PARSONS, Kan.—Kansans with disabilities and seniors who use Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) via Medicaid will enjoy better lives thanks to a recent decision by the 2019 Kansas Legislature and Governor Laura Kelly, said Shari Coatney, President/CEO of SKIL Resource Center.
The Legislature recently passed and the Governor signed an increase in the Protected Income Level to $1,177 per month, which allows Kansans with disabilities who receive HCBS or Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) services to keep up to this amount of their monthly income.
Previously, they were required by the state to pay a client obligation of any income over $747. This caused many to struggle with life necessities such as paying for food, medicine, transportation, making timely utility payments or otherwise providing better for themselves and their families, Coatney said.
“No one should be expected to live on $747 a month,” said Coatney. “This increase allows people who receive services through HCBS or PACE to keep more of their own money each month to pay their bills.”
“This is a great victory for people with disabilities throughout Kansas,” she said, “and will enable them to live happier and healthier lives by keeping as much as $430 per month more of their income for some individuals. Many people with disabilities and seniors struggle daily simply because of their health and environment. Easing their financial burden is a wonderful decision by the Legislature that will improve their lives and outlook. We say a huge “thank-you” to all who were involved in advocating for and passing this vital increase.”
Coatney said though Kansans with disabilities are celebrating a victory, they will have to wait for it to begin. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has decided that the individuals affected by the Protected Income Level increase will continue to be required to pay the client obligation, reducing their monthly income to $747 until September 1, 2019 while KDHE makes necessary changes to its computer systems.
Initially, KDHE was not going to have the computer system changes ready for the increase of the Protected Income Level to $l,177 until January 1, 2020; however, advocacy efforts have apparently caused the agency to re-think its position, Coatney said.
“We are relieved and appreciate that KDHE was able to move up the starting date for the increase to be implemented,” said Coatney. “Updating its computer systems is fine, but not at the expense of people with disabilities the state serves, who are already struggling because they do not have enough money to live on each month.”
Coatney and SKIL joined other disability advocates in urging KDHE to make the computer changes quickly, so the wait for implementation of the Protected Income Level increase will be shorter.
“Many people with disabilities and seniors in Kansas work hard to assure that their monthly income, as a result of disability or retirement, would be large enough to cover their monthly expenses,” said Lou Ann Kibbee, SKIL’s Systems Advocacy Manager and Board Secretary of the National Council on Independent Living based in Washington, D.C.
“Some of these individuals have been paying as much as $1,000 or more each month as their client obligation,” said Kibbee, “while not being able to use the income they have earned to pay for the necessities of life. This has not been right, and the Legislature recognized this after advocates and affected individuals spoke up. People who told their stories made a huge impact with the Legislators. This is a situation where the people’s voice truly did make a change.”
SKIL is a multi-faceted independent living resource center that serves people with all types of disabilities or those whose environment is disabling. Headquartered in Parsons, SKIL has branch offices in Chanute, Columbus, Fredonia, Independence, Pittsburg and Sedan.
In addition to operating the center for independent living, SKIL also operates an alternative lending program called K-LOAN that enables people with disabilities to purchase assistive equipment; and Assistive Technology for Kansans sites in Parsons and Wichita that provide assistive technology assessments and training, as well as other programs related to technology.
For more information, call Parsons SKIL at 1-800-688-5616 or contact any SKIL office. On the web at: www.skilonline.com
New Report Highlights Turnout Surge by Disabled Voters in 2018
Washington, D.C. – In 2020, approximately 23% of the American electorate — over 35 million individuals — will be people with disabilities. As demographic changes are unfolding, it is becoming increasingly clear that voter turnout is more diverse than ever. However, many candidates are missing the impact of the disability vote.
According to a new report by Dr. Lisa Schur and Dr. Douglas Kruse at Rutgers University, “voter turnout surged by 8.5 points in 2018 among citizens with disabilities relative to the 2014 midterm elections.” This turnout surge indicates that disabled voters will be an increasingly powerful voting bloc in 2020. The report also shows a significant increase in the disability vote in states such as: Texas, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. These increases are no surprise to the disability community that has been hard at work on voter engagement activities through the REV UP campaign.
REV UP (which stands for Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!) is a non-partisan initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) — in partnership with numerous disability organizations around the country — to build the influence of the disability vote and increase the political power of the disability community. Each year, on the third week of July, AAPD and its REV UP network coordinates National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW), happening this year on July 15-19. Based on research conducted by Drs. Schur and Kruse, “the increase in turnout between 2014 and 2018 among people with disabilities was 9.0% in REV UP states compared to 5.7% in non-REV UP states.” Overall, Schur and Kruse found that the REV UP campaign may have contributed an additional 257,000 disability votes in 2018. (Fact Sheet: Estimating the Effect of the REVUP Campaign on Disability Turnout).
“Leading up to every election since 2016, our REV UP partners around the country have been organizing to get out the disability vote,” said Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD. “With 23% of the vote up for grabs, candidates should be hiring campaign staff with disabilities, responding to our issues, making sure their campaigns are fully accessible, including their website, and for the presidential candidates, completing the AAPD/NCIL/REV UP Presidential Candidate Questionnaire. The research out of Rutgers University not only proves there’s a disability vote, but an increasing one, and every candidate running for political office would be wise to court it.”
You can find more information on the report, Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2018 Elections, at this link: https://smlr.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/2018disabilityturnout.pdf.
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AAPD is a convener, connecter, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As one of the leading national cross-disability civil rights organizations, AAPD advocates for the full recognition of rights for the over 60 million Americans with disabilities. AAPD’s programs and initiatives have been effective in mobilizing the disability community through communications advocacy; cultivating and training new and emerging leaders with disabilities through leadership development programs; increasing the political participation of Americans with disabilities and elevating the power of the disability vote through the REV UP (Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!) Campaign; and advancing disability inclusion in the workplace through the Disability Equality Index (DEI) — the nation’s leading corporate benchmarking tool for disability equality and inclusion. To learn more about AAPD, visit www.aapd.com.
by Andy Rausch and Joe Reinecker
The Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which is done through the Department of Children and Families (DCF), provides surplus food to impoverished Kansas residents. The foods provided may include vegetables, fruit, juice, meat, cereal, peanut butter, nonfat dry milk, and pasta. The shipments occur once about every two months. Each shipment provides a minimum of four and a maximum of 10 foods per household. Not every town or city in Kansas has a local distribution center, but many do. One such city that participates is Fredonia. There, the food is distributed at the SKIL office by longtime SKIL Independent Living Coordinator (ILC) Ed Viers.
“The program is designed to be temporary,” explains Viers, “but the income guidelines are high enough that there are people with disabilities or who are working with large families who still qualify.”
Viers said the most recent shipment was plentiful in the way of fruit, which is rare. Although the DCF website lists (as is written in the above description) fruit as being routinely provided, this is a rarity. “We had apples and oranges,” says Viers. “Very high-quality stuff. They were Sunkist oranges and Fuji apples—some of the largest I’ve ever seen.”
According to Viers, the substantial shipment (which arrived by way of Chanute) contained way more food than the Fredonia office could possibly distribute before the fruit would perish. Because of this, Viers was able to obtain permission through DCF—something that has been rare in the past—to share the fruit with other food banks in the area. There was so much fresh fruit remaining after distribution that Viers and the SKIL office were able to provide other area food banks entire cases of apples and oranges.
As those of us with low incomes, which includes the vast majority of us with substantial disabilities, know, obtaining healthy foods like fresh fruits can be extremely difficult. Luckily for folks in the Fredonia area, Christmas came early this year.