The future of vital programs like Medicaid, which are crucial for individuals with disabilities, hangs in the balance as Washington grapples with a standoff over the nation’s debt ceiling, warn advocates.
President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are engaged in negotiations to reach a deal that would prevent the nation from defaulting on its debts for the first time in history. If an agreement is not reached, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has cautioned that the U.S. could reach the debt ceiling as early as June 1.
A bill was passed in the US House of Representatives that includes work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries and substantial cuts to domestic spending. Disability advocates emphasize that it highlights the risks involved in negotiations to avert a fiscal crisis.
David Goldfarb, director of policy at The Arc of the United States, stressed the urgency of reaching an agreement that can secure the support of both the House and the Senate due to the economic consequences. He expressed concerns about potential Medicaid cuts and caps on discretionary spending, which would adversely impact people with disabilities. These caps could result in reduced funding for accessible housing, special education, worsening customer service at the Social Security Administration, and more.
Advocates have been particularly alarmed by Republican efforts to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. Even with exemptions for individuals with disabilities and their parents or caregivers, advocates argue that additional administrative hurdles would likely lead to coverage losses, including access to home and community-based services.
Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, highlighted the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in meeting the paperwork and deadline requirements associated with work reporting. Such requirements could result in individuals losing Medicaid coverage, even if they still qualify under the new rules.
Following his meetings with House and Senate leaders this week, President Biden expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached on the federal budget, averting a default. However, he made it clear that he would not accept any work requirements that impact people’s medical health needs.
While cautiously optimistic about Biden’s commitment, Goldfarb emphasized the importance of individuals with disabilities and their allies speaking up. He noted that work requirements have not been entirely ruled out, as Speaker Kevin McCarthy has stated that they are a “red line” in the debt ceiling negotiations. With many tight races ahead, particularly in the Senate, Congress members will be attentive to the stance of their constituents on these issues. Goldfarb encouraged everyone to reach out to their respective members of Congress with a clear message: “Don’t cut Medicaid and other important programs for people with disabilities as part of the debt ceiling agreement.”