Washington, D.C., March 27 – President Trump signed into law today the $2 trillion-dollar emergency stimulus aimed at propping up the economy during the current crisis. This law is unprecedented in its scope and is meant to help our nation respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even now, government agencies are going to work to implement the new law.
Millions of Americans living with disabilities are wondering what this new law means for them and whether they will see any benefit. The short answer is yes, but how far the law will go to help people with disabilities who are uniquely at-risk to the impact of the virus remains an open question.
Checks for Individuals With and Without Disabilities
Individuals with and without disabilities who are struggling right now will be receiving a Recovery Rebate. This rebate will be a one-time cash payment sent from the government to all U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 if you are married), with a phaseout for incomes between $75,000 and $99,000 ($150,000-$198,000 if you are married), who are not a dependent of another taxpayer and have a Social Security Number.
The amount of that check will be $1,200 for eligible individuals and $2,400 for people who are married, plus $500 per dependent child. This is being characterized as a rebate, which means it will NOT be counted against the asset limits faced by people with disabilities if spent within 12 months of receipt.
However, people with disabilities who are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will have to file their taxes. This could create a major burden for many of the poorest people with disabilities and other low-income communities, many of whom may find access to filling out the forms a challenge.
Unemployment Support for More Workers
This bill includes major changes and supports for the unemployment insurance (UI) system under the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Unemployed workers with and without disabilities will receive $600 increase in their weekly checks. The bill also creates a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that expands UI coverage. Critically that coverage has been expanded to include self-employed workers, gig workers, and independent contractors.
This is great news for many people with disabilities who engage in the gig economy, drive for ride-share services or run their own small businesses.
Support for Teachers and Students With Disabilities
Teachers and special educators are facing significant challenges around how to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities when you can only connect through a computer screen. The bill will give states more than $30 billion dollars to provide Emergency Education Relief grants to help teachers and students with and without disabilities to make the switch to online learning and virtual classrooms.
These grants will specifically help teachers meet the needs of students with disabilities in these trying times. Likewise, some of those funds can be used to provide summer learning, supplemental after-school programs and online learning for students with disabilities.
Disability advocates had been very concerned that the original bill included several provisions waivers from the explicit requirements of laws such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The new version of the bill requires the Secretary of Education to report to Congress within 30 days about where, how and why waivers are being used and students with disabilities are accessing online learning.
The Stimulus Package Helps Organizations Serving the Disabilities Community
The bill will distribute $955 million for Aging and Disability Services Programs under the mandate of the Administrative on Community Living (ACL). That money will support nutrition programs providing people with disabilities and older Americans with food deliveries as well as direct support for family caregivers.
That amount also includes $50 million dollars for aging and disability resource centers across the country as well as $85 million dollars for Centers for Independent Living (CILs). Further, the bill invests $15 million dollars to support housing specifically for people with disabilities.
Addressing the critical issue of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who help people with disabilities, the CARES Act will now allow state Medicaid programs to pay for DSPs to help people with disabilities who end up in the hospital. This should provide some reassurance for people with disabilities who need support for activities of daily living, but many other needs regarding DSPs and maintenance of the DSP workforce through this crisis remain undressed.
What Is Missing From The Bill?
The CARES Act does not address the life or death issue of medical rationing facing the disability community in this moment of crisis. As the crisis intensified in Italy, the government rationed healthcare away from people with disabilities. This approach already is illegal under American law, but it still happens, nonetheless. In this time of crisis, the state and local leaders making on the ground decisions need to hear a clear message about treating people with disabilities equally.
The Stimulus Package Leaves Out Paid Sick Leave
Unfortunately, this bill does not include any additional provisions to help workers who do not already receive paid sick leave or who are now receiving sick leave through the earlier Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
People with disabilities must know they are secure in this time of crisis. Thus, further advocacy is needed to cover these gaps in coverage and ensure that family members who need to take leave in order to meet the critical needs of their loved ones are covered.
The Stimulus Package Does Nothing for Immigrants and People in the Justice System
Lastly, the bill does nothing to support some of the most vulnerable people with disabilities in America today. The bill contains no mention whatsoever about immigrants (with or without disabilities) or people who are incarcerated. Census Bureau data shows that there are more than 44 million immigrants living in the United States and out of that number, up to 6 million are probably living with a disability. How are they going to be helped or harmed by this bill? There are no clear answers yet. Likewise, there is no relief or support for the estimated 750,000 people with disabilities who are currently imprisoned.
If you would like to know more about how COVID-19 is impacting the disability community, we encourage you to review and make use of the following resources and materials: