With 25 days left in the Florida legislative session there's still time to make our voices heard but we must act quickly.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the agencies that serve them made a huge impression at the Florida State Capitol on DD Day March 20 but our actions in the coming weeks are equally important!
In the next 20 business days as legislators work on bills and the state budget, they need to hear from self-advocates. Because Florida Self-Advocates Network’D (FL SAND) is the parent organization of Florida Self-Advocacy Central, this article will focus on FL SAND’s legislative priorities. For information on other priorities related to persons with disabilities, check here and FSACentral’s policy page.
Pay Fair for Care. It’s absolutely vital that Tallahassee hear from as many of us as possible on this issue because, to date, no funds are allocated in the proposed budget for caregivers who provide personal support services to people who live independently. FL SAND, the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, and other agencies have been advocating for an increase in the hourly wage for these providers for many years. These important caregivers are key to independence for thousands of people with disabilities in Florida yet they have gone without an effective raise for well over a decade. This crisis has resulted in these service providers being hard to find, especially in rural areas, and even harder to retain as they can easily find higher paying jobs in areas such as retail or fast food. With news almost daily of prominent corporate employers – Starbucks, Target, Amazon, Walmart-- raising their starting pay rates, this is a good time to remind legislators this crisis will grow out of control without action!
Talking points: When you talk to your legislators and those on budget committees – make sure they know how this crisis is impacting or even threatening your life and independence and how you fear you or your loved one will have to forfeit independence if the crisis is not averted. Remind them that institutional care is always more expensive than in community-based settings. Ask them to consider a $3 an hour raise for workers who provide personal supports to people with disabilities.
Transportation. Thanks to advocacy on the part of many organizations we are seeing some progress in the legislature funding solutions to common problems with transportation such as the ability for para-transit providers to cross county lines and provide on-time, on-demand, door-to-door service. AdvantageRide is one such system being piloted through June in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties.
Talking points: Talk specifically about how limited transportation options impact your life -- especially your ability to work. Many people with disabilities are not able to work because they don’t have reliable, on-time transportation options. Ask legislators to continue funding recommendations outlined in the 2017 Transportation Task Force by investing in solutions to the issues riders with disabilities face: on-time service, accessible vehicles, on-demand or quick turn-around scheduling, and the ability to cross county lines. Additionally, while we are grateful for the pilot programs that are covering those on the Medicaid waiver, services need to be expanded to serve riders not on the waiver.
Working People with Disabilities Program. Although it wasn't one of their stated priorities, FL SAND has consistently advocated for a program that would allow those who work to earn more than the allowable limit to stay on Medicaid.
Such a program would be important for people who require personal care and medical services not covered by private health insurance offered by employers.
According to the FDDC Capitol Update, language to increase the income cap those on the Medicaid waiver can earn is in the current senate budget, but not in the house plan. If it is the policy of this state to incentivize persons with disabilities to seek gainful employment, the house must be encouraged to adopt the senate language during current budget conference between the house and senate committees.
Talking points. The FDDC will be working with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to encourage legislators to adopt the senate language for the Working People with Disabilities Program during budget conference. Contact members of these committees -- especially the house-- and encourage them to do so.
Ready to work?
What you can do
Call, email legislators, and post on their social media pages – or all three. Email once with your story and photo(s), call and leave a message, and continue to call every other day until you speak to an aide to tell your story in person. Once you make contact with an aide or legislator in person, call again the next week to ask for an update.
Utilize the help of the "Our Voices Together" campaign mentioned below. They will help you get your story out.
Encourage self-advocates you know who have to limit their earnings because of Medicaid income limits to get involved in the effort to make the Working People with Disabilites Program a reality.
Who you should contact
For both issues, contact your local Florida state representatives – remind them you are their constituent and that you VOTE!
What you should say
See talking points for each issue above -- relay a sense of urgency but remain courteous and civil.
Want to roll up your sleeves in person?
FL SAND and FSACentral are partnering with an exciting new movement started in Southwest Florida, “Our Voices Together,” which is holding a Legislative Action Day during their regular monthly meeting Wednesday, April 10, from 6:30-7:30 PM at the downtown public library in Fort Myers. Folks will be calling and emailing legislators during the meeting as well as posting on social media. You don’t have to be present to participate in this coordinated effort and can watch on Facebook Live. You don't have to wait for the event, click the link now and send them your story to share. If you live in the area, please drop in and help is storm the capitol with calls and emails!