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Enabling People with Disabilities to Keep Their Health Care During COVID-19

Randall Duchesneau smiling and wearing a black suit, blue shirt, and black and white checkered tie and glasses color photo

Randall Duchesneau

This year RespectAbility played a critical role in protecting people with disabilities during the pandemic in many ways, including economically. In March, when the pandemic took hold in the United States and the federal government prepared to respond, RespectAbility was on hand to help elected officials understand how their actions might help or hurt people with disabilities.

Over the course of my career, I have advocated for people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. Last spring, I saw the effectiveness of RespectAbility’s work in advocacy in action.

There were two issues in the CARES Act that could have backfired and adversely impacted people with disabilities: cash payments to individuals and families could have resulted in their income exceeding the threshold to receive health care through Medicaid; and people with disabilities who did not file a tax return could have had their stimulus payments delayed.

RespectAbility conducted outreach to elected officials and partners in the Department of Treasury to remove these risks, lessening the burden on people with disabilities during a year when so much was at stake. Working in a coalition, we were able to ensure that the Economic Impact Payment created by the CARES Act was a rebate and would not count as income for people with disabilities on benefits. This means that approximately 8.5 million people with disabilities received $1200 for a total amount of $10.2 billion at a time when they needed it most.

We worked closely with the Social Security Task Force to push the IRS to allow people on SSI to receive the rebate even if they don’t typically file taxes. This helped approximately 4.3 million people with disabilities.

Given that 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are people with underlying health conditions, I shudder to think what would have happened if millions of people had “accidentally” been cut off from their health care coverage. As a RespectAbility board member, I am proud of what we, with your help, have been able to accomplish.

Meet the Author

Randall Duchesneau

Randall Duchesneau serves as Secretary on RespectAbility’s Board of Directors. He has an undergraduate degree from Cornell and a graduate degree in public health from Yale. He is paralyzed due to a sports injury and is a nationally recognized disability advocate and expert on ADA accessibility.

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