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Rep. Spears introduces legislation to help adults with developmental disabilities

Rep. Tina Spears has introduced a package of bills to improve funding and care for adults with developmental disabilities. The focus comes after the passing of civil rights legend Judy Heumann, who the House honored with a resolution (2023-H 6130) introduced by Representative Spears on Tuesday.

“Heumann was fearless, loving and dedicated. Without her and the movement she helped build, we would be living in a very different America,” said Representative Spears, (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). “It’s now up to all of us to continue this work. Many of our neighbors with disabilities still face inexcusable discrimination.”

Heumann, who passed away on March 4, contracted polio as a toddler and used a wheelchair for mobility the rest of her life. She was denied a public education and later denied a teaching job because school officials felt her wheelchair was a fire hazard. She helped build a movement for disability rights that culminated in a 28-day sit in at federal buildings in 11 cities across the country, including Boston. The sit-in succeeded in pressuring the Nixon administration to implement the first federal protections for individuals with disabilities. Heumann had been slated to come to Rhode Island to speak about disability rights when she passed.

One bill (2023-H 5996) Representative Spears has introduced would remove income limits for people with developmental disabilities to qualify for Medicaid. Currently, most individuals with developmental disabilities qualify for Medicaid. But if they earn more than 250% of the federal poverty level or have more than $10,000 in savings, they lose their insurance. That, critics say, disincentivizes work and condemns individuals with disabilities to a life of poverty.

“How can we tell someone that if they have $10,000 in the bank for their retirement, they are too rich to keep their Medicaid?” Representative Spears said. “We should be empowering individuals with disabilities to work, contribute to the economy and reach their full potential.”

A second bill (2023-H 5633) would require the state to provide inflation increases to individuals living with developmental disabilities on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides monthly payments to adults and children with a disability or blindness who have income and resources below specific financial limits. Currently, that payment is capped by the state. The bill would tie SSI increases to the inflation index used for Social Security.

A third bill (2023-H 6119) would increase the Medicaid rate of reimbursement for ambulance and wheelchair van services to not less than ninety percent (90%) of Medicare rates for the same medical services. Currently, Medicaid pays less for these services, impacting the ability of providers to recruit and retain staff and ensure the services are provided in a timely way. This would improve transportation services to individuals with developmental disabilities and others on Medicaid, helping them get to necessary appointments.

“Each of these bills is a step forward on the road to equality for our neighbors living with disabilities,” said Representative Spears. “We stand on Judy Heumann’s shoulders as we carry on her legacy.”

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