Disability Community Balks at Senate Republican’s HEALS Act

New COVID Relief Bill Fails to Fund Key Services for Vulnerable Population

On July 27, Senate Republicans introduced components of the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act. Their $1 trillion proposal aims to provide additional coronavirus economic relief for Americans beyond the assistance provided by last March’s CARES Act, which unfortunately, did not include disabled adults in its stimulus payments.

Just a week later on August 3, in a highly unusual move, Senate Republicans splintered the HEALS Act into ten different acts and proposals. Unfortunately, even with these last-minute compromises and maneuvers, the HEALS act falls short of expectations held by several disability rights organizations. The largest complaint from these groups is that the bill does not include funding for home and community-based services which is currently extremely critical for keeping people with disabilities out of group home settings where COVID-19 is spreading rapidly. Another disappointment with the Senate’s proposal is that there is also no new Medicaid funding included in the legislation.

The disability community’s dissatisfaction does not only stem from what is missing from the HEALS Act but also for what is included. Namely, it provides sweeping immunity for businesses (including schools and medical providers) in almost all circumstances for any harm they cause during the pandemic. This provision has steep consequences for the disability community since it specifically shields employers and landlords from American with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations.

In an action alert from Access Living, the organization expresses their misgivings about the immunity provided in the HEALS Act by stating, “The liability relief provision removes accountability and is solely about protecting businesses and profits; not at all about protecting people. It puts the safety, rights, and lives of everyone at risk.”

Nevertheless, there are two silver linings in the Senate’s proposed legislation. The HEALS Act does not extend liability protections to schools from keeping the tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as school leaders from across the country had recently lobbied. And unlike the CARES Act, the HEALS Act includes a provision that makes dependents of any age, including adults with disabilities, eligible for a $500 stimulus payment even if they receive Supplemental Security Income.

Previously, SafeMinds reported on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed out of the House of Representatives on May 15. The HEROES Act received many accolades from the disability rights community and was considered a “game changer” due to its funding of crucial services for the disabled. In order to understand the differences between to these two COVID-19 economic relief bills, the Center for Public Representation has produced a comparison chart of the Senate HEALS Act versus the House HEROES Act as it pertains to the disability community.

References

SafeMinds Shares. Legislative Fix to Aid Families with Adult Dependents During COVID-19. May 14, 2020.

Sarah Hansen. Where Is The Senate GOP’s $1 Trillion HEALS Act? Here’s What We Know About The Mysteriously Splintered Proposal. Forbes. July 28, 2020.

SafeMinds Shares. Individuals with Developmental Disabilities May Suffer More Severe COVID Outcomes. July 17, 2020.

SafeMinds Shares. U.S. Schools Ask Congress for IDEA Liability Protections. July 30, 2020.

SafeMinds Shares. HEROES Act to Provide More COVID-19 Economic Relief for the Disability Community. June 23, 2020.

Michelle Diament. House Oks COVID-19 Relief Plan with More Payments for People with Disabilities. Disability Scoop. May 18, 2020.

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