House OKs COVID-19 Relief Plan With More Payments For People With Disabilities
A fresh round of stimulus checks for people with disabilities and billions for home- and community-based services are part of a $3 trillion relief bill that faces an uncertain future.
The bill known as the Heroes Act, or H.R. 6800, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a vote of 208 to 199. The measure is unlikely to be taken up in its current form by the Republican-led Senate, but it is seen as a first step in negotiating another relief package to address the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Significantly, advocates say, this is the only major COVID-19 response from Congress so far to consider the needs of people with disabilities who have been deeply affected by the pandemic.
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“The Heroes Act is the first time in the COVID-19 legislative response that the disability community is being recognized,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc.
The legislation includes an estimated $10 to $15 billion in additional federal funding to states to pay for Medicaid home- and community-based services for a full year beginning in July. The money could be used to cover services for anyone with a disability who qualifies for the program — including those currently on waiting lists — and pay for recruitment and retention of direct support professionals, among other needs.
The bill also recognizes the direct support professionals that people with disabilities rely on for day-to-day needs as essential workers so that they can access personal protective equipment, qualify for hazard pay and other extra benefits.
Sarah Meek, senior director of legislative affairs for the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, a national trade group representing disability service providers, called the legislation a “game changer.”
“There is really a recognition that this money for home- and community-based services providers is kind of a must-have in whatever package is next, so I’m optimistic,” she said.
Meanwhile, the measure retroactively grants $500 cash payments to adults with disabilities who are claimed as dependents. These individuals were excluded from receiving stimulus checks in the last relief package which was approved in March.
And, the legislation includes a new round of direct cash payments of $1,200 per person — up to a maximum of $6,000 per family — for many Americans earning less than $75,000 annually, with tiered amounts beyond that. People with disabilities would qualify for the automatic payments even if they are counted as a dependent or if they receive benefits like Supplemental Security Income.
There is also $200 million in dedicated funding for disability housing in the bill as well as a change to allow siblings and grandparents to qualify for expanded paid leave if they need to take time off from work to care for an adult with a disability due to coronavirus-related closures.
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