President Obama Tells Disability Community “I’ve Got Your Back”
Washington, DC – On Friday, February 10, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country met with a variety of senior White House officials at a Community Leaders Briefing to ask questions and discuss issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) (for Massachusetts attendees please see list below which includes towns). The session, held just for The Arc, included an unannounced visit from President Barack Obama. The President spoke of his commitment to people with disabilities saying, “I’ve got your back.”
Read below to see comments from the other speakers and pictures from the event. Speakers included the Chief of Staff, Domestic Policy Director and the Attorney General’s leader on Civil Rights enforcement. To see video of part of the day, go here.
The day was organized by Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. The Arc heard from:
Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who spoke of their commitment to providing services and supports to all in need.
Carol Galante, Acting Assistant Secretary - Federal Housing Administration Commissioner, Department of Housing and Urban Development;
Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services;
Robert Gordon, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget; and Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice.
Jack Lew, Chief of Staff to the President
This surprise appearance by the President of the United States was the highlight of the day for many attendees. He talked about continuing the work of inclusion and building on the progress. He emphasized the need to address the deficit with revenue in addition to cuts. Most of all –his statement- “I’ve got your back”, encouraged all in attendance.
“People with disabilities deserve the chance to build a life for themselves in the communities where they choose to live,” Obama said
Some key points from presenters:
Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights focused on the Olmstead enforcement work that he has been leading touching on Georgia, Mississippi while focusing on Virginia, the most recent settlement.
“What I love about the ADA, it has facilitated a paradigm shift…what can people with disabilities do” and what we should be doing to insure that barriers are removed for them.
More than once, the speaker referenced toThe Arc’s advocacy, saying that the successes came, “thanks to no small measure to the dogged advocacy of many of the people in this room”. He stated that the Virginia settlement may be the best one yet and he thanked governors in the states which settlements have been finalized for their willingness to move quickly. “it’s not simply about where people live, but how people live.”
Cecelia Munoz, recently appointed Director of Domestic Policy talked about how The Arc had been one of the first groups that worked with her organization in her past role in making sure legal immigrants had access to a range of health and long term services when these services were targeted for elimination. She identified disability issues as a key policy area for the Obama administration and promised it would remain so.
Carol Galante from HUD talked about the Melville Act (which The Arc had advocated for) and the implementation of “PRAD” –Project rental assistance demonstration program”. States will apply for the 3000 new PRAD vouchers but need to demonstrate a working partnership between the housing and human services agencies to be eligible. Massachusetts should be well positioned for such funds given its track record.
75% of HUD funds presently go for existing subsidies in a range of programs such as 202, 811, etc.
Kareem Dale and others focused on the new push for employment of people with disabilities that the administration has highlighted beginning with a 2010 executive order and more recently with rules for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. This includes federal agencies documenting goals and results in hiring persons with disabilities.
Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator of the Center on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and specifically leading the Medicaid program talked about making the program the strongest it can be for people with disabilities. She noted how some in Congress have proposed to cut benefits and/or rates. But she felt that transformation was the best route and that meant trying new strategies to address the costs of the program. She highlighted the tools available from ACA which we have reported on in the past (Community First Choice-CFC, Balancing Incentives and Money Follows the Person). Health Home, a program which we have not specifically talked about in the past, would provide a 90% match to states for care coordinators for 8 quarters (directed to those with chronic conditions or particular disabilities.) This ostensibly would provide states time to manage to improve care while obtaining savings allowing them to continue the program with a regular match in the future.
Mann also cited the big change in 2014 will be when eligibility for Medicaid jumps to 133% of poverty level (some states already are at this threshold but many are not.)
Robert Gordon from the Office of Management and Budget talked about new initiatives in the education and early intervention programs. He noted that without further action in Congress and revenue, $1.2 Trillion will need to be cut from programs that already experienced reductions.
Jack Lew, Chief of Staff noted that there is “broad misunderstanding of what drives Medicaid.” It’s one of the most important programs we have.
After a tour of the East Wing of the White House, advocates from The Arc took part in policy breakout sessions that allowed for more detailed discussions on certain issue areas, like community living, family caregiving, education, and Medicaid. The purpose of these briefings was to allow White House and administration officials to engage in a dialogue with leaders of The Arc about how government policies affect the lives of people with I/DD and impact their ability to live full, independent lives. Given the Department of Education’s announcement yesterday to allow ten states waivers from some of the No Child Left Behind law requirements, the education session with Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, was incredibly timely, as were meetings with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Administration on Aging, and the White House Domestic Policy Council. (Press Release Link Here)
Robert Gordon of Office of Management & Budget Cecilia Munoz, Domestic Policy Director Mohan Mehra, Pres. of The Arc asks Tom Perez a question