A portion of the work I have done over the past four years has been personal injury litigation involving significant injuries that have left individuals with disabilities. We have worked with medical providers and therapists to ensure our clients receive necessary and important medical care and treatment. We have worked with life care planners to evaluate, price, and advocate for full and fair treatment for individuals suffering from traumatic injuries that have left them with certain disabilities. These clients have built in me a deep reservoir of compassion and empathy for individuals with disabilities and I recognize the importance of advocating for these issues.
We need to make sure our government works for everyone, and I firmly believe we should be actively working to protect the rights of those that have been traditionally overlooked. I’m especially proud to have received the endorsement of the Collin County Democrats With Disabilities and I will always do my best to ensure that people with disabilities have an ally and an advocate as their representative. I would listen and work with individuals with disabilities to outline the areas where Congress can improve their lives, and I would:
- Fight for a single payer healthcare system, where all individuals receive the treatment they require. But in the meantime, we have to do what we can to protect and expand Medicaid. Medicaid provides critical healthcare, especially to disabled people, and we need to make it as robust as possible. I vociferously oppose the cuts recently proposed in the Trump Administration’s 2021 budget. I would also work hard to roll back the recent and stricter work requirements imposed by the Trump administration, as that could disproportionately target and affect individuals with disabilities. In the short term, Congress must ensure the Affordable Care Act is not struck down as unconstitutional, should strengthen its provisions to help stabilize insurance markets and reduce premium costs, and make exceptionally clear that individuals with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage simply because of their pre-existing condition or chronic illness. Congress should consider passing separate legislation on this last point to ensure that portion of the ACA is not struck down in the pending constitutional challenge in the Northern District of Texas federal court.
- Protect access to state & federal safety nets like Medicaid. There are at least three specific reforms that should be taken immediately: (1) Congress should pass legislation that reverses the recent work requirements added to Medicaid and restrict the executive agencies discretion to adversely regulate the social safety net out of existence; (2) Congress should pass the Disability Integration Act, which has broad support and would help people with disabilities receive care in their home if they so choose; and (3) Congress should reject any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid outlined in the 2021 Budget and steadfastly hold the line against a strategy of block granting medical funding to the states.
- Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) to make sure children with disabilities have the resources needed to succeed both in the classroom and in the workforce. My family has been advocating for strong public education funding at the state level for the past several years. Fully funding these programs would enable state budgets to reallocate special education resources to other programs and make state public education dollars go further in impacting the lives and education of kids across the state. If the states chose to not reallocate resources and instead chose to have even deeper and more meaningful special education programs or provide even broader support education initiatives for kids with disabilities, that would also be a victory. In any event, fully funding IDEA is an essential piece of assisting public education and championing the cause of education for those children with disabilities.
Children need to have teachers and staff with appropriate training, and the schools themselves should be 100% accessible to children with special education needs. I see two significant barriers to this worthy goal: (1) funding needs at the state level to ensure reasonable and necessary accommodations are timely made and (2) stigmas associated with children with disabilities. Both of these can be solved, but it requires significant funding from the federal level because the states, and Texas in particular, have already proven they will not sufficiently fund these programs. Teacher and Administrator certification and education courses focusing on the needs and capabilities of children with disabilities should likewise be offered and funded. That guarantees the educators that deal with these children are both sensitive to all of their needs and have best pedagogical practices for children with disabilities at the forefront.
- Support efforts to curb discrimination against individuals with disabilities, whether that’s in school, the workplace, home care, or otherwise. I believe we can do more to ensure that broader civil remedies are present for individuals with disabilities and would be an advocate for legislation that provides broader rights to individuals to sue for such discrimination.
- Supporting initiatives that educate people about disabilities, individuals with disabilities, and how disabilities do not have to be and are often not limiters. One component of the GOP-led ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 that should be implemented (albeit as a standalone bill not tied to restrictions on civil remedies, which was the ultimate GOP goal with that bill) was the requirement that the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice develop a program to educate state and local governments and property owners on strategies for promoting access to public accommodations for persons with a disability. This is exactly right and we should pass legislation that does, in fact, accomplish this education objective without tying it to restrictions on civil remedies.
- Support incentives to businesses that train and hire disabled individuals. I support increasing and making it easier to enforce penalties on discrimination and failing to be ADA compliant. I would incentivize and reward businesses that do hire and train individuals with disabilities, with tax breaks or credits. And I would support companies owned by people with disabilities when it comes to bringing resources back into the district.
- Oppose legislation that makes it easier for businesses to discriminate against people with disabilities. Congress should stop taking actions like the ADA Education and Reform Act, which promises guidance and education on disability accessibility issues, but then specifically removes civil protections for individuals facing structural discrimination based on inaccessibility.
- Oppose federal legislation that attempts to prevent or preclude individuals with disabilities from exercising their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The ADA Education and Reform Act specifically attempts to mandate alternative dispute resolution in an effort to permit businesses that do discriminate against individuals with disabilities from having to face a jury of their peers. That type of legislation is both demeaning to individuals with disabilities and contrary to our constitutional system.
- Strengthen and perhaps even extend trial work periods and extended eligibility periods currently provided for under the Social Security Disability Insurance program. For example, the SSDI benefit program allows individuals with disabilities to try and go back to work without fear of losing benefits for a nine month period and receive both employment income and SSDI benefit. I would support increasing the trial work period and would consider expanding the threshold income requirements that trigger the period. In addition, the SSDI benefits program permits a 36 month extended eligibility period to receive disability benefit income and employment income so long as the employment income is not substantial. Congress should specifically study the threshold amounts to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not faced with a choice between choosing a non-living wage and forgoing disability benefits. Getting the income/benefit mix right is both the compassionate and just thing to do and one that Congress must carefully study and consider to ensure that the SSDI benefit programs are achieving their desired ends.
- Help people with disabilities to explore home and community based services. The Disability Integration Act would require public and private insurance to cover home and community based services. I support efforts like the National Nursing Shortage Reform Act that allocates federal funding to educate and train nurses. I would also specifically target and provide funding (whether it be scholarships, grants, or no interest loans) for those that want to become nurses or community attendants serving people with disabilities. I also support investing in education and training for caregivers and other staff that work in home and community based care. I would also support transition housing assistance in the form of either tax-based credits or perhaps housing subsidies to ensure that individuals with disabilities that choose home care instead of institutional care have the means to afford their own homes.
- Provide for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to allow people with disabilities to live in the community. I support legislation like the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which would provide tax incentives for new and affordable housing. I would also support tax incentives, including individual tax credits for individuals with disabilities to assist with home purchasing. Congress should create a select committee on disability housing and study the impact and need of public assistance funds to supplement housing costs for individuals unable to afford permanent housing as a result of or because of their disability.
- Make it easier for individuals with disabilities to access the justice system to seek justice. We should do things like provide funding, training, and staff to prosecutors helping sexual assault victims and give courts greater leeway in letting people with disabilities testify in an environment that’s comfortable for them. I also support making a registry of caregivers to increase transparency. And we need to increase services and education for the disabled community, so they can identify abuse, and can easily speak out so justice is served. I would support legislation that provides federal penalty enhancements for crimes against individuals with disabilities. Penalty enhancements can offer both a certain degree of punitive justice, but are likely even more effective as important signals from our collective criminal justice system that crimes against the vulnerable, including people with disabilities, are more threatening and insidious.
- Increase benefits for veterans with disabilities. Congress should start with ensuring that the cost-of-living adjustments (“COLA”) reflect the current reality of our economic situation. I would support something like the current proposed legislation in the Senate, Veterans’ Disability Compensation Automatic COLA Act of 2019, which mandates automatic annual increases in disability benefits consistent with Social Security indexing benefit increases. Congress should also consider legislation that funds a specific component of the VA’s Transition Assistance Program that is designated for counseling and assistance for veterans with disabilities. As it is presently constituted, it appears that the majority, if not all, of the Transition Assistance Program is calibrated towards veterans without disabilities returning to civilian life and entering into the regular labor force. We should be mindful of the needs and capabilities of all of our veterans, including those returning home with service-incurred disabilities or otherwise, and dedicate a specific portion of the funding towards facilitating specific transition assistance to these veterans with disabilities.
- Advance innovations that promote increased employment, access and independence for people with disabilities. I support efforts to reauthorize the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 and would support legislation in the U.S. House similar to the pending Senate Bill 1835 (“21st Century Assistive Technology Act”), which recognizes the need for additional federal-state partnership and leadership on incentivizing continued assistive technology development. As the bill makes clear, “the rapid and unending evolution of technology requires a Federal-State investment in State assistive technology programs, as well as an investment in protection and advocacy systems, to continue to ensure that individuals with disabilities reap the benefits of the technological revolution and participate fully in life in their communities.” I fully support such efforts and believe that the federal government is at its best when it sets high standards for success and integration and partners with the states to ensure that the standards and goals are met.