Update: January 15, 2021
Last night, the incoming Biden-Harris administration released the first part of its proposed COVID-19 relief plan. It includes many important priorities, including full federal Medicaid funding for administration of vaccines and additional housing and nutrition funding.
It does not at this stage appear to include additional dedicated funding for home and community-based services (HCBS). HCBS funding is urgently needed to help disabled people and older adults live safely in their homes rather than being forced into nursing homes and other congregate settings where COVID-19 is rampant.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has hit the disability community especially hard. In response to the pandemic, state and local governments around the country have declared states of emergency and issue stay at home orders and on March 13, President Trump announced a national state of emergency to make additional funding available to combat the continued spread of COVID-19. However, there is still much that needs to be done to address the needs of people with disabilities and below we detail the response from Congress and federal agencies, along with the ways that the disability community is advocating for our needs to be included in the federal response to this 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. Senate Republicans then introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which, following much negotiation, 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 are now working to ensure those are included in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation.
For more on what was and was not included in the CARES Act, check out the list we’ve put together here. 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.
CPR and other disability organizations are already working on advocacy for the next COVID-19 package being negotiated in Congress. We are working closely with our allies to promote inclusion of the disability community priorities that were not included in the CARES Act.
More must be done to meet the needs of people with disabilities and it must be done now. 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. Disability organizations, including CPR, sent a letter to Congressional leadership identifying the most critical priorities for the disability community that must be addressed in the next round of legislation and have also drafted a list of priorities we will continue to advocate for, especially dedicated funding for home and community based services (HCBS).
Additional funding for HCBS is crucial to help people with disabilities and seniors remain in their own homes. HCBS funding is critical to help people with disabilities and seniors avoid unnecessary placements in congregate settings (such as nursing homes), where they face a heightened risk of infection and of violation of their civil rights, as well as unnecessary hospitalization, where people with disabilities may be at heightened risk for being denied life-saving care. For more info on the basics of HCBS and why additional HCBS funding is so important to the fight against COVID-19, check out our HCBS COVID-19 fact sheet.
The Senate is about to begin negotiating the fourth COVID-19 relief package and we need to push to make sure dedicated HCBS funding is included, so please contact your Senators and Senate leadership now. More information can be found on our advocacy page, including information on contacting your Senators, email and call scripts, and sample social media.
You can find more details on all of the passed and proposed legislation on our COVID-19 legislation page.
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. Similar complaints regarding treatment rationing protocols and guidelines were later filed in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Utah, and New York.
These protocols and guidelines, 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 Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the National Council on Disability (NCD) also wrote letters to HHS OCR (which can be read here and here) urging guidance on treatment rationing protocols.
On March 28, in response to the disability community’s strong advocacy, HHS OCR published a bulletin on what health care providers must do to comply with federal laws protecting the rights of all patients, including those with disabilities, during the crisis. CPR and partners then developed guidance explaining the requirements in HHS OCR’s bulletin and how states and health care providers can take concrete steps to modify policies and practices to avoid disability discrimination and an evaluation framework to assist stakeholders in evaluating Crisis Standards of Care in their states. For more on medical rationing, please visit our webpage.
This page and our other COVID-19 webpages will continue to be updated throughout the crisis. Below are resources related to the coronavirus and its impact on people with disabilities and you can find additional information on our COVID-19 advocacy, congregate settings advocacy, legislation, waiver, and medical rationing and hospital visitor policies pages.