Sanders Tackles Disability Rights in New Policy Unveiling

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senator Bernie Sanders released a plan Friday morning for Americans with disabilities, vowing to ensure they have access to jobs, education and public services.

Sanders pledged to update the Americans with Disabilities Act, while expanding funding for services and reversing the Donald Trump administration’s lax enforcement of disability protections.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, hugs Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., during a Jan. 25, 2020, campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Nearly 30 years after the ADA, it is unacceptable that people with disabilities do not enjoy full equality and inclusion everywhere in America, and we will not wait to advance disability rights,” Sanders said in a statement. “This is an issue of fundamental civil rights. Every person with a disability deserves the right to live in their community and have the support they need to thrive. This right must be available to all, free of waiting lists and means tests. It is our moral responsibility to make it happen.”

Sanders vowed to pass the bipartisan Disability Integration Act, which would essentially update the ADA, with an increased focus on long-term services to prevent people disabilities from being institutionalized.

As part of Sander’s Medicare for All plan, he would increase support and access for mental health services.

Sanders pledged to create a National Office of Disability Coordination. The office would be run by a person with a disability and would generate policy recommendations to improve inclusion, ADA compliance and civil rights protections.

Sanders would use executive authority to bar states from transferring disability care services to for-profit care organizations, and he said it would be mandatory for states to present a five-year plan when they apply for Medicaid on eliminating service waiting lists.

Sanders would also end the Department of Labor’s practice of allowing employees to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

The Vermont independent additionally highlighted the Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in Olmstead v. LC, which found that separating people with disabilities from the general public is a form of discrimination under the ADA.

Echoing a promise he made in June, Sanders said he would work to enforce Olmstead, with a particular emphasis on mental health of incarcerated people

The Justice Department under President Trump hit pause in 2017 on an update to the accessible medical treatment regulation that had been previously mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Sanders said he would use executive action to put the Justice Department back on track to update those regulations.

Sanders said that under his plan, the federal government would cover 50% of the funding for education for students with disabilities. Among his opponents for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden pledged 40% funding. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan, though more granular than those of Sanders or Biden’s, did not include a percentage of federal funding, but she did pledge a $20 billion increase to special education funding.

In general Biden’s plans focus on expanding the Affordable Care Act, which was passed while he was still vice president. Biden’s plan would increase funding to support access to services.

Sanders pledged to expand Social Security disability benefits, as did Warren.

Warren also pledged to increase ADA compliance in schools and charge the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights to improve regulation similarly to how Sanders’ proposed Office of Disability Coordination would function.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he would create a Direct Care Workforce Standards Board, but staff it with caregivers rather than those with disabilities.

Sanders’ plan, which was released three days before the Iowa caucus, made reference to Iowa’s privatization of Medicaid, which ended up costing the state more for health care services. Sanders said he would reverse the state’s Medicaid privatization.

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s plan for those with disabilities was broader than those of her opponents. It includes increased funding for services, a $6,000 tax credit for medical leave and a pledge to not cut any Social Security disability benefits.

The American Research Group released a poll of Iowa voters on Friday that was taken over the previous four days, which gave Sanders a six-point lead over Biden at 23%. Klobuchar and Warren were right behind Biden with 16% and 15%, respectively.

The poll was taken from 400 voters and has a 4% margin of error.

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