MN-CCD coalition maps the road ahead of the 2008 legislative session
Fifty-four million Americans – roughly 1 in 6 – personally experience some form of disability. Yet, seventeen years after Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities still do not have an equal opportunity to fulfill the key tenet that America was built upon—independence.
Real economic barriers still exist. In 2006, people with disabilities were almost three times more likely to live below the poverty line than those without disabilities. The average annual household income for individuals without disabilities was $65,400 in 2006, while the average for people with disabilities was $36,300. In addition, the employment rate for people with disabilities in 2006 was at least forty percent lower than the employment rate of working-age individuals without disabilities. These dismal statistics offer evidence of severe shortcomings in efforts to break down the barriers that exclude people with disabilities and deprive them of opportunities.
With that in mind, there is plenty of work to do as the 2008 legislative session begins this week. One of the key groups leading the drive for change is the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD), a unique coalition of more than 100 organizations founded in the mid-90s. It includes providers, advocates and support organizations all dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Co-chaired by Joel Ulland from the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter and Steve Larson from Arc Minnesota, MN-CCD supports policies that provide the most cost-effective delivery of services and helps individuals with disabilities maintain their health and gain independence in their daily living. Many of CCD’s accomplishments have come through collaborating, advocating, educating, influencing change and creating awareness for understanding. Since its founding, this ‘together we’re stronger’ approach has been vital to rolling back barriers in Minnesota.
So, what is in store for us all in 2008? The November 2007 state economic forecast predicted a general fund deficit of $373 million. This deficit comes at a time when the legislature is tackling important issues such as transportation and balancing predictions of very tight funding for disability services and needs. Despite these barriers, the disability community has three high profile legislative priorities: universal health care coverage, transportation, and a caregiver tax credit.
Health care is high on the radar screen of everyone in 2008. Last spring, the legislature convened the Health Care Access Commission, a group of legislators as well as private sector experts in health care. Their charge was to make recommendations on how to achieve universal health coverage in Minnesota. The commission had subgroups such as the Bridging the Continuum group which focused on many issues specific to disability, and investigated ways to bridge all sectors of health to create a seamless health delivery system. The group also recommended ideas such as a medical home, which focuses on patient-centered, physician-guided, cost-efficient lifelong care. It is yet unclear if the commission’s findings will be adopted, but dialogue is taking place, and the urgency for reform is palpable. The need for change has never been greater.
In the wake of the I-35W bridge, much of the ‘08 legislative session will likely be devoted to transportation. For people with disabilities, access to transit affects employment, education and even health care. Therefore, the MN-CCD is again pursuing an aggressive transportation agenda. Change is long overdue: there are currently seven counties without any public transit, and District Three, covering central Minnesota, will meet only 19.4 percent of ridership needs by 2010 if current levels are maintained.
Last year the MN-CCD launched its ‘14 by 2010’ bill which calls for all 87 counties in Minnesota having a minimum of 14 hours of transportation service per day by the year 2010. Unfortunately, the parties could not pass a transportation bill and the MN-CCD bill died. This year the MN-CCD will take a different approach to improve transportation—using the existing 2001 Department of Transportation Greater Minnesota Public Transportation plan as their vehicle. The DOT plan calls for 80 percent by 2010—so we have plenty of work ahead. Essentially, the MN-CCD bill will ask the legislature to fund its own transportation plan.
Caregiver Tax Credit
The final big initiative the MN-CCD is seeking is a caregiver tax credit. The simple fact is that the most cost-effective and many times most desirable way to provide needed care to older Minnesotans and those with disabilities is through informal caregivers—primarily family members. Eighty to ninety-five percent of all long-term care services are provided by informal caregivers, saving the nation an estimated $196 billion; a figure that dwarfs national expenditure for home health care ($32 billion) and nursing home care ($83 billion). When caregivers are unable to provide the care needed because the other components of life’s resources are no longer accessible, many are forced to make the decision to move a family member or friend to a nursing home. The caregiver tax credit seeks a $100 maximum monthly tax credit for those requiring a level of formal or informal care that meets state PCA standards.
This should be an interesting year in Minnesota politics. Of course, it is also a presidential election year with the certainty of a new president, and many possible changes in Congress and the Minnesota House of Representatives. Therefore, now is the time to take action. The MN-CCD needs your support for our initiatives to succeed. The adage that “decisions are made by those who show up” is genuine. Attending advocacy days, visiting legislators, making calls, writing letters and testifying at legislative hearings all affect a bill’s success. So, please contact organizations you are linked with and speak to their advocates. We also encourage you to visit the MN-CCD Web site for a list of events you can attend and support, as well as contact details for disability organizations around the state. We need your help to continue breaking down barriers and to keep showing that together we’re stronger.
Check out the Minnesota-Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities at www.mncdd.org