(Washington, D.C. – Aug. 3, 2011) – As the U.S. averted default with approval of a last-minute compromise plan to raise the ceiling on the nations $14.3 trillion debt while cutting spending and certain entitlement programs, National Disability Institute brought its economic empowerment agenda for people with disabilities to Capitol Hill on Aug. 2 as host of the 2nd Annual Disability Economic Advancement Policy Forum. Joined by congressional representatives as well as disability and asset development organizations at the Rayburn House Office Building, National Disability Institute made the compelling case that now, amid fiscal reform legislation, is the time to address and remedy the enforced poverty of the majority of Americans with disabilities.
“One in seven Americans lives in poverty. But for people with disabilities, that number jumps to one in three. Sixty-five percent of people in long-term poverty have a disability,” said Michael Morris, National Disability Institute’s Executive Director. “Due to a lack of policy alignment, people with disabilities are forced to stay poor to keep receiving public benefits.”
“People with disabilities want what we all want – a piece of the American Dream. We must work together now in and out of government to make that a reality,” he added.
Morris highlighted practical solutions to connect workforce development and asset development in fiscal reform legislation to promote economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. He described the extraordinary partnerships taking place in communities nationwide that are bringing together businesses, government, people with disabilities and non-profit organizations to help build a better economic future for individuals with disabilities. Morris cited promising legislative initiatives before Congress, such as the SSI Savers Act of 2011, Reauthorization of the Assets for Independence (AFI) Program and Savers Credit. The legislatives proposals will help lead to more solid financial futures for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. “Economic empowerment for people with disabilities needs to be in our minds, hearts and souls,” Morris said. “We need to put people with disabilities back in charge of their financial lives.”
Morris and Johnette Hartnett of National Disability Institute as well as U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), and representatives from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination, the New America Foundation, CFED (the Corporation for Enterprise Development), the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University and Mathematica addressed policy barriers that impede progress toward economic advancement and self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.
“We have been working on the SSI Savers Act . . . trying to look at the disincentives that discourage savings in federal policy, and how to reverse that and also find more positive paths forward to encourage savings so that those who are disabled as well as others are encouraged to save and bring more stability to their financial livelihood, as we in Washington try to bring more stability to our financial livelihood,” said Rep. Tsongas, a leader of the Congressional Savings & Ownership Caucus.
Panelists examined key legislative initiatives before the 112th Congress focused on promoting asset development opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including:
- Stopping the poverty paradox by addressing the “non-work” mentality of Social Security and Medicaid (David Stapleton, Senior Fellow, Mathematica);
- Creating a cross-program policy to address existing asset and income limits on people with disabilities (Justin King, Federal Policy Liaison – Asset Building Program, New America Foundation);
- Using the proposed Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act to help people with disabilities build assets and use the funds for qualified expenses including college tuition, a mortgage on a first home and assistive services and equipment (Steve Beck, Advocacy Committee Co-Chair, Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia & Collaboration to Promote Self Determination);
- Examining legislation such as the SSI Savers Act and why many states are eliminating or raising asset limits for federal assistance programs to encourage savings (Carol Wayman, Director – Federal Policy, CFED).
Current statistics make the case for change, showing the widening economic divide between people with disabilities and their nondisabled peers:
- One in five adults living in the U.S. have a disability.
- Disability cuts across race, gender, ethnicity, age and geography.
- Only 21% of taxpayers with disabilities have incomes over $40,000.
- As of June 2011, 14.4% of the entire U.S. disability population is unemployed, in contrast to the national average unemployment rate of 9.4%.
- Working-age adults with disabilities are three times more likely than their nondisabled peers to live at or below the poverty line.
- Unlike most Americans, people with disabilities have no tax-advantaged vehicles to save for future expenses and face barriers to asset accumulation that ties access to public benefits (supplemental security income, health care and housing assistance) to eligibility requirements that prohibit savings.
Morris urged that our nation and all of its citizens are stakeholders in economic empowerment of people with disabilities. “[These issues are] not just about disability. It’s about the faith community, it’s about the business community, it’s about people who make tax policy and social policy, and it’s about alignment of policy and structure that we have yet to see even in a post ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) environment.”
To see photos from the policy forum, visit National Disability Institute on Flickr. Visit National Disability Institute’s Twitter feed (@realeconimpact) for tweets from the event.
About National Disability Institute
National Disability Institute (NDI) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to building a better economic future for people with disabilities. The first national organization committed exclusively to championing economic empowerment, asset development and financial stability for all persons with disabilities, National Disability Institute affects change through public education, policy development, training, technical assistance and innovative initiatives such as the Real Economic Impact (REI) Tour, which brings tax and financial education for people with disabilities to more than 100 cities nationwide. To learn more, visit www.realeconomicimpact.org.
Lisa Stockmann Karp
National Disability Institute