As coronavirus cases across the nation rise again, advocates say federal efforts to address the unique needs of people with disabilities during the pandemic are needed as much as ever.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion relief bill in May, which was hailed as the first COVID-19 legislation to meaningfully consider the disability community. Of note, the measure included extra money for Medicaid home- and community-based services, protections for direct support professionals and another round of stimulus checks for people with disabilities.

But the legislation is not expected to be voted on by the Senate in its current form and so far, senators have lagged on negotiating any additional relief efforts of their own.

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In a series of letters this month, disability advocacy groups are pushing lawmakers to move forward swiftly, noting that people with disabilities have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.

“Adequate funding from Congress is needed now more than ever,” wrote representatives of The Arc, the Autism Society of America, Best Buddies and several other groups in recent correspondence to House and Senate leaders.

Advocates want to ensure support for additional federal funding to states to pay for Medicaid home- and community-based services for the next year — estimated at $10 to $15 billion — as well as money for hazard pay for direct support professionals during the pandemic and free coronavirus testing for people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

“Without all these resources, the health and independence of individuals with I/DD will be jeopardized,” the advocacy groups said.

A similar letter urging Senate leadership to maintain support for people with disabilities in whatever measure that body passes is backed by 252 organizations across the nation.

“The first three packages provided necessary funding to hospitals and nursing homes but home- and community-based settings have been left out of the relief packages. We are urging the Senate to take up a fourth relief package that includes specific funding to assist people with developmental and other disabilities,” said Kim Musheno, vice president of public policy at the Autism Society of America.

Musheno pointed to recent research showing that people with developmental disabilities are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than others and they are more likely to die from the virus. She said advocacy groups will be making a push during the Senate’s July 4 recess to encourage lawmakers to act.

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