One of our good friends, John Tschida, wrote me earlier this month after running into Yoshiko Dart in Washington DC, where John lives now. Yoshiko is the late Justin Dart’s wife, the woman Justin said was not only the love of his life, but also his coworker, ally, partner in advocacy and teammate. Together, they were hugely responsible for passage of the ADA in 1990. Yoshiko asked John why he wasn’t writing for Access Press anymore. He said he didn’t have a good answer. So, John got in touch with me to see if we needed anything written from the nation’s capital.
Well, I took him up on his offer and we’re planning for him to get started writing about the federal tax reform bill and block grants. We jointly decided these two topics are rapidly moving targets for a monthly paper, but agreed that John would contribute a couple paragraphs for my editor’s column this month (below) and in January do a commentary on the tax bill and or block grants.
For those of you who don’t know John Tschida, he was the public policy lead at Courage Center (now Courage Kenny) for many years and was one of the first co-chairpersons for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD). John was the go-to man on state policy questions, second only perhaps to Anne Henry, who is herself known by many in the community as the Wikipedia of disability public policy law. While John was an invaluable leader in the Minnesota community, we were glad to see him take on an opportunity at the federal level, where, as a public policy director at the Department of Health & Human Services and now at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, he is helping even more people in the disability community.
We have lost some valuable, successful and respected leaders recently to their well-deserved retirements, and have had to say goodbye and thanks to several friends. Anne Henry was celebrated and honored for her amazing work at the disability law center and we wish her true joy in retirement. Bruce Nelson, retired as chief executive officer of ARRM and moved out to California. Steve Larson has also retired from The Arc after having done just about everything and known just about everyone involved in bettering the disability community at the Minnesota Legislature. And I still miss Ronna Linroth, one of my mentors, who retired from Gillette Children’s a couple years ago. I expect, however, that we will be seeing Steve, Anne and probably Ronna now and then at the capitol in St. Paul. They were all models of the dedication that our earlier advocates had for the disability cause.
I have real hopes that our younger emerging leaders will take on the work that is never-ending in protecting the care and independence of people with disabilities. As John points out here, there’s a lot of work to be done:
The federal tax bill really amounts to a tax on people with disabilities, senior citizens and their families in many ways. It eliminates the medical expense deduction, which the IRS says 8.8 million filers took advantage of in 2015. It would also eliminate the deduction for charitable contributions, which many nonprofit disability and elder service organizations rely on to balance their budgets. It also removes tax incentives for businesses to hire people with disabilities and for drug companies to develop high-cost ‘orphan’ drugs for those with rare or low-incidence disabilities.
Remember, the bill also repeals the requirement in current law that all Americans must have health insurance coverage. This individual mandate is a critical part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which helps keep premium costs lower than they otherwise would be without this requirement. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says this will lead to 13 million people losing their health care – many with chronic and disabling conditions. A new estimate released Nov. 30 by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation says the bill adds more than $1 trillion to the budget deficit over the next ten years. This reality means that significant budget cuts will need to be made elsewhere in federal spending. Medicaid is most at risk here, although programs like VR, special education, housing supports and Head Start will also be at risk.
Bottom line: This bill has little to benefit people with disabilities and much that will trigger cuts in the very near future to programs and services that support community living and independence.
It seems very clear from what John is saying that we must pray that the House and Senate can’t finalize a bill that both chambers can agree on, even as we keep writing and calling our Congress members to say what an absolute disaster this tax bill represents for our community.
Stay warm and happy holidays!