Candidate’s Plan: Protecting the Rights and Equality of People with Disabilities
2020 Presidential Primary Candidate Survey on Disability
Elizabeth Warren’s Responses
Employment: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?
I have always believed in the principle of equal pay for equal work, but today, it is perfectly legal for an employer to hire workers with disabilities and pay them below what they pay workers without disabilities for doing the same work. They can even apply for permission to pay workers with disabilities below the federal minimum wage. It’s a disgrace.
Individuals with disabilities should have the opportunity to reach their full potential in competitive and integrated employment settings, and they should receive fair wages for their work. For these reasons, I have worked to end the subminimum wage, and I have pressured the Department of Labor to more aggressively crack down on the abuse of 14(c) certificates. This policy enforces harmful and inaccurate stigmas, and we should phase it out in a responsible way.
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’ve fought to increase access to assistive technology for people with disabilities, including in education, health care, and transportation. To help students with disabilities, I helped pass an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization to ensure they can use assistive technology to access assessments. I also introduced the bipartisan AIM HIGH Act to create guidelines for accessible instructional materials on college campuses.
By investing in medical innovation, we can further expand the assistive technologies available to people with disabilities. Over the past fifty years, the American system of medical innovation has transformed the health of billions of people around the world. It didn’t just appear overnight as if by magic – it is the end result of generations of huge taxpayer investments in the National Institutes of Health. That’s why I’ve fought tooth and nail against President Trump’s proposal to cut nearly 20% of the NIH budget – the largest cut to the institution since its founding. I’ve also introduced the National Biomedical Research Act and the Medical Innovation Act to restore our investments in the NIH’s cutting-edge scientific research and bring us closer to critical health care breakthroughs.
We must also make sure assistive technologies are affordable. That’s why I reached across the aisle to craft and pass bipartisan legislation guaranteeing affordable, over-the-counter hearing aids for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. And why I introduced the Audiology Patient Choice Act, a bipartisan bill that ensures people with disabilities on Medicare have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists.
I also believe that universal inclusion begins within our campaign and pledge that my campaign will be fully inclusive of people with disabilities. We have a staff member who prioritizes outreach to the disability community so that our campaign is deliberately listening and taking intentional steps towards inclusion. Some of the steps we’ve already taken include: hiring individuals with disabilities, making sure our offices and event spaces are accessible, prioritizing phone banks alongside canvasses so that people of all mobilities can participate, ensuring that all photographs on our website have alt-text and that our videos include captions, and asking event attendees about their accessibility needs and reaching out to those individuals directly to confirm what they need so that we can accommodate them on the day of the event.
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?
My first job out of college was teaching special needs kids in a public elementary school. I know how important it is for our public education system to create opportunities for all kids, including students with disabilities. That’s why I’m a co-sponsor of the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers Act, which would fully fund the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and make sure education is a priority in the federal budget.
Second, to close the achievement gap, we must make sure our public education system creates opportunity for all our kids, including students with disabilities. That’s why I passed an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization to ensure that students with disabilities are able to use assistive technology to access assessments. It’s also why I introduced the bipartisan AIM HIGH Act to create guidelines for accessible instructional materials on college campuses. I recognize that many students face special obstacles to their education, and I will always stand up for programs that help to level the playing field.
Third, we must make sure people with disabilities are not held down by student loan debt. That’s why I’ve called for something truly transformational – up to $50,000 in student loan debt cancellation for 42 million Americans and universal free public college. My plan would provide total debt cancellation to more than 75% of student loan borrowers. And it would make college truly universal – not just in theory, but in practice – by making higher education of all kinds more inclusive and available to every single American, including people with disabilities, without the need to take on debt to cover costs. I’ve also introduced legislation to prohibit the Treasury Department from forcing borrowers who are severely disabled from paying taxes on student loans that have been canceled, which would save them thousands of dollars.
Finally, we need to do everything we can to ensure that all students, regardless of means or background, have access to career training that will provide a path to a good-paying job and a middle-class lifestyle. That’s why I introduced and passed the Free Career and Technical Education for High School Students Act in order to direct federal funding streams toward reducing or eliminating out-of-pocket costs associated with Career and Technical Education programs for high school students, including students with disabilities. If classes that prepare high school students for college are free, then career training classes that prepare students to enter the workforce should also be free. I have also introduced bipartisan legislation that would expand education savings accounts to cover apprentices’ out-of-pocket costs, such as for equipment and books.
Mental Health Services: What is your vision for a system of services to support people with mental illness?
Nearly one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness in the United States in any given year and only half of adults in New Hampshire receive any form of mental health treatment. In 2017, I led the fight to prevent budget cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant and secured an additional $160 million for the program. I also urged appropriators to designate $1 billion to mental health programs through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. And I fought Republican efforts to repeal the individual mandate, strip health care coverage from millions of Americans, and reduce access to health care for people with disabilities.
Americans have a right to equal health care coverage for physical and mental illness. Despite the widespread need for mental health services, the number of individuals across this country that are denied mental health services is alarming: in New Hampshire, less than half of those living with mental illness receive any mental health services. That’s why I introduced the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act, which would hold insurers accountable for providing adequate mental health benefits, empower patients, and ensure Americans receive the protections they are guaranteed by law. I’ve also worked to hold the Health and Human Services Department accountable for improving insurers’ compliance with mental health parity laws through an online consumer parity portal.
Supporting mental health services is also imperative to fighting the opioid epidemic — especially in states like New Hampshire, which has an opioid death rate that is more than twice the national average. We need to use every tool in the toolbox to confront this epidemic, which means dedicating sufficient funds to mental health services. My CARE Act would ensure access to mental health services and help provide critical wraparound services like housing support and medical transportation for those who need them.
Finally, I believe that we need to do our best to make sure that people who are incarcerated are treated with basic dignity and respect — including those with mental illness. These individuals should have a chance to emerge from their incarceration as intact human beings who are ready to come back to their communities and make a real contribution. That’s why I led appropriations letters to request robust funding for medication-assisted treatment for individuals with substance use disorders in federal prisons, state correctional facilities, and post-correctional reentry programs. I also joined Senator Markey in requesting a GAO study of how substance use disorders are addressed by the Bureau of Prisons and state correctional facilities.
Workforce Shortage: Please explain how you would address this immediate and growing workforce shortage?
Direct Support Professionals provide essential support to people with disabilities to help them lead meaningful, productive, and independent lives. As you point out, there is an increasing shortage of DSPs throughout the United States. That’s why, every year since I entered the Senate, I’ve co-sponsored a resolution that recognizes the important work DSPs do and more recently calls on the Department of Labor to collect data specific to DSPs. I’ve also cosponsored the Disability Integration Act, which would require insurance providers that cover long-term supports and services to allow people with disabilities to access home and community-based services and lead an independent life.
Additionally, Medicare and Medicaid are lifelines for millions of people who rely on these programs for essential health coverage and economic security, especially people with disabilities and long-term care needs. I will fight to preserve and strengthen these programs, and I won’t back down when it comes to making sure Medicare and Medicaid are there for those who need it. I am also deeply committed to both protecting and expanding Social Security. After shrinking budgets forced the Social Security Administration to cut thousands of jobs and close more than 60 offices, leading to outrageously long wait times that left many Americans with disabilities struggling to get their benefits, I fought to get a $480 million increase for the agency – the first increase to its operating budget in almost a decade.
Finally, to ensure people with disabilities can live full, independent lives we must also invest in big structural change. My proposal to confront America’s housing crisis –the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act — would result in over 3 million new low- and moderate-income housing units, bringing rents down for people with disabilities and their caregivers and ensuring that they can afford to live in the communities that they call home. The bill would also expand the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination against people for gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status or source of income, including government assistance, or housing vouchers.