Senate Hearing Sheds Light on Economic Challenges of Persons with Special Needs

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys(NAELA) commends the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee for holding a hearing and issuing a report on September 18, 2014 on an important, often overlooked story: the economic plight of people with disabilities.

According to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the latest Census Bureau report shows that poverty in America went down overall. “But those with a disability were one of just two groups to see an increase. Shockingly, people with a disability now have a 28.8 percent poverty rate — higher than any gender, ethnic, or racial group tracked by the Census Bureau — and twice the rate of those without disabilities,” Harkin said.

“It’s frankly disconcerting to see our nation has placed some of our most vulnerable citizens in a state of impoverishment,” said NAELA President Bradley J. Frigon, CELA, CAP.

NAELA members work with persons with disabilities and their families on how to best address their long-term care needs. The costs of long-term care can be onerous and the bulk of the work is often done unpaid by family or friends.

Medicaid is the only federal program outside of the military that provides long-term services and supports. It requires virtual impoverishment to qualify. “The law forces many persons with disabilities to choose between living in poverty and receiving benefits or working at the risk of losing their benefits to pay for their care,” Frigon said.

The hearing could be the last hearing Sen. Harkin holds before his retirement. “Sen. Harkin knew how to reach across party lines to pass legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and its 2008 amendments. His willingness and ability to work out a solution that could find mutual agreement will be missed,” said Frigon.