OK, Boys and Girls in DC: let’s Stop Playing Around!
By Sarah K. Lanzo
The first thing that concerns me is how narrow the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was. Of course, the $1,400 stimulus check was sweet, and the additional unemployment payments and other high-profile programs are great, but I am talking about the lack of statesmanship and intestinal fortitude shown by our partisan elected leaders in our Capital. Many of the provisions buried in the 620-plus pages of ARPA will be an unexpected major help for citizens with disabilities!
Yet, after experiencing the bitterness between the political parties for the last four years, our leaders continue to stand pat on their side of the fence and refuse to comprehend what the “United” in United States of America means. This pandemic is far from over, and there is much concern about congregate care facilities, such as nursing homes, being under-reported COVID-19 hot spots; (with 1,300 deaths in Western New York, and 141 of that number just in Niagara County). However, tucked neatly into the Health Care Support section of the ARPA is a 10% FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage) bump for Home and Community-Based Services, which are all about helping people with disabilities to live more independently outside of institutions. In a recent review of 500 Western New Yorkers receiving in-home personal assistance services through the Taking Control program, only five of them were lost to this ruthless virus. This supports what disability advocates have been saying for years about the improved quality of life for people with disabilities when they “live in their homes, and not at a home”.
The continuing efforts of our leaders to jockey for power, rather than solve this current crisis, could have resulted in disabled citizens losing desperately needed funds. Fortunately, the ARPA has provisions for housing and homelessness assistance, education, public transportation, vaccinations and testing, food assistance (such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP or Food Stamps), and extends and expands the paid sick and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave from the Families First Act. And that’s not even mentioning increases in subsidies and broadening of eligibilities for those who get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Everyone, Republicans and Democrats, current and former leaders on the local, State, and National levels all should get behind the President ‘s efforts to get COVID-19 vaccine shots into peoples’ arms. There are millions of our neighbors, friends, and family who do not have the ability or means to get to the locations where these shots are being administered. Rather than pointing out others’ errors in vaccine distribution, we should be working together to ensure that all the people who want this vaccine can get it. National Public Radio quotes scientists who say that 70 to 85% of the population needs to become immune to really slow the Coronavirus spread to nothing; but continuing at the present rates of inoculation, that will take until mid-October or early December. I feel that, if we all could get behind this effort, that outcome could be moved up.
Of particular concern are surveys, such as one last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which indicate that perhaps half the population has “vaccination hesitancy”, either suspecting that corners were cut in the race to bring vaccines to market, or belonging to minority groups that have historical grounds to mistrust anything coming from the government, or are conspiracy theorists who view all Coronavirus precautions to be intrusions on their personal liberties. We should take a lesson from our humanitarian victories of the past, the Great Depression, World War II, the cure of Polio and many other potentially world-ending crises. If our leaders can just drop the ignorant gamesmanship we are witnessing in our Capital, and roll up their sleeves, I believe we can beat this pandemic, bring back our economy, restore life as we know it, and people with and without disabilities will be able to return to their homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Better yet, we can all return to a higher quality of life by realizing that our strength is in working together, and not against each other because of our political bent.
Sarah K. Lanzo is the Director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. Family of Agencies. They empower individuals with any disabilities to gain the information and resources needed to improve their quality of life and participate in society on an equal basis. For more information about ILNC's services and programs please contact: (716) 284-4131, ext. 200.