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FEDERAL FOCUS: Infrastructure Opportunities

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Your federal elected officials have been working hard for you in Washington D.C.  Right now Congress (your federal legislature) is working on an infrastructure deal to help the country recover from the pandemic.  Lots of people are still out of work, behind on rent or house payments, and struggling to pay expenses.  We want you to understand what is being talked about in Congress, how those discussions may impact the disability community, and why your members of Congress need to hear your voice now.

What is being considered? Congress has been considering many ideas about how to help our country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans proposed have included:

  • The American Jobs Plan
  • The American Family Plan
  • The Republican Road Map

Many of these ideas have been discussed using the term infrastructure. Infrastructure means the buildings, roads, bridges, power lines, and other things our country needs to work every day. It can also include systems that make our country work, like schools, healthcare, and other government services.  Internet service is now also considered a part of "infrastructure."

While Congress is controlled by Democrats, the Senate is basically deadlocked with 50 Republicans and a coalition of 50 Democrats and Independents who regularly vote with Democrats.  That means the Vice President is the tie-breaking vote. Senate Democrats need to convince 10 Republicans to vote with them in order to stop debate on any bill and move immediately to a vote.  Senators can filibuster a bill; that is they talk about anything they want for days on end, without stop, to make it impossible to bring a bill up for a vote.  

President Biden and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans have been meeting and negotiating what ideas can be passed with bipartisan support. Bipartisan is when people of both political parties (Democratic and Republican) work together on a law.  Announcements were made the week of June 21st about a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, but that agreement was just an outline of what they want to do, not the details.  As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. We do not yet have legislative language for the bipartisan infrastructure act, but the framework included:

  • $109 billion to repair and rebuild roads and bridges
  • $49 billion for public transit

Disability advocates continue to push for the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Act of 2021 (S.1680H.R.3317) to be a part of this investment. This bill would help make public transportation systems more accessible to passengers with disabilities by providing funding to upgrade existing public transportation and commuter rail stations to meet or exceed accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

  • $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers along highways and in rural and disadvantaged communities.                                                                          
  • $7.5 billion to electrify thousands of school and transit buses across the country.
  • $65 billion to connect every American to reliable high-speed internet.
  • $55 billion to eliminate the nation's lead service lines and pipes to deliver clean drinking water to up to 10 millionfamilies and more than 400,000 schools and childcare facilities that currently don't have it.When discussing this deal, Democratic Congressional leaders also shared their plan to move other ideas forward through a budget reconciliation measure.

Some of the ideas for recovery will now become part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Parts of President Biden's American Jobs Plan and American Family Plan that are not included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework continue to move in a budget reconciliation process, a process that will require a majority in the house and a majority (but not 60 votes) in the Senate. Budget Reconciliation is a tool that makes legislation easier to pass in the Senate; a reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority (51) in the Senate, but must be tied to spending.

What disability priorities are likely to be included? A $400 billion investment in Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) proposed by President Biden in his American Jobs Plan is the largest priority of the disability community that was included in proposals. We now know that this priority will move forward as part of budget reconciliation. The Better Care Better Jobs Act (S.2210H.R.4131) is the legislative language to pass this historic investment in HCBS and is expected to be included in the budget reconciliation.

Where is my voice needed? The most critical need is for education and advocacy around Home and Community Based Services. All Members of Congress need to hear over and over how important the $400 billion investment is to their constituents. Constituents are the people that a Member of Congress represents.

What are the actions I can take? It is important that every member of Congress hear from the people they represent and understand the importance of the Better Care Better Jobs Act (S.2210H.R.4131). It is true that this will move in a partisan manner (with only Democratic votes), but the issues related to HCBS and Medicaid will be important to all Members of Congress going forward and education on this issue is needed.o

  • Reach out to US Senators Joni Ernst & Charles Grassley and share why HCBS are important and offer to answer any questions about the importance of these services to you.

    • Ask them what policies they are supporting to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
    • Remember that while they are unlikely to support this bill (because they are Republicans) they will be engaged in many disability issues this Congress.  
    • Both Senators are very supportive of community supports for people with disabilities, but they may not agree on the way it is being done in these bills.
    • Make sure you thank them for their time and for listening to you; former staffers will tell you that being polite scores points.
  • Reach out to your US Representative (you will be represented by either Cindy Axne, Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson, or Mariannette Miller-Meeks). You can find out which of these is your US Representative here.

    • If your Representative is Cindy Axne:
      • Reach out and share why HCBS is important, ask her to sponsor the Better Care Better Jobs Act (H.R. 4131).
      • Offer to answer any questions as they consider becoming a co-sponsor. 
      • Cosponsorships are important - the larger the number, the more likely you will get all 50 Democrats to support it.
      • As noted above, be nice and thank them for their time and consideration!

    • If your Representative is Rndy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson, or Mariannette Miller-Meeks:
      • Reach out and share why HCBS is important and offer to answer any questions s/he has about its impact in your state.
      • Ask them what policies they are supporting to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
      • Remember that while they are unlikely to support this bill, they will be engaged in many disability issues this Congress.
      • As noted above, be nice and thank them for their time and consideration!
  • You can contact your elected official easily from our Action Center!  You don't need to look up who your Congress person is, just add your address. Get started here.

Extra ways to make an impact:

  • Use social media to raise the importance of this legislation.
  • Use #BetterCareBetterJobs
  • Share a personal story.

Members of Congress and their staff from every state need to understand what HCBS means to people in their state. We are collecting and sharing these stories with Iowa's elected officials as well.  Take the extra step and share your story about home and community based services and why they are important to you by emailing Bill Kallestad (bkalles@dhs.state.ia.us) or Amy Campbell (infonetiowa@gmail.com)

Message tips:

  • Short is best (3-5 sentences).
  • A picture helps.
  • Stories can come from people with disabilities, family members, allies, and professionals working in these systems. 

What is the timeline? Congress will return to Washington on Monday, July 9 (most elected officials went back to their home states for the 4th of July recess).  It is expected that the work on both bipartisan infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills will pick up speed when they return, since they are trying to get everything done before the federal fiscal year ends on September 30.  (Yes, the Federal government has a different budget year than the state and it is also not on a calendar year. The Federal Fiscal Year runs October 1 through September 30).  This gives you and others in the disability community 12 weeks to educate and advocate around these (and your) priorities.




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