Don’t disempower fellow citizens
SEN. BOB CASEY AND FORMER GOV. TOM RIDGE
We are two Pennsylvanians, members of two different political parties, but with a number of principles we whole-heartedly agree upon. Among them: Government should empower its citizens; political leaders should be servants to those who elect them; those who govern must be responsible stewards of public monies; and government should expand people’s freedom and enhance their right to self-determination, providing the means to take advantage of the great opportunities our state and country provide.
All of these principles are true and necessary for the trust and confidence of Pennsylvanians and Americans, but the last one is especially true for those with disabilities. Whether they are born with a disability or acquire it from disease, accident, age, or service to our country, our government should ensure that supports and services are in place so that citizens who have a disability are able to go to school, earn a living, live independently, and be full contributors to our communities.
That is why the two of us are concerned about the tax bill that was reported out of the congressional conference committeeon Friday and will now work its way to a final vote in the Senate and House of Representatives.
We both believe in a reasonable tax burden for all Americans and for American business. We also believe that the tax code, like budgets and spending plans, is a document that communicates the values and priorities of our country.
The tax bill being considered for final passage does not value people with disabilities and certainly does not prioritize them. The most worrisome aspects for those with disabilities is the plan to raise the budget deficit by at least $1 trillion, triggering required reductions in spending that will gut or eliminate critical programs that allow people with disabilities to gain or maintain jobs.
These include programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Medicaid, the latter of which is the largest funder of employment supports for people with disabilities, 80 percent of whom currently are not in the workforce. These important programs help people with disabilities work — both to contribute to and take advantage of the great opportunities our country provides.
The cuts will mean great pressure to reduce spending at the national, state and local levels, reductions that will further jeopardize employment prospects, health care and quality of life for people with disabilities. In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other political leaders already have said they are planning to cut the primary programs that support people with disabilities: Medicaid and Medicare. For Americans with disabilities, these programs enable them to work, earn, save and live in their communities — and to pay the very taxes that are being cut.
By cutting funding to those programs, not only is health care for people with disabilities put at risk, but also the ability for people with disabilities to live in their own homes and work in their communities.
As a current and a former elected public official, we take seriously the stewardship of public funds. In our view, the current tax plans are not responsible to those with disabilities and they are not fiscally responsible either.
It is dramatically more expensive for individuals with disabilities to live in institutions than in their own communities. According to the University of Minnesota Residential Information Systems Project, the average cost of supporting persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities in community settings was just over $44,000 a year, compared to more than $134,000 a year in institutional settings, which rob them of opportunities to work, earn, live and contribute to their communities. Yet the cuts being proposed to Medicaid and Medicare are more likely to push people with disabilities back into institutional living. No one benefits from this scenario, least of all Americans with disabilities.
The two of us don’t always agree on the role of government, but on this issue we stand united. As the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives consider what could soon be the law of the land, we urge them to consider the negative impact these policies will have on the opportunities for Americans with disabilities to work and be active members of our communities.
Bob Casey is a Democratic U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania. Tom Ridge is a Republican former Pennsylvania governor and was the first U.S. secretary of homeland security. He chairs the National Organization on Disability.
Originally published at www.post-gazette.com on December 19, 2017.