2020 Presidential Primary Candidate Survey on Disability
Kirsten Gillibrand’s Responses
Employment: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?
I support the phase out of this antiquated practice and believe we need providers to be transitioning from 14(c) wage employment to competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. I am a cosponsor of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which will phase out the subminimum wage for people with disabilities while providing support and oversight for the transition period. I also support the Raise the Wage Act, which will get rid of the subminimum wage for people with disabilities. I believe that equal pay is fundamental to this country and an important step toward the broader goal of encouraging self-sufficiency. To help achieve that goal, I have supported the ABLE Act since I joined the Senate in 2009 and I supported the ABLE To Work Act to allow people with disabilities and their families to save money while retaining their benefits.
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 have long been a proponent of increasing access to assistive technology. I have cosponsored the ABLE Act since I joined the Senate in 2009, which allows spending on assistive technology as a qualified disability expense. I also cosponsored the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, the ABLE Financial Planning Act, and the ABLE To Work Act, which expand and strengthen the ABLE Act. In 2014, I introduced the Caring for Military Children with Developmental Disabilities Act, which would require TRICARE and other health providers to our uniformed military to cover behavioral health treatments. I also have fought for funding for the Assistive Technology Act to increase access to assistive technology through state financing efforts such as financial loans and cooperative buys, device reutilization services such as recycling and device exchange, and device loan/borrowing and demonstration services.
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?
As president, my administration will fully fund the IDEA. I have sought significant funding increases for IDEA in the Senate, including writing a letter in 2018 asking my colleagues to agree to provide the highest possible funding. Falling short of our obligations is unacceptable, and too often that failure means that people with disabilities don’t get the support they need and fall through the cracks.
Mental Health Services: What is your vision for a system of services to support people with mental illness?
Insurance coverage for behavioral health services is critical to the health of all Americans and to our ability to address the inadequate access to mental health services that communities across the country are struggling with. I am an original cosponsor of the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act which would hold health insurers accountable for providing adequate mental health benefits and increase transparency for consumers seeking coverage for mental illness and substance use disorders.
I have been a consistent advocate to ensure that people get access to the care they need. I have cosponsored the Disability Integration Act since 2016, and I support its vision of home and community-based care, and not requiring unnecessary institutionalization. I have also fought for funding for Community Mental Health Block Grant to improve community-based services. Physical and mental health outcomes are better for patients that live in their own homes. I opposed Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, gutting the mental health services it guarantees.
I believe it is important that we improve access to mental health services for children by expanding services at school. I voted for the Every Student Succeeds Act which provides funding to support mental and behavioral health. We need to be funding these programs and building on them so that we are getting children the help they need early on which we know is of critical importance to mental health outcomes.
I have been the leader on creating a nationally Paid Family and Medical Leave plan, to ensure that family members and one’s self, can take the time they need away from work without losing a paycheck. The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of 66% wage replacement in the event of serious personal or family medical emergency.
Workforce Shortage: Please explain how you would address this immediate and growing workforce shortage?
The critical services of DSPs do not get enough attention. Direct Support Professionals would be covered under my national service plan for free college, helping to pay for training and an education. This national service plan not only would eliminate the barriers to entering the field while providing a pathway to the middle class, but also would give DSPs greater recognition for the tremendous value of their services to our communities and country. My plan would also offer a bonus financial award to qualified graduates who locate in communities in particular need such as New Hampshire.
Inadequate pay and benefits for DSPs also drives high turnover and must be addressed, in tandem with providing increased government investment in services to pay for better wages, benefits, and support of the workforce without impacting programs.
To address the broader workforce shortage in health professions that impacts the disabled community, I am a cosponsor of the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act of 2019 which is a five-year renewal and expansion of funding for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps and have fought in Congress to ensure these initiatives are adequately funded.