Langevin Addresses Budget Policies' Impact on Disabled Americans

May 12, 2011 Issues: Budget, Disabilities, Health Care

Emphasizing the rewards that society gains by recognizing the potential of people with disabilities, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) advocated for responsible consideration of that community’s potential in the current fiscal debates. Langevin spoke at a Congressional Forum hosted by the National Council on Disability titled “Disability in the Budget: Why It Matters” on Capitol Hill today, joining his fellow co-chair of the House Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and experts on programs for people with disabilities. His remarks described the impact that arbitrary cuts to key programs can have and the need to ensure his colleagues are made aware of the ways in which their decisions affect the disabilities community.

“My life experiences have taught me that great challenges can present us with great opportunities,” said Langevin, referring to his journey from being paralyzed as a teenager in an accident to becoming the first quadriplegic member of Congress. “Individuals with disabilities remain one of our nation’s greatest untapped resources. I truly believe that we can achieve fiscal balance while investing in education, health care and employment assistance that will empower individuals with disabilities to achieve a higher level of independence, productivity and inclusion within our society.” 

However, Langevin noted that Americans with disabilities have been hit particularly hard by the recession. According to the most recently available statistics, close to 60 percent of the disabled population is asset poor, meaning they have insufficient assets to remain above the poverty level for more than three months. Median earnings for individuals with a disability in 2009 were about $18,800. And in April 2011, the percentage of people with disabilities who were employed was 20.6, compared to 69.6 percent of people without a disability.

In Rhode Island, federal programs have been critical in allowing people with disabilities to reach their full potential. In Fiscal Year 2009, $1.2 billion in federal funding flowed into Rhode Island’s Medicaid program; $170 million was issued for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);  and $5.5 million in Community Services Block Grants was received by the state. These are just three programs that have a direct impact on the 117,000 Rhode Islanders with a disability.

“Businesses across the country are finally recognizing the innate potential of the disabilities community,” said Langevin. “Many individuals have both the desire and capability to work, as well as exceptional talents to offer. All it takes is a little awareness, accommodation and investment, and our economy and society can reap countless economic and social rewards.”

With tax revenues still in decline, at least 29 states and the District of Columbia are cutting medical, rehabilitative, home care, or other services on which low-income individuals with disabilities desperately rely. There is increased pressure at the federal level to cut spending in areas that provide support for low-income, elderly and disabled individuals. However, there are ways to spend less without sacrificing important assistance, including by supporting programs that allow for home care for individuals with disabilities.

“By further exploring and supporting home and community based programs, as well as other community supports like respite care, we can reduce costs to the system and improve the quality of care for individuals with disabilities across the lifespan,” said Langevin. “That is why I am currently working with my colleagues to reauthorize the Lifespan Respite Care Act, and increase its annual funding. This program decreases the need for professional long-term care, resulting in significant savings for the health care system and taxpayers.”

Langevin also stressed that it is more important than ever that we continue to promote employment by reducing barriers that remain in public programs like Social Security and Medicaid to address real fears that individuals have about going to work at the risk of losing health coverage.

“Disabilities don’t discriminate on the basis of party affiliation, income level or gender; instead, they have the unique ability to unite us in common purpose. Although finding a common path to a balanced budget will require sacrifices on all sides, if we commit to spending our resources wisely, we will not only create a better life for individuals with disabilities in the present, but for generations to come.”