Push To Expand Access To Community Living Hits Roadblock
Despite strong bipartisan support, federal legislation that would entitle people with disabilities access to community-based services and outlaw waiting lists appears to be stalled.
Groups had hoped to secure passage of the bill known as the Disability Integration Act in the U.S. House of Representatives before the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last Friday. Instead, they say it’s languishing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, awaiting a hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
The bill, H.R. 555, which was introduced in January by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., would give people with disabilities who are eligible for institutional care the right to those same services in the community. Additionally, states and insurers that pay for long-term services and supports could not limit costs, impose policies or have waiting lists for community-based services in ways that differ from institutional care.
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“It would make living in the community a civil right. That’s why we think it’s so important,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “There’s a lot of people who are locked away with all their civil rights taken away and this would free them.”
The legislation would codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community, rather than in institutions.
So far, 236 lawmakers in the House have signed on as co-sponsors, and nearly 900 groups ranging from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter of support for the legislation to House leadership last week.
“I find it very disheartening that we have well over half of the House members co-sponsoring this bill and can get no movement,” said Dara Baldwin, director of national policy at the Rochester, N.Y.-based Center for Disability Rights. “The push to get people out of institutions, where the ADA left off, literally started on July 27, 1990, the day after they signed the ADA. We have to finish this off.”
Baldwin and other advocates blame the delay on committee chair Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who has not called for a hearing even after months of pressure. One grassroots disability rights group, ADAPT, even visited his home to demand a hearing. Pallone’s press secretary did not respond to requests for comment.
“My mind is boggled by the lack of Democratic leadership not wanting to push this bill through,” Baldwin said.
In the Senate, the Disability Integration Act was introduced by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo. Neither senator’s office responded to requests for comment.
Despite frustration over the pace, advocates said they are confident the legislation will ultimately come to a vote in the House.
“It’s a question of when,” Buckland said. “We don’t believe the legislation is going to die, not with that many co-sponsors.”