Concerns Raised As Disability Panels Fail To Meet Under Trump
Lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to convene multiple committees tasked with advising the federal government on disability issues that appear to have been put on hiatus.
The three panels — The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities; The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research Advisory Committee; and the Interagency Committee on Disability Research — typically meet quarterly or several times a year, but have been less active as of late, according to six Democratic senators.
In a letter sent this month to Lance Robertson who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, the senators expressed concern that the panels “were largely ignored in 2017” leading to less input from people with disabilities and other advocates on federal policy.
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“The administration’s failure to convene these committees and councils is a clear stifling of the disability community’s voice and representation in government,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and a lead signatory of the letter. “It’s insulting for the administration to make important decisions about key programs without input from the disability community.”
The senators’ letter notes that annual reports from the intellectual disabilities committee, which was established in 1966, have provided guidance for policy development in the areas of disability employment, assistive technology and the direct service workforce. Budget decisions around research, rehabilitation, employment and any number of other areas are now being made without that input, lawmakers said.
Kelly Mack, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Community Living, said she was unable to comment while the agency worked to craft a response to the senators.
However, the agency’s website noted that The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities typically has a fall meeting and a spring meeting. The panel last met in March 2017 and no future meeting dates are listed.
In addition, the website said the Interagency Committee on Disability Research meets quarterly and last met in December 2017. The next meeting is scheduled for this month. The website did not include information about meetings of The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research Advisory Committee.
Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, and a former member of the intellectual disabilities committee whose term expired in 2017, said the panel plays a unique role advising the administration on issues pertaining to people with intellectual disabilities and their families by including that constituency at meetings and in its work.
“By not convening this committee … the administration is missing a key opportunity to gain perspective and demonstrate its interest and commitment to the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in our society,” Berns said in a statement to Disability Scoop.
The other two panels also provide critical information on policy decisions, the letter said. The Interagency Committee on Disability Research is made up of government officials who coordinate among federal departments and agencies working on independent living, rehabilitation and research programs.
The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research Advisory Committee helps guide the government’s primary disability research agency.
In addition to Casey, the letter was signed by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
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