Jesus said to his disciples: “Be Watchful! Be Alert You do not know when the time will come.” 1 Matthew 13:33-37
My name is David Gayes, and I work for Dominican Volunteers USA, a lay volunteer mission that calls each one of us to “respond to the injustices of our day by ministering with our sisters and brothers, especially those who are poor and marginalized.” I am also a graduate of Dominican University, a university that calls on its students to “participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.”
This past year, these mission statements that have shaped me, have taken on new meanings in my own life. I have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy; I use a power wheelchair and need help with many physical tasks. It has been a very difficult year to be a person with a disability. Both our healthcare and our right to live in the community have come under fierce and relentless attack. When Congress proposes healthcare that is unaffordable to those who are not rich and perfectly healthy —when cuts to Medicaid are proposed via direct slashing or via block grants that do not flex with rising costs, changing economic hardships, or even natural
disasters— the attack is on the very lives of the disabled and the chronically ill. You may not know that long-term support services, like the caregiver I need to get out of bed in the morning, are only federally mandated to be covered by Medicaid if I live in a nursing home. Caregiver support is an “optional” waiver service if it is provided outside of the nursing home.
Though it would be a horrible quality of life, would diminish our ability to contribute to society, and be outrageously expensive, it may be the only place that I and others could receive necessary supports if cuts to Medicaid become a reality.
So, this summer, my people have rallied and have protested as we fought for our very lives. You may have seen some of us arrested in the Capitol this summer and fall as we spoke truth to power about the value of our lives. Some fellow advocates worked via the grassroots organization Adapt.org, and many more of us made calls, met with our legislators, and advocated via social media.
Today’s attack is via the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The Senate version and the House version (the bill is currently in conference to iron out the differences) both would result in grave harm to people with disabilities. Here’s how:
• In general, the tax cuts skew to benefit the wealthy and harm those earning under $50,000 per year. Disabled Americans are by and large underemployed and disproportionately live in poverty. An increased tax burden will be devastating to us.
• The Senate version contains a repeal of the Individual Mandate for health insurance coverage. It is predicted that this will result in 13 million fewer people with health insurance, and a skyrocketing of premiums for those remaining. There is a risk that insurers will then charge more for people with pre-existing conditions.
•The House version repeals the medical expense deduction. People who have high medical expenses for cancer drugs, diabetes drugs, wheelchairs, oxygen, long-term supports, etc would lose that deduction, raising their tax burden.
•Both versions limit the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.
•The Senate version repeals the Disabled Access Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The first credit assists small businesses in being accessible; the second gives some support to employers that hire from certain under-employed groups including SSI beneficiaries and disabled veterans.
•Both versions reduce the incentives for charitable deductions. Charities provide a safety net of social services for many of our most vulnerable.
•Both versions attack the Orphan Drug Tax Credit which encourages the development of drugs for rare diseases.
•Both versions limit or repeal the deductibility of state and local tax deductions. This repeal could result in states cutting public services (education, housing, transportation).
Finally, non-partisan agencies predict that the national deficit will rise astronomically. This rise in the deficit will trigger the Statutory-Pay-As-You-Go Act which will force cuts in Medicare and other programs that the disabled, the poor, and the elderly depend on. There will be no vote; these cuts are mandatory with a rising deficit. Additionally, GOP leaders have stated that their next endeavor will be to further cut the safety net, including Medicaid and Social Security, both essential lifelines for many Americans. These cuts would likely have the effect of forcing people like me, who need caregiving support, to be faced with the “choice” of receiving services in a nursing home or dying at home without services. (Hence, the advocacy group Adapt’s chant in the nation’s Capitol, “I’d rather go to jail than die without Medicaid.”)
Will you stand in solidarity with the disabled, the poor, the marginalized, and fight this Tax on Disability?
Will you stand in solidarity with the disabled, the poor, the marginalized, and fight this Tax on Disability? The Tax Cut and Jobs Act bill is moving quickly, quietly, and secretively. As we have seen, these bills that hurt so many are discussed behind closed doors and voted on in the dead of night. Once the bill comes out of conference, there will be one more House vote and one more Senate vote. Now is the time to call, now is the time to mobilize, and now is the time to act. The lives of and well-being of everyone, not only the disabled, depend on our collective and communal action.
Your call to your senator and representative this week can help stop this dangerous bill. Go here or here and input your zip code or state; it will tell you who your elected officials are. Once you have the names, you can find their contact information here and here. Alternatively, send a quick message here.
If you’re shy (or just hate calling people), tools like MakeMeCall.org could help you out. You just need to sign up and provide your zip code. Then, every day you’ll get a call which connects you with one of your congresspeople at random. That way you have no excuse for avoiding calling your representatives.
As Christians, we are an Advent people: people who wait for the little baby humbly born in a dirty stable because there was no welcome for a pregnant immigrant woman. We are people of hope who work for the world that Jesus envisioned, a world where the women, the poor, the leper, the outcast are listened to and centered, and a world where the Imago Dei is seen in each and every face.
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Janet Gayes provided research on the tax bill details listed in this piece. More info at Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.