Supporting People with Disabilities During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Read Joe Biden’s comprehensive COVID-19 response plan and additional COVID-19 policies at  https://joebiden.com/covid19-leadership/.

Read Joe Biden’s plan for full participation and equality for people with disabilities at https://joebiden.com/disabilities. 

Approximately 4 in 10 adults are at heightened risk of being diagnosed with a serious illness if infected by COVID-19, including many people with disabilities. The risk of getting COVID-19 is even greater for individuals with disabilities living in group homes and other care facilities. People with disabilities, as well as their families and the workforce that supports them, require urgent additional resources and support to protect their health, well-being, and independence. Biden is calling for the following action to be taken to protect and support people with disabilities during this global health crisis:

Fully Enforce Non-Discrimination Protections. 

Americans with disabilities are no less worthy than any other person affected by the pandemic. A Biden Administration will aggressively enforce non-discrimination protections in the ADA and other civil rights laws, especially when designing new facilities and services in response to the pandemic, and prohibit the rationing of health care that refuses or diverts hospitalization, treatment, or supplies based on a patient’s disability.

Protect and Expand the Availability of Long-Term Services and Supports. 

A Biden Administration will ensure that states have the resources to enable people with disabilities to remain safely in their own home and community, free from unnecessary institutionalization and per their civil rights under the ADA and Olmstead. At the same time, the risk of getting COVID-19 is even greater for older Americans and individuals with disabilities living in group homes and other care facilities, increasing the demand for care in home and community-based settings. 

  • Respond to the direct support needs of people who rely on home and community-based services, starting with passing the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act, which will provide critical funding for states to continue and expand access to home- and community-based services and make it easier to rapidly hire alternative caregivers when regular caregivers are sick or quarantined.
  • Ensure that the direct support professional, home health, and personal care attendant workforce are deemed as essential workers so that they have the personal protective equipment they need.
  • Ensure that people with disabilities and older Americans have healthy food at home by increasing SNAP benefits by 15% during the deepening recession and expanding other nutrition assistance programs, with options for online ordering. 
  • Increase funding for access to computers, broadband, assistive technology, and accommodations for remote communications, including expanding the Lifeline program and increasing funding for the State Assistive Technology program, in order to increase access to telehealth services, educational programs, and telework for people with disabilities. 
  • Increase funding for the delivery of essential items such as medications, transportation, in-home services, respite care, and other family caregiver support. This should include free mail or delivery of all prescription drugs through Medicare Part D, and lifted restrictions on refills so those who rely on medication may obtain partial refills and up to a 90-day supply across all health care payers
  • Provide increased federal funding to ensure more individuals with disabilities can access long-term services and support in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, including by permanently authorizing and increasing funding for the Money Follows the Person program to assist people with disabilities and aging adults to transition out of congregate settings and back to their homes and communities. 

Protect and Enhance Access to Medicaid 

  • Temporarily increase Medicaid funding to 12%—beyond the initial 6.2% federal match authorized in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—to provide more resources for consumers, including individuals with disabilities.
  • Make it easier for individuals to quickly enroll in Medicaid, including by encouraging states to minimize income verification and maximize the use of presumptive eligibility. 
  • Encourage states to create plans to fortify the direct care workforce to support people with disabilities that experience COVID-19 related symptoms or infections to remain in their home. This includes ensuring access to enhanced compensation, access to the appropriate PPE, and training on ways to manage the symptoms. 
  • Ensure access to health services by encouraging state Medicaid agencies to take steps such as waiving prior authorization requirements and revising co-payment requirements.
  • Encourage states to adopt temporary measures to make it easier to stay enrolled and access care, including suspending redeterminations, stopping periodic income checks, implementing express lane eligibility and renewal for children, and halting restrictive waivers like work requirements.
  • Encourage retainer payments to be made to essential Medicaid providers, similar to CMS’s advance payments to Medicare providers.

Provide Targeted Relief and Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Caregiving Supports

  • Ensure that future legislation includes equitable support for people with disabilities and unpaid caregivers, including accelerating reforms to increase SSI benefit levels, eliminating the SSDI benefit cliff and 5-month waiting period, and ending the two-year waiting period for Medicare for people who qualify for SSDI. 
  • Immediately pass the Healthy Families Act and launch an emergency paid leave program that enables all workers to take 14 days of paid leave, including those unable to continue work due to increased risk of health complications, individuals caring for family members, and caregivers.
  • Provide tax relief for caregiving. Biden has proposed expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit to up to $8,000 to support people caring for dependents, including dependents with disabilities who live at home, so they can get 50% credit for expenses paid to direct care providers. And Joe Biden will support informal caregivers by creating a $5,000 tax credit for expenses incurred caring for a loved one.

Ensure Access to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatment

  • Enforce mental health parity laws and expand funding for mental health services.
  • Expand access to telemental health services and require all carriers, not just Medicare, to pay for telemental health services and remove same-day scheduling restrictions on mental and physical health visits.
  • Enable access to medication for opioid use disorder so that vulnerable individuals can continue treatment during a public health emergency, such as allowing home deliveries and individuals other than the patient to pick up medication. And, Biden will pass the Improving Access to Remote Behavioral Health Treatment Act to clarify the eligibility of community mental health center staff to prescribe controlled substances for substance use disorder treatment via telemedicine. 
  • Encourage HHS to issue guidance clarifying that mental health and substance use clinicians and professionals are included in priority testing for COVID-19 and receive emergency medical supplies during this crisis.

Combat Homelessness and Promote Housing Security

  • Combat homelessness among people with disabilities and prevent a surge of homelessness by building on the CARES Act and passing the Ending Homelessness Act.
  • Prevent evictions and expand access to supportive housing and services for individuals with disabilities. As proposed in Biden’s housing plan, this includes passing the Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act of 2020 and increasing funding for the Housing Trust Fund, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Supportive Housing for Individuals with Disabilities (Section 811) programs, and USDA Rural Housing Service programs.

Support Accessible Transportation Services

Maintain ADA paratransit services to the extent possible and support alternative accessible transportation options for individuals with disabilities to conduct essential activities. In addition, expand alternatives to transit for high-risk populations, such as by broadening the Section 5310 program to facilitate food and medicine delivery.

Ensure Access to Inclusive Education

  • Ensure that legislation and public-private efforts that address distance learning and virtual education follow universal design principles to meet the diverse learning needs of all students, including those with disabilities.
  • Provide urgent special education services consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and support the continuation of Individualized Educational Plans and 504 Plans and compensatory education services as needed for students with disabilities.
  • Expand access to broadband and accessible technology for students with disabilities, especially those from low-income families. 

Improve Disaster Preparedness and Protect People with Disabilities in Emergencies 

Biden will protect individuals from unwanted institutionalization and secure the REAADI for Disasters Act to ensure inclusive emergency preparedness and the Disaster Relief Medicaid Act to prioritize health care continuity.