U.S. Senate COVID relief HEALS Act falls short for people with disabilities, contact Congress

The U.S. Senate released its COVID relief package (the HEALS bill) on Monday.

Most of the disability community priorities are NOT in the Senate bill, including no funding for Medicaid or Home and Community Based Services. The House passed the HEROES Act in May that includes many disability priorities. The House and Senate will have to negotiate on a final bill.

It is important that both U.S. Senators and Representatives hear from constituents as they make changes to ensure disability priorities are included. Our advocacy over the next 2 weeks is going to be critical!

Action Steps

  • Contact U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (call (202) 224-5653 or e-mailand Ron Johnson (call (202) 224-5323, or e-mail)
  • Contact your U.S. Representative (Who is my U.S. Representative).
  • Tell them any COVID relief package MUST include:
    • Significant aid to state and local governments so education, Medicaid, transportation, and other programs people with disabilities depend on will not have to be cut or eliminated.
    • Dedicated funding for Home and Community Based Services
    • Increased federal match to support state Medicaid programs
    • Support for students with disabilities and public schools that need to provide virtual education

Basic Overview of U.S. Senate HEALS bill

No aid to state or local governments

Many states predict as much as a 20-30% decline in money coming in to pay for programs–like Medicaid, K-12 education, and programs run by counties–at the same time costs to respond to the pandemic and help people who have lost their jobs and healthcare are increasing. Many states are facing large budget deficits now and expect state budget deficits to continue for at least the next two years.

State budget shortfalls will have major impacts on Medicaid, education, transportation, county services and other programs that receive state funding. States facing budget crises could cut services, putting people with disabilities at increased risk of unnecessary institutionalization.

Reductions in state aid will impact school district, county, municipal and town budgets which may force cuts to education, local services, and local government workforces.

No dedicated funding for Home and Community-Based Services (Family Care and IRIS)

Without dedicated funding, advocates worry people currently living in their homes will experience additional barriers finding workers or support they need, leading to more people forced into institutions where the risk of COVID is greater.

Funding is needed to ensure providers of critical in-home services stay in business and are not forced to cut their workforce, costing jobs and leaving people with disabilities with no workers and few choices.

No funding to specifically address needs of students with disabilities

The Senate bill includes funding for K12 education, but reserves most of it for schools reopening for in-person instruction. Survival Coalition focus groups found that 1 in 4 families had children who cannot risk exposure to COVID due to their health conditions, and will not be able to attend in-person classes until the pandemic is under control.

Many families said virtual learning was impossible for their child due to their disability, poor internet access, lack of technology equipment, accessibility shortfalls of virtual learning platforms, need for adults support in a typical classroom or little to no support from schools.

Many Wisconsin school districts are planning to open virtually in the fall; others opening initially in-person have contingency plans in place should the pandemic require transition to virtual learning. Without dedicated funding and direction, many students with disabilities will be left behind.

No increase in federal match to support state Medicaid programs

The Senate bill does not include an increase in the amount of money the Federal government provides the state (FMAP) for Medicaid programs (including Family Care, IRIS, Children’s Long Term Support, MAPP BadgerCare) and services (ForwardHealth card).

Many people have lost jobs, income, and employer-sponsored health insurance. More people are depending on Medicaid for health care during the pandemic. Without greater federal support, state budgets will not have enough money for people to get the care they need.

Providers are shielded from liability for negligent care

The Senate bill would shield healthcare providers and other businesses from liability for COVID-19 illnesses and death. These provisions, which would give immunity to nursing facilities, excuse negligent care, and allow harm to residents to go unaddressed, would reward bad actors and remove incentives for facilities to comply with laws and regulations, eliminate one of the last remaining oversight protections for residents, place workers and communities at risk, and perpetuate racial disparities in health care.

Resources on the U.S. Senate and House COVID relief proposals