By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
With the year half over already, the U.S. Senate is working furiously to pass a bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act before Congress recesses for the July 4th holiday. A bill written in complete secrecy by just 13 members of the 100-member Senate is finally making its way to all of the people who will ultimately vote on it next week and, like the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, the details are alarming.
Of paramount concern is the Senate’s plan to mirror the bill passed by the House that significantly cut Medicaid over a ten-year period, while also converting it to a block grant. It is not just an assault on Medicaid, but an unequivocal betrayal of people with developmental disabilities and the hard-working men and women who support them in the community. With Governor Baker already asserting that this legislation will cost Massachusetts billions if enacted, the Commonwealth will find itself in a position where draconian cuts to basic supports will be inevitable. The human service industry already struggles to hire people, and will now be gutted even further. The funds available to increase wages will disappear. There have been months of advocacy that have taken place to educate the White House and Congress about what these cuts will do to people with disabilities, as well as the professionals dedicated to helping them. Both the proposed Senate and House bills represent that the people who wrote them and voted for them just don’t care. They know that services for people with disabilities will be cut and that pay for direct care professionals will freeze. Their actions prove they truly don’t give a damn. How did we allow our society to get here? If there is one thing that elected officials should be able to agree upon, it is the duty to protect people with disabilities and the too-long-taken-for-granted workforce that helps them. Instead, President Trump and leadership in the House and Senate have chosen to abandon them and dedicate dollars that currently support these groups to the most affluent in our country via a tax cut. Perhaps worst of all, these actions come following a promise from candidates that, if elected, they would protect Medicaid and the disabled. Obviously, it was a lie from the start.
There is still a process that these bills must go through before becoming law. Essentially, the House and the Senate must find a way to reconcile the two bills into one and send it to the White House to be signed. It is my hope that people will flood lawmakers like never before with phone calls and emails that decry this horrific dismissal of people in need. We should inundate our lawmakers with the notion that people with disabilities have the right to live safely in local communities. We must also remember the professionals who are dedicated to supporting them. So many people have worked way too hard, for far too long, under grueling circumstances to be so blithely abandoned in favor of millionaires and stubborn ideology. Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. If one believes this, it would seem that we are dangerously close to failing the test.
By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
The inexplicable assault on Medicaid continues in the Trump administration and there is good reason for people to worry about it. The President’s stated plan to gut Medicaid by almost a trillion dollars over a ten year period, while cutting taxes for millionaires, will eviscerate crucial programs that allow people with developmental disabilities to live safe and meaningful lives in community-based settings. We should all wonder aloud why this population of marginalized people should be so brazenly abandoned. After we wonder about it, we should be appalled. We should also be gravely concerned for another forgotten group: the dedicated workforce of professionals who support these people in the community.
For too long already, we have allowed people who do the very difficult work of direct care to be almost entirely neglected by national policy makers. Advocacy to guarantee legitimately livable wages and increases, affordable health care, access to higher education and professional development too often fall on deaf ears in Washington D.C. Publicly, officials praise the incredible work being done by so many committed professionals. Privately, they do little to support this workforce. Now, astonishingly, the Trump administration is dismissing these professionals and the value of their skills by proposing a budget that will make it virtually impossible for them to get paid appropriately for the vital work they do every day.
According to the Baker administration, a cut of this magnitude would cost Massachusetts approximately $1.5 billion in the first year alone. Obviously, this kind of cut cannot be absorbed under current revenue collections, meaning that the state will have to significantly cut programs for developmentally disabled people or significantly raise taxes or, more likely, do both. The needs of an already underpaid workforce will certainly not be prioritized in state contracts under such conditions because the money won’t be there. We already have a genuine workforce crisis in the field of human services in this country. By obliterating the funding mechanism that pays direct care professionals, the Trump White House is saying loud and clear that the new administration values the wealthy above the disabled and those who do so much to help them. How sad that after so many years of advances in overcoming disabilities, stigma, bullying, isolation, and discrimination, the disability community now faces its greatest threat from people elected to help them. How sad that the dedicated people who work tirelessly to this day to make these advances possible stand to be abandoned by those who once promised unequivocally not to cut Medicaid.
It is totally irrelevant where the plans to cut Medicaid by such a staggering amount originate. The position, the political party, the individual, or the special interest group that encourages such devastation doesn’t matter. Anyone who plans to do harm to so many must always be challenged and educated to understand what Medicaid truly does. Such massive cuts as currently planned dangerously expose people who need help through no fault of their own. Just as troubling, they signal a total dismissal of the very real needs of the many professionals who already sacrifice so much to help others. These amazing men and women deserve much, much better than that.