Expanded protections for ‘Long COVID’ patients could further strain systems people with…

I remember watching President Biden’s acceptance speech on Nov. 7, and celebrating when he mentioned supporting the disability community. Maybe it was naive of me to have so much hope, but I have been disappointed in the inaction, and the disappointment in the Biden Administration has turned into disgust in recent weeks.

In celebration of the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Biden Administration announced that those with lingering COVID-19 symptoms could qualify for protections under disability law on July 26 and praised its plan to invest $400 billion into home and community-based services as part of the Better Care Better Jobs Act. Disability advocacy organizations, such as The Arc, fear that the investment will end up being half of that — or even less, — with some estimates at $150 billion, citing the bill’s competing priorities.

Such a dramatic decrease would be detrimental for disabled people. One could argue that any investment would be helpful, and while this is valid, cutting the funding in any way could substantially limit the initiatives the administration could pursue. Negotiations will likely knock the investments under the $400 billion mark, and the expanded definition of disability would intensify the harm, costing millions that could otherwise be invested in the Better Care Better Jobs Act.

I initially thought this was a win for the disability community — I believe everybody deserves the accommodations they need to be successful, whether they are experiencing disability as an effect of COVID-19 or for another reason. I stand by this, but on second thought and after some research, I realized how harmful this could become for disabled people. According to a study from the Center for American Progress, which doesn’t mention the expanded protections, it could intensify the issues the community already faces.

“If only 10% of the 34 million Americans that were affected by COVID-19 get long-haul symptoms and try to apply for these services, our system that is already overwhelmed and underfunded is going to collapse,” Megan Buckles, senior policy analyst at the Center’s Disability Justice Initiative, said at a panel ahead of the report’s release.

Even before this, the social programs needed to be expanded to better support disabled people. Now, they have to expand even more to accommodate the increase in demand this will lead to. But I fear that they won’t be expanded enough and disabled people will be left behind in the process as more nondisabled people qualify for the benefits.

Relatedly, I have found myself asking these questions: Why did the administration have to formally announce that people with long-term effects of COVID-19 are protected? The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” I just don’t know why Biden needed to clarify this — it seems like “long COVID” patients would be protected to begin with if they have severe long-term symptoms — and part of me thinks it was a tip-of-the-hat to the disability community.

I would even argue that this is Biden using disabled people to avoid bipartisanship — which he ironically praised the ADA for in the July 26 Rose Garden address — and advance a more liberal agenda. But it’s absolutely wrong. He’s using me, he’s using us as instruments for his efforts to protect people without disabilities and to begin a stronger social safety net, and ignoring our needs in the process. The reality is that these protections did nothing for the disability community other than expand it legally. They support nondisabled people.

Meanwhile, the CAP noted that the disability community is in need of nationwide investments in robust social supports and care infrastructure. The problem is that for years, disabled people have been an afterthought regarding funding and how to spend money, and this is just the latest example: the decision will benefit people without disabilities, as noted by an expert.

The social safety net has a giant hole in it and must be reviewed: the CAP notes that “means testing and asset limits should also be reviewed, as they restrict the ability of people with disabilities and others to save for emergency situations.” In other words, we must recognize that disabled people must either pay for the support they need privately or choose between getting the support they need and getting a job, acquiring assets and showcasing their intelligence. It is rooted in the concept that if one struggles with accomplishing simple daily tasks, then they won’t be able to work. Ableism.

This is what Biden should have been focused on in honor of the ADA. The landmark law was a life-changer for disabled people, as it ensured access — which, by the way, still doesn’t come easy — and we are in need of something similar. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ensured digital access, but the glaring hole in the system has long been that the support one is eligible for depends on wealth.

Instead, he put more strain on the system, and considering that there are variants extending the pandemic and infecting more people, this could become a major problem. The care system for disabled people is now like swiss cheese, and the funds disabled people often rely on could quickly evaporate with COVID-19-related disability claims.

Originally published at http://www.wheelchairqb.com on August 10, 2021.