2018 Candidate Forum on Disability Issues

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To prepare for the upcoming Candidate Forum on Disability Rights, surveys were given to candidates running for Congress, New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, and Governor of New York. We hope reading these responses will help you to make a well-informed choice before voting in the November election. 

To meet some of the candidates we encourage you to attend the Candidate Forum at Artisan Church, 1235 South Clinton Avenue in Rochester. On October 18, from 6pm to 8pm. Facility is wheelchair accessible. FM Loop, CART, and sign language interpreters will be provided. For accommodations, contact Ericka Jones at 585.546.7510 or ejones@cdrnys.org

Learn more about the candidates’ views on disability issues as they pertain to healthcare, housing, transportation, education, and communication access!

Joe Morelle for Congress – 25th District

1. There is a crisis level shortage of accessible, affordable, integrated, housing in our country. This shortage is preventing many disabled people from transitioning out of nursing facilities, forcing many to wait for months to move back into the community. If elected, what will you do to increase accessible, affordable, integrated housing stock?

A safe, supportive, and affordable place to call home is a critical component to helping families and individuals most in need achieve independence. That is why we must increase funding for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to support those with disabilities. I support the passage of H.R. 372 to increase funding for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program and would vote to enact the Universal Home Design Act to ensure federally funded homes are accessible to guests with disabilities.

2. Access to affordable and reliable transportation allows people with disabilities important opportunities to education, employment, healthcare, housing, and participation in community life. Because our nation’s investments in transportation infrastructure have disproportionately favored cars and highways, those who cannot afford cars or do not operate cars often lack viable transportation options. What would you do to expand access to affordable and accessible transportation for people with disabilities, especially those who live in rural areas?

We must take action to make both public and private transportation more accessible to people with disabilities. I support the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to ensure equal access to public and private transportation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also believe we should work to make regional high speed rail and bus systems universally accessible and ADA compliant, especially those servicing rural municipalities.

3. The Disability Integration Act (S.910/H.R.2472) is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that ensures that disabled Americans have the right to live and receive services in their own homes. It is significantly cheaper to give an individual supports and services in the home versus forcing them into a nursing facility they don’t want to live in. Not only does it make more sense financially but it ensures that families have an opportunity to stay together. If a senior couple are forced into institutions, they may or may not be permitted to live together thus breaking up a family. With the Disability Integration Act, they would have the support necessary to be able to remain in their homes. Will you support the Disability Integration Act? 

 Yes, I will support the Disability Integration Act.  


4. Single family homes are currently not covered by any accessibility regulations. Several cities and states have adopted Visitability requirements as a means of assuring basic access (one no-step entrance, a first-floor bathroom, and 32-inch clearance in internal doorways) to single-family homes funded by public money or developed for speculative buyers. Visitability allows people with disabilities to make use of a home, whether they own it, rent it or just visit friends or family. Visitability also allows seniors to “age in place” because there is at least one entrance with NO stairs. Will you cosponsor and advocate for passage of H.R. 6509, the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act, requiring that all publicly funded, newly constructed, single family homes have one no-step entrance, a first-floor bathroom, and 32-inch clearance in internal doorways?

Yes.


5.
The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) most recent “High-Risk Series” clearly points out the vast problems of administration and effectiveness of federal disability programs. These very same problems, however, have been cited in previous reports spanning over twenty years. To address these issues, reform must begin within the Executive Branch. A recent report by the Romano Group, LLC proposed establishing a National Office of Disability Coordination (NODC) in the Executive Office of The President of the United States. This office would work to develop coordinated federal disability policies and advise the President on necessary changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel allocation of the federal agencies involved in all aspects of disability. What are you doing to make sure qualified people with disabilities will be a part of your political team and, if elected, as part of your administration?

Over the years, I have had several members of my staff and their families who live with disabilities. Their personal experiences have broadened my understanding of the challenges facing families and inspired me to fight for expanded services and funding for programs that support people with disabilities and their families.


6.
Disabled people are experiencing a major workforce shortage across the country as they compete with the fast food and retail industries for workers to serve as attendants. The shortage has reached a level where it is a factor in both forcing people into nursing facilities and preventing the transition out of them. If elected, what will you do to ensure an adequate workforce to meet the attendant needs of disabled people?

I support increased funding to help recruit and train qualified workers to provide support for individuals with different abilities, both in their homes and on the job. Additionally, we need to implement more workforce development programs to help those with disabilities learn the skills necessary to enter the workforce and live as independently as possible.


7.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage. Some of the people who have been affected by this have been paid pennies an hour for literally decades. Meanwhile, executives at companies who pay these subminimum wages get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in compensation. A few states are starting to eliminate these “sheltered workshops” that keep the working conditions of people with disabilities at levels that would not be acceptable for people who do not have a disability. The Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act (TIME Act) would phase out Section 14(c) by prohibiting any new certificates from being issued six years after the enactment of the bill. This will give more opportunities for disabled people to join the workforce and obtain gainful employment instead of being forced to participate in the exploitative system we currently have. Will you help pass the TIME Act?

Yes.

Jennifer Lunsford for NYS Senate – 55th District

1. One barrier to full implementation of the Olmstead Decision is HUD’s definition of “homelessness.” Among other qualifications, HUD deems individuals homeless if they are exiting an institution where they resided for 90 days or less. This definition is stifling and problematic as many disabled individuals continue to be unjustly warehoused in facilities on a long-term basis. If elected, what will you do to ensure that people with disabilities in New York nursing facilities who do not meet HUD’s definition of homelessness, but are nonetheless homeless, receive access to housing vouchers/programs so that they may live in the community?

This is a difficult issue to solve at the State level. Individuals with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as everyone else to live their lives in the community. I would also agree that the HUD rule is unfair, particularly given the adverse impact it has on people transitioning out of long-term facilities. From the State level, there needs to be a consistent way to address this. NYC’s Human Resources Administration is able to provide emergency housing in these situations, and there is no reason why this can’t be accomplished at a State level. This could take the form of a subsidy to County DSS offices to provide emergency housing assistance, or it could be more like what NYC does by directly funding an emergency housing program. I would want to work with the stakeholders to identify the best way to structure any program to prevent people coming out of long-term care from being exploited. I would also want to hear from local governments to better understand existing services that could be expanded to meet this need with additional funding.      

2. Would you support statewide Visitability legislation that would require all publicly funded, newly constructed single-family homes to have at least one no-step entrance, a first-floor bathroom and 36-inch clearance passage for all main floor internal doorways?

Yes. This is a major issue both locally and nationally.  I believe one way to address this would be for NY to consider adopting the FHA design standards for multi-family homes as a foundation for State-wide single-family housing standards for homes receiving government assistance. This could be accomplished by amending the State Building Codes or by passing amendments to existing legislation. Many of the accessibility features in the FHA standards are readily achievable in most homes, and would not represent an undue burden on home builders and contractors. In fact, many of the requirements make housing adaptable, which allows individuals to remain in their home despite changes to their mobility needs. As your Senator, I support any initiative which keeps individuals in their homes and makes their housing accessible.


3.
The majority of people with disabilities in New York State who require long-term services and supports receive those services and supports through Medicaid. Five years into the redesign of Medicaid, managed care plans receive a per-member payment that is the same amount regardless of whether an individual requires a lot of services and supports or only a little. This creates an incentive among managed care plans to cut services, reduce hours, and attempt to drive high needs individuals out of their own plans. The Disability Community has proposed the creation of a high needs community rate cell to address this incentive. Would you support legislation that reverses the effects of this incentive by the creation of a high needs community rate cell to incentivize managed care plans to provide services and supports to people with significant disabilities in the community?

Yes. Although the intent of managed care was practical, the negative effects are evident in practice. It is shocking how this program incentivizes MCOs to withhold critical care and services to increase profits for shareholders. I am a proponent of the New York Health Act (with the caveat that the bill would have to account for Medicaid Waiver programs that many people with disabilities rely on like the TBI, HCBS, and Care at Home waivers).  The New York Health Act would entirely eliminate this problem.  However, in the interim, I would be supportive of alternatives that helped offset this issue.

4. The primary reason students with language-based disabilities still struggle to graduate is the ELA Regents Exams. The new Regents exams are based on the Common Core Standards. The tests are developmentally inappropriate (above the grade level at which the test is given), culturally biased, and contain content irrelevant to students today (for example poems written in the 1600’s). Do you support the ability of superintendents to grant a diploma (not a certificate of completion) to students who have failed to pass the ELA Regents Exam but have obtained all the credits need to graduate?

Yes. The Safety Net options that took effect this school year were a step in the right direction, but this is one of the situations that NYSED did not appear to factor in. Superintendents are in a better position than NYSED to evaluate a particular student’s academic needs, and I support giving Superintendents more discretion for issues like this when considering whether to grant a diploma.


5.
The United States Supreme Court decided in 1999 that all individuals with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting. Regardless of age, type of disability, or level of need, states cannot force people with disabilities to live in institutions. This ruling is most commonly known as the Olmstead decision. New York State currently does not comply with the Olmstead decision. What is your plan to promote independent living for seniors and people with disabilities and ensure Olmstead compliance within New York State?

Unfortunately, continued non-compliance with Olmstead is a systemic issue with no single solution. New York State needs to be better about identifying barriers to compliance, finding solutions, and ensuring that those solutions are appropriately implemented. This problem is particularly noticeable in the case of those living with serious mental illness.  New York, like many states, lacks the community-based support necessary to provide the level of oversight and care needed to support these individuals.  I am again going to refer to the New York Health Act as a mechanism for dealing with these issues.  By consolidating billing, it will be more efficient and less expensive to deliver necessary medical treatment, which creates a number of opportunities both at the State level and in the private sector, to expand the community-based care options available to individuals with disabilities.  As a lawyer who has spent my career working with clients who are sick and have disabilities, I know how challenging it can be to find the care one needs and is entitled to.  Ensuring that the NYHA provides comprehensive services to people with disabilities is a top priority for me.  As your Senator, I promise to take these issues seriously, and to work with the community and government stakeholders to address each barrier to make New York compliant with Olmstead.


6.
People within the Disability Community need transportation that is accessible, affordable and dependable in order to secure employment, access health care, shop for necessities and engage in their communities. Many of us need access to paratransit to continue to be a part of our community. In fact, without paratransit, many of us would be in danger of being institutionalized. Paratransit services cost much more to operate and are more expensive for the consumer than regular fixed route services and receives federal funding only for capital expenses.  If elected, how will you support adequate funding for paratransit services? 

Public transportation, in general, is an issue that is very important to me. Our economy and our communities suffer when we are unable to meet the basic transportation needs of residents. Rochester has some of the worst public transportation in the state, and paratransit is an even larger issue. Beyond the costs of paratransit, there is also an issue with local transit authorities failing to schedule rides in a timely manner, and failing to provide the services they have promised. Locally, we saw this issue explored in Anderson v. RGRTA, 337 F3d 201 (2d Cir. 2003). Enforcement of the ADA’s paratransit requirements has historically fallen on private citizens and the US Department of Justice. Enforcement only addresses the results of poor funding however, and fails to address the root causes. In the course of improving public transportation system-wide, I want to explore ways to improve the funding and provision of paratransit services in New York. I would like to see New York take a more active role in investigating resident complaints about the adequacy of paratransit services, and would support appropriate legislation to make paratransit better funded and more accessible to individuals with disabilities.


7.
Disabled New Yorkers frequently experience discrimination based on source of income, even when their sources of income are guaranteed Federal or State issued vouchers. If elected, what will you do to ban discrimination based on the source of income?

I would support legislation amending the New York State Human Rights Law to make it unlawful for landlords to discriminate against tenants solely on the basis of their income source. I would also support increased funding for the New York State Division of Human Rights to increase enforcement.


8.
Currently, there is a nationwide epidemic of language deprivation for Deaf children. Many children are forced to learn how to read lips and thus being deprived of the Deaf Culture. This is important because often Deaf children who have been denied ASL are not Kindergarten ready by the time they are age 5 because they do not have the foundation of a natural visual language. By promoting language equality, American Sign Language (ASL) and English, as a basic human right for all Deaf babies, this will lead to a new generation of Deaf children who are Kindergarten-ready. If elected, will you sponsor a bill for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) to have access to sign language in schools?

Yes. Rochester is fortunate to have a vibrant and socially active Deaf Community. Many of our suburban schools offer ASL as a second language. I would support legislation at the State level to ensure Deaf children are provided the same early educational opportunities as their peers.


9.
Disabled New Yorkers are experiencing a major workforce shortage across the state as they compete with the fast food and retail industries for workers to serve as attendants. The shortage has reached a level where it is a factor in both forcing people into nursing facilities and preventing the transition out of them. If elected, what will you do to ensure an adequate workforce to meet the attendant needs of Disabled New Yorkers?

I have pledged to sponsor the New York Health Act. A consequence of New York having guaranteed minimum healthcare coverage is that it will inevitably free up a significant amount of our tax levy which was previously earmarked for Medicaid. This means New York may be in a position to expand waiver service coverage, or PCA services. I would support legislation that ensure individuals with disabilities continue to receive funding and support to ensure they are able to remain in their homes.


10.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage. Some of the people who have been affected by this have been paid pennies an hour for literally decades. Meanwhile, executives at companies who pay these subminimum wages get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in compensation. A few states are starting to eliminate these “sheltered workshops” that keep the working conditions of people with disabilities at levels that would not be acceptable for people who do not have a disability. Ending the use of Section 14(c) in New York would encourage disabled people to join the workforce and obtain gainful employment instead of the exploitative system we currently have. If elected, would you support ending subminimum wages for disabled people in New York State?

Yes. It is shameful that the policy of subminimum wages is still an issue in 2018. This is an antiquated labor policy that should have been repealed decades ago.  I was excited in 2014 when Governor Cuomo announced that New York would make competitive employment the first option for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, despite agencies like OPWDD assuring us that the segregated “sheltered workshops” would be phased out, we still see individuals working in these facilities for wages as low as pennies per hour. Worse still, there does not appear to be any plans for the immediate future to end this practice. As your Senator I would sponsor legislation to set timelines for ending subminimum wages in New York, as well as supporting individuals transition into competitive employment.


11.
Ridesharing applications have spread like wildfire. Companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar allow users to use an app to order a ride same day. Since their appearance, ridesharing companies have shown to be discriminatory to people with disabilities. Refusing to pick up riders with disabilities and placing service dogs in the trunk of a car are but a couple examples of discriminatory treatment by ridesharing companies. Ridesharing companies do not offer accessible vehicles except in a small number of cities. Even in those cities, the accessible vehicles are not offered at the same rates or with the same wait times. This means disabled people have to wait longer and pay more for rideshare rides when it is available, but often ridesharing is not even an option due to a lack of accessible vehicles. What will you do to ensure that ridesharing companies are nondiscriminatory, and accessible to ALL people with disabilities? 

Ridesharing is a great resource that allows the private sector to fill in the gaps in our public transit system. However, it is critical to take every step to ensure these companies are making their services accessible to everyone. As your Senator, I would support legislation that prohibits ridesharing companies to charge more for accessible vehicles.  Actions that are likely criminal or unlawful, such as placing a service animal in the trunk of a car, requires more aggressive enforcement of existing laws at the local level. To the extent there is anything State government could do to encourage enforcement, I would support related legislation.

Andrew Gilchrist for NYS Assembly – 135th District

1. One barrier to full implementation of the Olmstead Decision is HUD’s definition of “homelessness.” Among other qualifications, HUD deems individuals homeless if they are exiting an institution where they resided for 90 days or less. This definition is stifling and problematic as many disabled individuals continue to be unjustly warehoused in facilities on a long-term basis. If elected, what will you do to ensure that people with disabilities in New York nursing facilities who do not meet HUD’s definition of homelessness, but are nonetheless homeless, receive access to housing vouchers/programs so that they may live in the community?

I would support or co-sponsor legislation to specifically address people with disabilities in this situation so we can expand access to include them so that they will be able to live in the community.


2. Would you support statewide Visitability legislation that would require all publicly funded, newly constructed single-family homes to have at least one no-step entrance, a first-floor bathroom and 36-inch clearance passage for all main floor internal doorways?

Yes.


3.
The majority of people with disabilities in New York State who require long-term services and supports receive those services and supports through Medicaid. Five years into the redesign of Medicaid, managed care plans receive a per-member payment that is the same amount regardless of whether an individual requires a lot of services and supports or only a little. This creates an incentive among managed care plans to cut services, reduce hours, and attempt to drive high-needs individuals out of their own plans. The Disability Community has proposed the creation of a high needs community rate cell to address this incentive. Would you support legislation that reverses the effects of this incentive by the creation of a high needs community rate cell to incentivize managed care plans to provide services and supports to people with significant disabilities in the community?

Yes.


4.
The primary reason students with language based disabilities still struggle to graduate is the ELA Regents Exams. The new Regents exams are based on the Common Core Standards. The tests are developmentally inappropriate (above the grade level at which the test is given), culturally biased, and contain content irrelevant to students today (for example poems written in the 1600’s). Do you support the ability of superintendents to grant a diploma (not a certificate of completion) to students who have failed to pass the ELA Regents Exam but have obtained all the credits need to graduate?

 Yes.


5.
The United States Supreme Court decided in 1999 that all individuals with disabilities have the right to live in the most integrated setting. Regardless of age, type of disability, or level of need, states cannot force people with disabilities to live in institutions. This ruling is most commonly known as the Olmstead decision. New York State currently does not comply with the Olmstead decision. What is your plan to promote independent living for seniors and people with disabilities and ensure Olmstead compliance within New York State?

I will support or co-sponsor legislation that would ensure Olmstead compliance within New York State. I would also support or so-sponsor legislation that would expand coverage of in home long-term care and support services.


6.
People within the Disability Community need transportation that is accessible, affordable and dependable in order to secure employment, access health care, shop for necessities and engage in their communities. Many of us need access to paratransit to continue to be a part of our community.  In fact, without paratransit, many of us would be in danger of being institutionalized.  Paratransit services cost much more to operate and are more expensive for the consumer than regular fixed route services and receives federal funding only for capital expenses. If elected, how will you support adequate funding for paratransit services?

I would support removing the cap on car sales so that all car purchases would be taxed at 3% (reduced from 4% which means that a car valued at 18, 750 pays $750 in sales tax but this cap protects the vehicles worth more than 18,750 as they will pay the caped amount of $750) this increase in revenue could be used in part to better fund paratransit services.


7.
Disabled New Yorkers frequently experience discrimination based on source of income, even when their sources of income are guaranteed Federal or State issued vouchers. If elected, what will you do to ban discrimination based on source of income?

I would support or co-sponsor legislation that would delineate the types of income that cannot be used as a basis to discriminate against those receiving income guaranteed by the federal or state, including vouchers.


8.
Currently, there is a nationwide epidemic of language deprivation for Deaf children.  Many children are forced to learn how to read lips and thus being deprived of the Deaf Culture. This is important because often Deaf children who have been denied ASL are not Kindergarten-ready by the time they are age 5 because they do not have the foundation of a natural visual language. By promoting language equality, American Sign Language (ASL) and English, as a basic human right for all Deaf babies, this will lead to a new generation of Deaf children who are Kindergarten-ready. If elected, will you sponsor a bill for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) to have access to sign language in schools?

 Yes.


9.
Disabled New Yorkers are experiencing a major workforce shortage across the state as they compete with the fast food and retail industries for workers to serve as attendants. The shortage has reached a level where it is a factor in both forcing people into nursing facilities and preventing the transition out of them. If elected, what will you do to ensure an adequate workforce to meet the attendant needs of Disabled New Yorkers?

I will support legislation or initiatives in conjunction with the Governor to develop a comprehensive plan that specifically address job creation and protections for disabled New Yorkers.


10.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage. Some of the people who have been affected by this have been paid pennies an hour for literally decades. Meanwhile, executives at companies who pay these subminimum wages get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in compensation. A few states are starting to eliminate these “sheltered workshops” that keep the working conditions of people with disabilities at levels that would not be acceptable for people who do not have a disability. Ending the use of Section 14(c) in New York would encourage disabled people to join the workforce and obtain gainful employment instead of the exploitative system we currently have. If elected, would you support ending subminimum wages for disabled people in New York State?

Yes. I find the subminimum wages for disabled people to be dehumanizing, demoralizing, and simply discriminatory. I will do all I can to end this practice and ensure that such practices are defined as discrimination.


11.
Ridesharing applications have spread like wildfire. Companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar allow users to use an app to order a ride same day. Since their appearance, ridesharing companies have shown to be discriminatory to people with disabilities. Refusing to pick up riders with disabilities and placing service dogs in the trunk of a car are but a couple examples of discriminatory treatment by ridesharing companies. Ridesharing companies do not offer accessible vehicles except in a small number of cities. Even in those cities, the accessible vehicles are not offered at the same rates or with the same wait times. This means disabled people have to wait longer and pay more for rideshare rides when it is available, but often ridesharing is not even an option due to a lack of accessible vehicles. What will you do to ensure that ridesharing companies are nondiscriminatory, and accessible to ALL people with disabilities?

I will fight for policy that diminishes this discriminatory behavior by supporting legislation that will give clear guidelines for rideshare services in providing accessible transportation, that respects services animals and provides service with reasonable wait times.