We Must Turn the Page, And Increase the ABLE Age: Creating the Impossible

WIYATT – Blog #42

Title: We Must Turn the Page, And Increase the ABLE Age: Creating the Impossible

“Solidarity Everybody in.” was the theme of this year’s National Council on Independent Living’s (NCIL) annual conference held in Washington, DC. This proud member of NCIL was in attendance and actively participated in my sixth annual conference. The spirit of sisterly/brotherly/person love was fully a part of this year’s annual March and Rally. When advocates departed from Washington, DC, after a week of celebrating and embracing one another, they did so energized and rejuvenated to “fight the good fight” and cause “Good trouble” like Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) civil rights icon embodies as part of his work of creating the impossible.

The Senate Finance Committee held a markup on Wednesday, September 21, on pensions related legislation. In that mark up The ABLE to Work Act (HR 4795/S 2702) and the ABLE Financial Planning Act (HR 4794/S 2703) were moved out of committee. Sending them onto preparation for the final stage of a possible full senate vote in order to become law. This week those same advocates who came to NCIL’s 2016 Conference (1000 + attended this year’s conference) joined with many more around the country to tell congress that “Solidarity Everybody in.” was NOT just a slogan. Over (80) organizations signed letters of opposition to congress both the Senate and the House for not moving the ABLE Age Adjustment Act of 2015 (HR 4813/S. 2704).

Background:

In the fall/winter of 2014 the 114th Congress passed the Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act) with a last minute agreement on a provision of the law that only persons who have an onset of their disability by the age of 26 could partake in the benefits of the ABLE Act. This happened although this was not the original intent of the bill. Over many years thousands of advocates fought the good fight to make this bill a law but at the last minute of passage, congressional business and the all mighty dollar won over. The cost analyzed by the CBO presented congress with a conundrum and it was decided by a few advocates to move forward with creating this law that can only help a minute number of people with disabilities (those whose disabilities occur before the age of 26) and leave out the many.

(See my blog from about this“Are We ABLE to make things better!” posted December 1, 2014 – which opens with the quote: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr. – I have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World.)

Those disabilities that occur and are diagnosed prior to the age of 26 are more than likely developmental disabilities like Cerebral Palsy, Fragile X syndrome and Down Syndrome. The estimated number of people with disabilities in this country fluctuates often and is never precise but it is believed to be about 54 Million. The estimated number of people in this country with developmental disabilities is believed to be a small amount of the 54 million number. (See Census data – CDC: 53 million adults in the US live with a disability – New report provides state-by-state data on disability types – July 30, 2015)

Many in the disability rights community had concerns with the newly passed ABLE Act of 2014 and were deeply sadden and bit angry with leaving millions of people with disabilities out of receiving the benefits of this law. Those concerns were presented to Congress and disability rights groups in 2014 just prior to the bill becoming law. There was an agreement with Congress and disability advocates that this bill would pass with this provision, but the work to increase the age of onset disability to be beyond 26 years of age would be done prior to any further increase of benefits or updates to the established ABLE Act.

This week’s Letters to Congress:

In the 115th Congress three new bills were introduced and they addressed essential improvements to the ABLE Act. Those bills are ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S. 2704/HR 4813), the ABLE Financial Planning Act (S. 2703/HR 4794) and he ABLE to Work Act (S. 2702/HR 4795).

A large number of disability rights advocates discussed the importance of improving the ABLE Act at the beginning of this year and in those conversations it was decided that while all three bills are important and necessary, the focus and advocacy push would be for the ABLE Age Adjustment Act to pass either first or with a package deal of all three bills passing together. There were several conversations with congressional staff as well as multiple disability rights organizations informing and assuring their members that this would be at the forefront of their policy agenda for this work. In other words, many disability rights groups supported the advocacy plan for the movement of the ABLE Age Adjustment Act bill to be primary and the other two bills would be secondary in this year’s policy work on ABLE Act improvements.

As stated above this unfortunately did not happen and instead the Senate Finance Committee held a markup for the ABLE to Work Act (HR 4795/S 2702) and the ABLE Financial Planning Act (HR 4794/S 2703) as amendments for that markup. In conversations about why this happened the message was conveyed that it is “impossible and unrealistic” to try to move the ABLE Age Adjustment Act because of the cost. Remember that last week congress also passed the “impossible and unrealistic” funding bill for the city of Flint, MI. The democrats held up the Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to provide funding for the thousands of people who are suffering horrific conditions around their water supply.

It is time to “Turn the page of history” and write a new page where the subject and action plan is to increase the ABLE Act age for eligibility. We Must Turn the Page, And Increase the ABLE Age: Creating the Impossible

As social justice/social equity advocates this is what WE DO and HAVE DONE! Create the impossible. This is what MOVEMENTS and REVOLOUTIONS do everyday! If the oppressed took the word of the oppressor “This will NEVER be done!” every time they were told this line, I would not be writing this blog as a free, black, educated, property owning, gainfully employed woman in these here United States.

Let me bring some reality to this thinking!

Black people have been told what you want is “impossible and unrealistic” since the moment slave ships hit the shores of America. Many got off those slave ships of horror and vowed that one day they would be free people again and if not they themselves, then their ancestors. They sacrificed their bodies with beatings and their lives for this to happen. This is where a part of my drive for my activism and “fight for right” comes from!

My family specifically my mom and dad instilled in me “NEVER GIVE UP for success is often around the corner for those who won’t give up!” It is the center of my drive for social equity success! I claim it and own it proudly and I am unapologetically dedicated to the cause of equity and this life of the social justice fight! I am blessed to work with many advocates/activist who feel and do the same!

It is in that spirit of courage and desire, that these letters of opposition were sent to congress this week; to tell them we oppose the movement of two ABLE Act bills but not the ABLE Age Adjustment Act and we want to work on what you think is impossible and unrealistic before we work on anything else around improving the ABLE Act!

On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown Jr was shot and killed in Ferguson, MO by a police officer. This incident caused the black community to rise and say “WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!” The movement began and includes many but at the core the message is Law Enforcement officers in the US have been killing black and brown people for over 400 years. Today we embark on the journey for the impossible and unrealistic change that this practice of physically hurting and killing black and brown people by law enforcement will end. As my mom used to say “Come hell or high water – you will do……”

Many have asked me, where does this drive for knowing that the impossible and unrealistic can be achieved come from. My first social justice work was on making The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. As I have written I come from a mom who was a social justice activist. I actively marched, sent letters, talked with groups and helped my mom and millions of others with the fight to make MLK Day a national holiday. The first vote on this idea happened in 1979. It failed and what were we told? “This will NEVER happen!” it’s impossible and unrealistic. But in 1983 it was passed into law and today there is the MLK Jr. National Monument on The Mall. As Jay Z song goes “Onto the next one!”

My mom and I moved onto (really at the same time) the next cause – Free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid in South Africa. We went onto create “Good trouble” and force our government to do something about the horrific and inhumane practice of apartheid. We told our government we do not like what is happening in South Africa and you will assist in changing this, as well as get Nelson Mandela freed from prison. Remember this is one of our fundamental rights in the United States – we as US citizens are to “question and hold accountable” our government NO MATTER WHAT and as Malcolm X said “By any means necessary”.

What did we face in the fight to free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid? You guessed it! A congress that told us this is “impossible and unrealistic”. “Nelson Mandela will die in prison!” and oh my look what happened. On February 11, 1990 Nelson Mandela walked out of prison a free man and some months later the practice of the policy of apartheid was abolished in South Africa. It must be noted that November of 1989 was when the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany occurred- something else that was considered “impossible and unrealistic” and was thought to be the incentive for South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk’s decision that the practice of apartheid may have to come to an end.

It is in this spirit that I hope disability rights advocates and our comrades will continue to urge congress to embark on this serious and much needed work to increase the age of eligibility for benefiting from the ABLE Act law first! And then move onto the other two improvement bills. Although things may look difficult to accomplish, we must embark on “Solidarity Everybody in.” by moving forward with creating the possible and realistic.

To all my fellow advocates THANK YOU for ALL YOU DO!

In solidarity,

Dara

Thanks for reading, please leave comments and tell all about The WIYATT!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The forgotten voting block: Those in jail or on probation

This election season started on January 21, 2013 directly following the second inauguration of the 44th President Barak Obama. No one was fooled by the retired Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s bashful claims of having no thoughts about the 2016 presidential election. Well no one who follows politics and the Clintons.

It seemed like there was a never ending 2015 primary season with 17 Republican candidates and the bulldog gripping Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) who was unwilling to remove his name from the ballot until “he made a difference”. But as they say “all good things must come to an end.” The fun of the primary season ended with the notorious 2016 Presidential Platform of Presidential candidates for the Republican and Democratic Parties – Donald J. Trump and Hilary Clinton. And sometimes I feel like they are following the rules in the song “10 Crack Commandments” by the Notorious BIG. But that’s for another blog post.

*NOTE – many will tell you that I predicted Donald Trump would win his party’s candidacy. It was inevitable. I’m just angry with myself for not blogging during that time.

There’s a saying that hustlers use, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!” I think this election season has taught the world and in particular the American voter that they in deed hate the game being played every day in the good ole US of A.

The American voter is in a conundrum in the 2016 Presidential election. But there are several other important elections this campaign season. There are at least six Senate and House campaigns that should be watched and will be decided on by the smallest of numbers. Each vote this 2016 election season will count and one block of voters who has not been engaged are those persons serving time in the US jail system.

There are differences between serving time in prison and in jail as well as parole and probation.  Those persons not serving time in state prison or on parole can register and cast a vote in their home county. Each state is different but most states follow this standard.

As a member of League of Women Voters, I have assisted with registering and providing absentee ballots to those in jail. I am aware of this being done around the country by other chapters. In California the ACLU represented the LWV chapter with the 2006 election and won a case that gave voting rights to 100,000 people in county jails or on probation. In February 2016 Think Progress did a story titled, How to Register Voters in a South Carolina Jail, based on Brenda Williams a retired medical professional who has dedicated her life to registering people in her county to vote. Her county is Sumter County, South Carolina and persons behind bars with civil convictions can register and cast a vote in every election. So she goes to the jail and registers the inmates, provides them with absentee ballots and then follows up weeks later collecting those ballots so that their voices count.

Here are the numbers according to the Sentencing Project’s Facts – State-by-State page using the tab titled Detailed State Data. The US in 2014 had 2,240,386 people incarcerated and 300 out of each 100,000 were in jails. If you use this tool you can enter your state and find out the number of persons in jail in your state. The US probation population for the same year was 3, 910,692. You can also find out the number of people on probation in your state using the same tool. In the state I was raised in, New Jersey, there are 220 out of 100,000 persons in NJ Jails (15,235).

The community of Juveniles who have touched the system also can not be forgotten as a voting block. According to the Sentencing project in 2013 there were 54, 148 juveniles in the system. In NJ in 2013 there were 888 in the system. Juveniles coming out of the system, usually have the right to vote once they have reached the voting age of 18, yet many are unaware of this fact. This is the part of Voter Education that must be done along with voter registration in our communities. Knowledge is a powerful tool.

In this 2016 election season it is imperative that we reach out to every voting group and acquire their ballot. We must provide communities with the tools that will encourage and include ALL who are eligible to send in a ballot or cast a vote to do so! I hope you will go to your local jail system and register people to vote. Time is of the essence as many states absentee ballot deadlines are soon upon us! To find out more information about the dates in your state go to the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). 

*Should you embark in this work please let me know! Thanks!

In Solidarity,

Dara

Resources: Peace and Freedom Party – In Jail? You Can Vote by Bob Evans http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/home/in-jail-you-can-vote

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment