2020 Presidential Primary Candidate Survey on Disability
Jay Inslee’s Responses
Employment: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?
A loophole in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows certain employers to pay employees with disabilities wages that are a fraction of minimum wage. I think it is improper to diminish the value of individual contributions simply because they came from a person with a disability. I agree that this minimum wage loophole should be closed, and that employees with disabilities should be paid the prevailing wage for their work. In Washington state, where I serve as governor, I signed legislation ensuring no state agency employ persons with disabilities under subminimum wage certificates – House Bill 1706 – on May 13th, 2019. As president, I would support similar legislation from Congress.
Assistive Technology: What do you plan to do to increase access to assistive technology for people with disabilities who need it to effectively and independently engage in their communities?
Assistive technologies are crucial for many individuals with disabilities, but at the same time the cost of these specialized technologies can be prohibitive. Because people with disabilities often struggle to find work, or are unable to work, the cost of these technologies can present a significant barrier to employment, independence, equal access to goods and services, and telecommunications.
Outside of private sources, options for getting help to pay for these technologies include ABLE accounts, which many states have implemented, that let people with disabilities set aside money in tax-free accounts which can later be used for assistive technologies, among other things. Certain federal and state tax breaks are also available. Private insurance companies and Medicaid and Medicare can cover medically necessary assistive technologies. The Federal Communications Commission’s iCanConnect program and many state telecommunications equipment distribution programs provide accessible telecommunications relay services equipment to Deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, or speech disabled individuals. State Vocational Rehabilitation Services programs sometimes cover the costs of assistive technologies where they help people with disabilities obtain and maintain employment.
Navigating these choices can be intimidating and cumbersome. I want to empower people with disabilities, and that starts with making it easier for them to get the technologies they need. We need to take a long hard look at how we can make information regarding the types of assistive technologies available today more readily available, and how we can make the technologies easier to obtain. In Washington state, the Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP) maintains a comprehensive database of services and resources regarding assistive technologies for Washingtonians, their teachers, parents, families, and employers. I believe this is a step in the right direction, and as president will work to explore barriers to obtaining assistive technologies and the best ways to overcome these barriers.
Special Education: How would you propose to strengthen the IDEA when it is reauthorized so that it truly fulfills its stated purpose of preparing children with disabilities for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living, including children with the most significant disabilities?
IDEA has had success in changing education outcomes for children with disabilities, but it has been hampered in part by underfunding. I want to see a fully funded IDEA, and in Washington state I have been pushing for increased funding for special education services. This year, the Legislature increased funding for special education by $155 million, which I supported, better supporting local school districts with the funding they need to offer appropriate services to students with disabilities.
I believe in fully funding education, and that includes fully meeting our obligation to provide students with disabilities with a Free Appropriate Public Education, and as president, will support reauthorization and strengthening of IDEA
Our efforts can’t stop at IDEA, however. Other crucial issues must be addressed, such as how to better prepare students to succeed in the workplace and transition out of school into healthy lives as adults. As president, I will work with stakeholders to ensure that students with disabilities are supported throughout their academic career.
Mental Health Services: What is your vision for a system of services to support people with mental illness?
Meeting the mental health needs of adults and children isn’t just a challenge in New Hampshire — it’s a nationwide problem. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, employment rate for people living with mental illness are only approximately 20%. Many of those people aren’t receiving the support they need to succeed and are at higher risk of facing additional challenges.
As governor, I called for a five-year transition away from outdated models of providing mental health care to a community-based hospital model. This year’s budget delivers by investing nearly $300 million in building and expanding beds and care facilities, in a new behavioral-health teaching hospital, and new community-placement facilities. But investments are just part of the solution, and I’ve also signed legislation improving access to mental health care by integrating physical health, mental health, and addiction treatment for Medicaid applicants, instead of having to navigate separate systems.
I believe that the approach we’ve taken in Washington state is a model for America. Our mental health laws and regulations are outdated and are doing a disservice to many who would otherwise, with better written laws and evidence-based regulations, lead happy and productive lives. As president, I pledge to work with stakeholders to jump start reform of those laws and regulations.
Workforce Shortage: Please explain how you would address this immediate and growing workforce shortage?
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are a crucial resource for some individuals with disabilities. Despite growing demand for this resource, DSPs are generally paid slightly above minimum wage, making it a challenge to recruit individuals to employment as DSPs.
We’ve taken a critical step in Washington state to connect patients with disabilities with the care that they need: the nation’s first publicly-funded Long-Term Care Benefit. This groundbreaking program will help families with up to $36,500 worth of costs associated with the of cost of providing long-term care for a loved one. Importantly, the program not only helps with the cost of care for an aging relative, but for the care of someone of any age recovering from an injury or living with a disability. Our new law will help every Washingtonian to get the long-term care that they need – and save billions in Medicaid costs in the decades to come.
As president, I explore opportunities to encourage individuals to work as DSPs, working with stakeholders to identify avenues through which to accomplish that, inclusive of tax credits, incentive programs, increased Federal assistance to the states, and other means. And I believe that Washington state’s breakthrough on Long-Term Care is a model for America.