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2020 Presidential Primary Candidate Survey on Disability
Eric Swalwell’s Responses
Employment: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?
All American workers should be paid a living wage, including workers with disabilities. I have cosponsored bipartisan legislation – the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act – to phase out “Section 14 (c)” jobs in which, under the Fair Labor Standards act, employers get waivers to pay subminimum wages, sometimes as little as $2 or $3 per hour, to workers with disabilities.
Until this is accomplished, I would support better oversight and regulation of sheltered workplaces which are meant to provide training to works with disabilities, but too often severely underpay those workers.
California can be a model for the rest of the country. The state’s Competitive Integrated Employment Blueprint, subtitled “Real Work for Real Pay in the Real World,” makes a priority of employment in an integrated setting, at a competitive wage, for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.
I also support the letter sent in April 2018 by seven senators to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta requesting information about the DOL’s oversight of employer minimum-wage waivers under FLSA Section 14(c). The letter specifically asks DOL to publicly report the pay rates and data on the Department’s evaluation of certificate applications, violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Department’s revocation of certificates, among other information.
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?
I support efforts to expand the availability of medical devices through public and private health plans, as well as to repeal the medical device excise tax which – if reinstated – would divert billions away from research and development for cures and therapies, stymieing technological advances that could help people with disabilities live more comfortable, fruitful lives.
Overall, I support efforts to increase funding to individuals and organizations to improve access to Social Security disability benefits, and to strengthen the Americans with Disabilities Act, Social Security Disability, and Medicaid. I also support updating the Assistive Technology Act to expand access and bring more resources to state-assisted technology programs.
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?
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act has been a groundbreaking law providing access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities, but it is time to update this law to help ensure these students’ rights are adequately protected in the future.
Congress promised in 1975 that the federal government would pay 40 percent of IDEA funding; it has never come close to fulfilling that promise, and today pays less than half that percentage, forcing states and local governments to make up the difference. I support legislation to fully fund IDEA to support and assist states and school districts so they can provide the support and tools students and families need to succeed. Every child deserves an equitable education.
Beyond fully funding the law, modernizing IDEA should include:
• Ensuring access to the general curriculum.
• Ensuring early screening and intervention for all children.
• Streamlining the process for students who qualify to receive benefits.
• Cutting bureaucratic red tape and paperwork for teachers.
• Improving accountability and monitoring programs.
• Retaining more special education specialists to provide a range of programs and services.
• Addressing chronic shortages of special education and related services and faculty at higher education institutions.
Mental Health Services: What is your vision for a system of services to support people with mental illness?
Mental health must be an integral part of healthcare, with quality, affordable services available to all Americans without exception. Too many people with mental health issues end up incarcerated, or homeless, or in substance addiction; stronger diagnostic and clinical services for all would help avoid these outcomes. This requires more funding and resources across the board.
I’m the only 2020 candidate proposing a massive public investment in finding cures and more effective therapies in our lifetime for the deadliest and most debilitating diseases and illnesses that ail us. In Congress, I’ve urged better funding for the National Institutes of Health. We need to be able to look ailing Americans in the eyes and truthfully tell them we’re doing all that we can to help.
Providing housing for those who are mentally ill and homeless is a key component of recovery. Housing paired with assisted outpatient treatment centers is proven to reduce homelessness, arrests, and hospitalization of the mentally ill.
I would reform Medicaid law to make it easier to reimburse hospitals for treatment, and to remove rules that block payment for mental and physical health care delivered on the same day.
I co-sponsored the bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, elements of which were included in the 21st Century Cures Act that President Obama signed into law in December 2016. The 21st Century Cures Act strengthened parity regulations requiring insurers to cover mental health treatments in the same way as physical medical treatments. It also included funding for community mental health resources, suicide prevention and intervention programs, de-escalation training for law enforcement, and a demonstration program in which psychiatry residents and other mental health clinicians practice in underserved areas.
The final bill, however, did not include provisions to reform the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 to give families more power to intervene in the care of loved ones with mental illnesses; I would pursue such reforms as President.
Workforce Shortage: Please explain how you would address this immediate and growing workforce shortage?
As President I would advocate for better wages, better working conditions, and regulations in the direct support profession. This industry has a very high turnover rate which negatively impacts skills development, and by extension, the health and safety of those being provided care.
Current Medicaid provider rates must be increased to allow for higher wages. Educational incentives, including student loan debt forgiveness, are needed to attract and retain a more diverse and skilled workforce. Career models that provide opportunities for promotion and specialization must be introduced to prevent burnout and people leaving the profession. And going forward, we need better data on DSP wages to inform and update our policymaking.