Increased COVID-19 Vaccine Access for People with Disabilities
On March 29, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced $100 million in state and local grants to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines for people with disabilities. This funding will be used to deal with the significant barriers to vaccination that people with disabilities are facing and will be used to provide assistance with scheduling vaccination appointments, direct support services to attend these appointments, education about the importance of receiving the vaccine, transportation to vaccination sites, and connecting people with disabilities to in-home vaccination options, and a national hotline. For vaccine resources relating to people with disabilities, see ACL’s COVID webpages as well as the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities.
Great news! Congress passed, and President Biden has signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that finally addresses the major priorities of the disability community. Thank you for your calls, tweets, and emails; for responding to our Action Alerts, sharing your personal stories, and all other actions taken over the past year to educate lawmakers about the devastating effect that the pandemic has had on people with disabilities. Your work was imperative for the inclusion of our concerns in COVID-19 relief funding and supports. Advocacy works!
Congress is currently negotiating a new COVID-19 relief package through the budget reconciliation process, allowing lawmakers to pass a relief package with only a simple majority. This process does not allow for policy changes but does allow increases to existing funding lines. We were pleased to see a 7.35% Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) bump for Medicaid to support HCBS included in the House Energy & Commerce Committee mark-up of the COVID-19 relief budget reconciliation bill; the House Budget Committee is completing their own markup now, and then the entire budget package will be brought to the House floor for a vote.
On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be inaugurated, marking the official beginning of the Biden Administration. The Biden Transition Team has been preparing for months, putting forth a comprehensive list of nominees for key cabinet and appointee posts, some of whom now need to be confirmed by the Senate in order to officially begin working. NDSC has been engaged with some of the Biden transition teams to help set policy priorities and plan for the Administration change.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations for immediate, emergency use. Vaccines are now being shipped across the country and given to essential health care workers, with other high-risk individuals such as those in nursing homes to follow.
NDSC has been advocating for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), their caregivers, and support personnel to be given priority in vaccine allocation and ensure that vaccine allocation is done in an equitable, accessible way.
Administration Transition The presidential election results will not be confirmed until the Electoral College votes in December, and any lawsuits are settled. However, as is traditional, President-elect Joe Biden is quickly naming individuals, to start on January 20, 2021, to serve as senior White House officials, and is moving forward with transition efforts regarding other political appointments and policy priorities.
With the election just weeks away, the Senate is unlikely to pass another broad COVID-19 relief package in the near future. On October 1, the House passed the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill known as HEROES 2.0 Act, which included many of NDSC’s top priorities, including dedicated funding for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). Negotiations around another COVID-19 relief bill have been on and off, but it is unlikely that an additional, comprehensive plan like HEROES 2.0 will to progress in the Senate. It is most likely that any future COVID-19 relief will come as Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushes for a very limited and targeted smaller “skinny” COVID-19 bill to assist small businesses. Such a “skinny” COVID-19 relief bill would likely not address most priorities of the disability community. To see a comparison of the various proposed COVID-19 relief bills, as they relate to disability priorities, you can visit the Center for Public Representation website.
Congressional negotiations in the Senate on the next major COVID-19 relief package have hit a standstill, but we are hopeful that increased pressure from the White House on the House leadership to move on a COVID-19 bill will reinvigorate the discussions. As the days pass, the chances for a standalone COVID-19 Relief bill grow slimmer.
In May, the House passed its 4th COVID-19 Relief Package and the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R.6800), which contained many positive provisions for people with disabilities, but the Senate has not taken up this bill. In late July, the Senate proposed its own COVID-19 relief package known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act.
We Need Your Advocacy Help for 4th COVID-19 Relief Package
After passing three large packages and several smaller bills to address the Coronavirus pandemic, the Senate is negotiating terms for the fourth COVID-19 relief bill. The House passed its 4th COVID-19 Relief Package in May, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R.6800), which contained many positive provisions for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the HEROES Act is considered by the Senate majority to be a very partisan bill, so the Senate will be drafting its own COVID-19 Relief Bill instead of taking up the HEROES Act as a starting point for negotiations.