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VERMONT COALITION FOR DISABILITY RIGHTS

VCDR 2021 Legislative Platform

The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights

2021 Legislative Platform

VCDR thanks you for your service to ALL Vermonters!

VCDR hopes that we can assist you throughout the session as you consider issues that affect the lives of your constituents with disabilities. Please contact us for input and education on disability issues.

Learn about our member organizations and the many services they provide at our
website: www.VCDR.org

If you have any questions, please reach out to

VCDR Coordinator Karen
Lafayette (802-373-3366 or [email protected]) or

VCDR President
Sarah Launderville (802-249-4939 or [email protected]).

VCDR thanks the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, VCDR members and friends for their contributions and support of our work. For more information about particular bills and other VCDR advocacy activities, or to share your recommendations and concerns, contact us:

VCDR
11 East State St., Suite 2, Montpelier, VT 05602
[email protected]
www.VCDR.org

Justice and Access for All:
More Important Now Than Ever

Since last March, our state and the nation we share have been hit by a
pandemic that has exposed the fragility of our health and civic protections and our sense of unity. In this new year, with a new administration in Washington and a growing recognition of the need for a renewed commitment to equity and justice here in Vermont, VCDR members and allies say: Justice and Access for All: More Important Now Than Ever.

In the midst of crisis and uncertainty last year, Vermonters discovered
unexpected solutions and acts of creativity, justice and kindness that
continue to show us the way forward. Let us carry the best of these acts
into and beyond 2021, so that all Vermonters, including Vermonters with disabilities, are part of a safer, more accessible and more just world.

A recent disability report from the Vermont Department of Health shows that about 110,000 (22%) of adults in Vermont have one or more
disabilities. This is an average; county rates range from highs of 36%, 32% and 30% in Essex, Grand Isle, and Bennington and a low of 18% in
Chittenden. The experience of disability rises sharply as people age: 8% of Vermont children have disabilities compared to 31% of adults who are 65 and older. Ethnic and social equity are daily concerns for many Vermonters with disabilities and their families. One third of people of color in Vermont have disabilities, as do 35% of LGBTQ Vermonters. Over half of adults with disabilities are part of very low or low-income households (earning less than $24,000 a year). The remaining 46% live in middle- or upper-income households ($25,000-$75,000 a year).

VCDR celebrates Vermont’s diversity. Because of our own diversity we
know that Black lives matter. Disability justice matters. Now, more than ever, we need Vermont to be a place that respects and honors the diversity of disability and human experience. Equity and justice must increasingly shape how we handle this pandemic and inform the decisions made by and for Vermonters.

VCDR 2021 BUDGET & POLICY PRIORITIES

BUDGET
Technology Training to reduce Social Isolation: Vermont Association
for the Blind and Visually Impaired received COVID-19 funding of $100,000
to provide technology training to help visually impaired individuals combat
social isolation due to the coronavirus. The funding ran out at the end of
2020. This training is still needed after that time and we are looking for
$100,000 per year in permanent funding as the need exists not only for the
duration of the virus, but beyond that due to their visual impairment and the isolation brought on by that condition.

Legal Assistance for Families with Education Needs: We request
resources for legal assistance to families of children with disabilities who
are eligible for or on a Section 504 plan or an Individualized Education
Program (IEP) at school. The assistance could look like a fully funded fulltime special education attorney position at Disability Law Project or
sustaining a bank of pro bono attorneys trained by DLP in special
education law.

Children’s Integrated Services Funding– Fully Support the true cost of
CIS: Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) provides critical health promotion,
prevention and early intervention services to pregnant and postpartum
women, infants and children, and early care and education programs.
Since CIS began in 2006, funding has remained flat, while the demand and
actual costs to agencies to provide these services have steadily increased.
In 2018 a CDD-sponsored study reinforced that the Per Client Per Month
(PCPM) rate being offered for FY 2021 does not cover the cost of providing
services. The state pays a rate of $502 PCPM even though their study
found that it actually costs $634 per client to provide the services.
Considering the study data is over two years old, the inflation adjusted rate
would now be $666. A statewide CIS budget increase in the amount of
$3,062,200 would allow the 12 regional nonprofit agencies that deliver CIS
to continue to meet the needs of children and families.

Financial Support for Family Caregivers: We request continued
resources for families to be compensated for care that is necessary to the
health and well-being of their children with special health needs, as well as
their ability to remain safely at home. The COVID-19 emergency has
exacerbated the gaps in our system, especially with regard to children’s
personal care and critical nursing needs. In response to the emergency,
VDH and DAIL have created some flexibility so that families can care for
their children with special health needs and young adults with disabilities
and not completely disrupt their economic stability with their increased
responsibility due to lack of qualified professional supports in the home. We believe that Vermont can build upon this emergency response. Other states have implemented successful strategies to support family caregivers
through Medicaid that are promising in addressing unmet needs for home
and community-based services and decreasing the costs of care.

Dentures & Hearing Aid Coverage: Private insurance and Medicaid
should be required to provide reasonable levels of coverage for dentures
and hearing aids. Dentures make adequate nutrition possible and are
important for the overall health of individuals who have a disability.
Appropriate hearing aids are needed for better communication, good health
and personal safety. Neither are adequately covered by the Affordable
Care Act and other insurance providers, including Medicaid. Medically
appropriate hearing health care is essential for language development,
communication, good health and personal safety.

Renew PDAC program and end the waiting list: This vitally important
program is funded by Vermont’s general fund revenues. Funding has been
frozen for several years and the program needs to accept new applications.
The program can mean the difference between Vermonters having to
impoverish themselves so as to be eligible for other attendant services
programs, or retaining employment and thus maintaining their
independence.

Pilot Program – Specialized Supports and Services: Establish a
Vermont pilot SSP program for Persons who are Deaf-Blind. SSPs assist
with accomplishing everyday tasks, including reading the mail, relaying
visual descriptions of the environment, providing transportation to and from locations including grocery stores, medical appointments and many other personal errands, as well as allowing participation in community events.

Funding to pay for American Sign Language at AA/NA meetings:
Funding to pay for American Sign Language at AA/NA meetings. In the
past the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs (ADAP) provided
grant funding to pay for this service but years ago pulled back. We are
finding that ASL interpreters volunteer their time to support individuals
working on substance use issues. We want funding to help support Deaf
individuals as they are working on substance use issues.

Repeal the “tax” on low-income families with children: Although some
low-income Vermonters, including Reach Up recipients with disabilities,
have received some additional payments from Coronavirus Relief Funds,
some Reach Up recipients still have a reduction of $65 a month in their
regular RU benefit because they receive a Social Security Disability benefit
which is for the purpose of increased cost related to a parent’s disabilities.
The original reduction was $125 a month four years ago when it was
implemented. Although the amount of the monthly reduction has been
reduced, it still remains inequitable for some of the poorest families dealing
with a disability.

Independent Advocate for Developmental Services: Vermont must
provide an independent advocate for individuals served by the
Developmental Services System, similar to the Long-Term Care
Ombudsman Service that is available to people served by the Choices for
Care program. Vermont’s Disability Law Project provides this service today
but is not adequately funded. A fully funded DS advocate would: receive,
track and address individual complaints; educate recipients of service
about their rights; and advocate for administrative and legislative changes
that uphold the right of individuals in the DS system to make informed
decisions about where and how they live.

Support for Peer Initiatives: The state should continue to expand support
for peer initiatives and organizations “of, by and for” people with disabilities. VCDR supports advocacy within the budget process for adequate funding of organizations and projects like: Vermont Center for Independent Living, Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, Green Mountain Self-Advocates, Another Way Drop-in Center, Alyssum, Soteria House, Pathways Vermont, Deaf Peer Services, Vermont Family Network, Vermont Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and other developing peer-run services. This is particularly important as the state budget “tightens” with the pressure the pandemic and of developing expensive residential and inpatient services.

Peer Navigation for Families with Complex Needs: Vermont should
reinstate this program in which people with the lived experience of complexneeds in their OWN families assisted other families to find their way through the complex system of social, economic and health programs.
Formerly federally funded for six years (Family Support 360 Project), peer
navigation has a documented record of success in supporting more
informed choices and positive outcomes for families with children and/or
parents with disabilities.

POLICY

EDUCATION

Reducing Seclusion and Restraint in Schools: Vermont needs to
support students with disabilities and BIPOC students by requiring the
Agency of Education to measurably reduce the use of exclusionary
discipline, restraint and seclusion in Vermont’s schools.
As first steps, the Agency of Education shall develop a dashboard to
indicate the effectiveness of existing rules and regulations. The data
reported in “Kicked Out” should be updated and reviewed, at state
expense, for a report card on our progress since 2015. A progress report
about this data should be due annually to the committees of jurisdiction at
the state Legislature, starting Jan. 15, 2022.

CIVIL RIGHTS
Eugenics Apology and Reconciliation: The Legislature must apologize
for the harm done by Vermont’s eugenics law to indigenous Vermonters,
Vermonters of color and Vermonters with disabilities. In addition to a formal apology, Vermont must create a truth and reconciliation process to identify and address the injuries inflicted under Vermont’s eugenics law and to raise awareness about the ways in which ableism, racism and prejudice against indigenous groups continue today.

Safeguarding Civil Rights and Protections: VCDR will monitor and
oppose legislative proposals that may diminish the civil rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues. Vermont has created the country’s least institutional system of care but issues of access, accommodations and involuntary treatment are still important in an era of budget constraints and misplaced fear of people who seem “other.”

Protection for People in Community Placements: Vermont can be proud
of its community-based services, but are there enough protections from
abuse or neglect built into the system? We have seen the vulnerability of
people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities who often
live in small, isolated settings. The Departments of Mental Health (DMH)
and Disabilities, Aging and Independence (DAIL) should be required to
share Critical Incident Reports with Vermont’s Mental Health Care
Ombudsman and Protection and Advocacy System (P&A) – Disability
Rights Vermont (DRVT) to assure independent oversight and quality
assurance that is currently lacking. Federal law gives the P&A access to
settings where people with disabilities receive services; this should include
noninstitutional home settings.

Alternatives for people in crisis: Other jurisdictions have created
alternative models for assisting individuals in crisis. VCDR believes that
setting up facilities, largely staffed with peers, whose primary function
would be to de-escalate and attend to an individual’s human needs would
reduce the pressure on Vermont hospitals and reinforce the community
basis of our mental health system.

People with Disabilities in Prison: VCDR advocates for change in the
way people with serious disability and mental health issues are treated in
Vermont’s prisons:
People ordered by courts to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation should
in-fact be admitted to psychiatric units where they can receive
appropriate care, not to prison.
Segregation is not treatment. Despite the temporary need for quarantine
in some situations, Vermont should reduce or eliminate the holding of
people with mental health issues or serious functional impairments in
settings so restrictive that they exacerbate individuals’ mental health
conditions.
Individuals who have served their minimum sentences without incident
are generally released from our prisons. Prisoners with disabilities should
be supported to attain safe, supported, community placements so that
timely release is an equal option.

Use of Force in Hospitals and Emergency Departments: When force is
used on an involuntary patient to prevent an injury on a psychiatric unit, the Department of Mental Health (DMH) collects and shares it with the
“Emergency Involuntary Procedures (EIP) Review Committee” and the
Mental Health Care Ombudsman (MHCO.) VCDR advocates that the
Legislature also require hospitals to report the use of seclusion and
restraint on ALL patients to the DMH, including those in emergency
departments where many people in crisis are held for considerable lengths
of time. Patient specific use of force against involuntary patients and deidentified data should be reported to the MHCO and the de-identified data to the EIP Review Committee.

HEALTH CARE REFORM

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted bias and disparities people with
disabilities face in accessing health care. People with disabilities and their
families must be allowed to participate in deliberations regarding access to
health care during this pandemic and in ongoing policy discussions relating
to Medicaid health and disability services, including payment reform and
planning for Vermont’s Medicaid Waiver renewal and the ACO Model
Agreement renewal.

Vermont must protect its Medicaid program and ensure that there are
adequate funds to address the health and long-term support needs of
Vermonters with disabilities. The Legislature should invest Medicaid dollars
fairly to meet the needs of Vermonters with disabilities and other
Vermonters for whom a viable and adequately funded Medicaid program is
essential.

The Legislature must lay the groundwork this session for potential renewal
of the All Payer Accountable Care (ACO) Model Agreement in 2022 by
requiring an independent evaluation of the All Payer Model in terms of cost, quality of care and its impact on the health of Vermonters. The Legislature should not give additional Medicaid investment dollars to support hospitalbased delivery system reform until an equal amount of Medicaid investment funds are given to support the delivery system reform needs of home and community-based care providers.

HOUSING
Increase Housing Options for Young People Transitioning to
Independence as They Become Adults: The Agency of Human Services,
with significant stakeholder input, should support the establishment of more safe and supportive housing options for young adults with significant
disabilities that promote self-determination, independence and community
inclusion. Vermont is aging, and many parents of young people whose
disabilities require extraordinary care and support are at a loss as to how
their loved ones will be able to have an optimal level of independence when
family members are no longer able to be fully present for them. Options are
extremely limited, and families are concerned.

VCDR
11 East State St., Suite 2, Montpelier, VT 05602
[email protected]
www.VCDR.org