pass legislation that directly benefits people with disabilities, but they do not see the public demanding action on these issues. Additionally, there are not the large lobbying groups that other groups have, advocating disabled issues so most lawmakers tend to ignore the issue in favor of groups that have more clout. People need to actively contact their elected officials and let them know that individuals with disabilities have been overlooked far too long in this country.

Contact your Representative or Senator to express your concerns on this issue by clicking on U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate. Each website provides contact information such as e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, telephone numbers and websites of each Representative or Senator.

The information for this editorial was obtained directly from the legislation itself at THOMAS.

For more on the topic of Legislation:

Legislation and the Law

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[Updated January 31, 2001]
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