Update: March 27, 2020
Congress has now passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which took some important steps to address the coronavirus pandemic and included some disability community priorities, but many critical priorities were not included. We need Congress to do more and will continue advocating for future Congressional responses to this crisis to meet the needs of people with disabilities. More on the passage of the bill and what you can do now to advocate for disability priorities to be included in the COVID-19 response can be found here.
For more on what was and was not included in the CARES Act, check out the list we’ve put together here, which we will continue to update as we review the final bill. More on the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on people with disabilities can be found below.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is having, and will continue to have, an outsized impact on the disability community. State and local governments around the country have declared states of emergency and on March 13, President Trump announced a national state of emergency in response to the outbreak to make additional funding available to combat the continued spread of COVID-19.
Congress is working quickly to begin addressing the crisis. On March 18, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which includes increased Medicaid funding, emergency paid leave, increased funding for food assistance, and free coronavirus testing.
The Families First Act is a good start but more must be done. Given the fast-moving nature of this crisis, it’s crucial that Congress work quickly to pass legislation that recognizes the outsized impact this is having and will continue to have on disabled people.
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, of which CPR is a co-chair, sent a letter in support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and identifying further areas where legislation is needed. Here is a list of priorities from disability community groups. Priorities include:
- Increased Medicaid funding to help state Medicaid systems cope with increased need during this crisis. The Families First Act’s increased funding is a good starting point, but more will be necessary.
- Permanent reauthorization of the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program to allow states to continue to support the transition of people with disabilities from institutions into the community and lessen the threat to their health and rights of posed by unnecessary institutionalization in congregate settings
- Access to a 90-day supply of medication and medical supplies and ongoing access to long-term services and supports
- Paid leave coverage for when a person needs to fill in to provide care to a family member with a disability because their care worker is sick or their program closes. The Families First Act did not include paid leave coverage in these circumstances.
- Emergency income relief that includes people with disabilities. This means eliminating or raising asset limits in the means tested programs many people with disabilities rely on, including SSI, SNAP, and Medicaid.
- Protections for the civil rights of people with disabilities, including ensuring they are not forced into institutional settings (where they are also at higher risk) or discriminated against in access to care and treatment
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is a first step to addressing some of these issues. On March 19, Senate Republicans introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Following much negotiation, the CARES Act passed the Senate on March 25 and the House on March 27. The final bill included some of the disability community’s priorities, but many were omitted and we will continue to advocate for those to be included in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation. For more on what was and was not included, check out the list we’ve put together here, which we will continue to update as we review the final bill. The Progressive Caucus Action fund has also put together a side-by-side comparison of what is included in the final version of the CARES Act that passed in the Senate with what is in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, introduced by House Democrats on March 23.
You can find more details on all of the passed and proposed legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic below.
Federal Agency Response
Federal agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) are also releasing guidance and resources related to the coronavirus outbreak. We will continue to monitor those efforts as well to ensure the needs of the entire disability community are addressed by the guidance and resources released by agencies. You can find relevant guidance and resources from federal agencies below.
On March 16, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that in response to the coronavirus pandemic (also known as COVID-19), it “will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19” in making public charge determinations, “even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).” This means that immigrants can receive treatment without an impact on their immigration status. For more background information on the public charge rule, check out our webpage here and you can find more on the litigation related to the rule here.
On March 23, CPR, Disability Rights Washington, The Arc and partners filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding illegal disability discrimination in treatment rationing protocols being developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint focuses on treatment rationing protocols described in a COVID-19 response plan released by the Washington Department of Health and the Northwest Healthcare Regional Network that gives priority for treatment to younger, healthier patients, discriminating against older patients and patients with disabilities without considering their individualized cases and ability to survive this acute crisis.
On March 24, CPR, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, The Arc and partners filed another complaint with the HHS OCR regarding treatment rationing protocols. This complaint focuses on the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Emergency Operations Plan regarding ventilator rationing during health emergencies, which states that hospitals are not to provide ventilators to people with certain intellectual and cognitive disabilities.
These protocols, the complaints argue, violate federal disability rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The complaints each ask HHS OCR to take immediate action to provide guidance on what health care providers in must do to comply with federal laws protecting the rights of all patients, including those with disabilities, during the crisis.
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the National Council on Disability (NCD) have also written letters to HHS OCR (which can be read here and here) urging guidance on treatment rationing protocols. More information on the Washington state complaint can be found here and on the Alabama complaint here.
This page will continue to be updated throughout the crisis. Below are resources related to the coronavirus and its impact on people with disabilities, as well as information for contacting your members of Congress about coronavirus response legislation.