On March 11, President Biden signed the long awaited American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The relief can’t come fast enough for people in the disabilities community who have suffered disproportionately to others during the pandemic.
Disabilities activists are looking to the bill for clues to how the new administration will respond to the needs of individuals with disabilities. Here are some of the ways in which the plan will benefit the disabilities community.
1. Stimulus checks
The package includes $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, heads of household with up to $112,500, and married couples who file jointly with up to $150,000. This is the third round of stimulus checks issued since the pandemic began. For the first time, however, adults with disabilities who live with their parents or guardians are eligible to receive their own payments. What’s more, the payments won’t impact their eligibility for benefits like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.
2. Financial aid to schools
School closings during the pandemic have had detrimental effects on many students, but particularly for students with disabilities who had difficulties adapting to online learning. The American Rescue Plan provides more than $170 million in funding to safely open schools and keep them open for the duration of the pandemic. According to RespectAbility, the plan “specifically addresses the needs of students with disabilities throughout the K-12 education system. Out of the $2.5 billion dedicated to special education supports, $200 million are dedicated to meet the needs of preschoolers with disabilities and $250 million are designated to go to help infants and toddlers with disabilities.”
3. Unemployment Insurance extension
The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the worldwide economy and unemployment rates have soared during this time. Individuals with and without disabilities have suffered, but those with disabilities—who are already disproportionately excluded from the workforce—were hit hardest. “According to an analysis by the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), the labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities is currently only 33.4 percent,” reports RespectAbility. The plan assures an additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits from the federal government through Labor Day—offering relief to the 18 million Americans who are still jobless.
4. Expanded tax credits for children and families
The expansion of tax credits for children and families will help all parents and children in the United States including families of children with disabilities. The rescue plan provides for families to receive $3,000 per child this year for kids aged 6-17, and to $3,600 for kids under 6. Paying for services, devices and healthcare for children with disabilities is expensive. These tax credits will truly make a difference to families across the country.
5. More subsidies for health insurance
Subsidies for individuals and families who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act will make healthcare more affordable. Though this increase will benefit all ACA users, individuals with disabilities tend to have higher than average health care costs. Increased subsidies will naturally make life easier for them.
6. Increased funding for food insecurity
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 20% of people with disabilities rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rescue plan’s increased funding for SNAP and other food and nutrition programs will decrease food insecurity for many Americans with disabilities.
7. Home and community-based services
The package includes $350 billion that states and localities can use to fund services such as “home care and personal assistance, home accessibility modifications, and help for people transitioning out of nursing homes, group homes, and other more supervisory facilities into more independent homes and communities,” writes Forbes contributor Andrew Pulrang. The first two COVID-19 relief bills did not provide funds for these purposes.