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Latest Pandemic Relief Law Largely Ignores Needs of People with Disabilities

Feb 2, 2021 | COVID, Disability Law, Special Needs

The $900 billion Covid-19 pandemic relief package, signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020, contains almost no funding for programs specific to people with disabilities, much to the disappointment of many advocacy groups.

The bill extends unemployment benefits through March 14, 2021, and requires the Internal Review Service (IRS) to issue $600 payments, plus $600 per child, to individuals with incomes below $75,000, as well as smaller payments for people with incomes below $87,000.  However, as was the case with the earlier relief package, families will once again not receive an additional payment for adults with disabilities who are claimed as dependents by their family caregivers. Also noticeably absent is any funding for state and local governments, which provide the bulk of government services specifically directed toward people with disabilities. 

In addition, the bill let expire on December 31, 2020, a series of mandatory sick pay provisions provided for in the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FCRA), which was passed shortly before the first Covid-19 pandemic relief package in March 2020. That bill required employers with fewer than 500 employers, with some exceptions for employers with fewer than 50 employees, to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for people affected by Covid-19 or seeking to care for a family member affected by the virus. Although the mandatory provisions were not extended, the bill did continue a refundable tax break for certain employers that maintain these sick-leave provisions. That tax break is available through March 31, 2021.

The National Disability Rights Network, while acknowledging “further relief will be needed going forward,” praised the extension of an eviction moratorium for certain federally funded buildings through January, and additional funding for SNAP benefits, schools, and vaccines.

“This additional relief is a much welcome acknowledgment from Congress that the pandemic is not over and that people across this country, including those with disabilities, are still experiencing negative repercussions as a direct result of the pandemic,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker in a news release.

The ARC, however, slammed the bill for its lack of services specifically for people with disabilities, such as increased funding for Medicaid-funded home and community-based services.

“For months, our leaders have known the consequences of their inaction. People with disabilities are getting infected at higher rates. Support staff are putting their lives on the line day and day out [sic] with the protection they need. And families are struggling with it all,” said The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns in a news release. “Yet in the waning days of 2020, they have shut us out in the cold in COVID-19 relief legislation,”

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) also expressed disappointment with the bill.

“Our communities have needed help for months, and despite overwhelming advocacy, we were abandoned by our Senators,” the ASAN wrote in a statement. “This relief package is a small step, and it cannot undo the immense damage that has already been done.”

A detailed analysis of the bill from the National Conference of State Legislatures can be read here.

 

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