“People automatically assume that when you have cerebral palsy you have an intellectual disability,” said Kaufman, who is now 35. “I often have to gently educate people.”
In Washington, when legislation moves forward, it is usually lawmakers who are cited. They get the credit. But anyone who has ever paid close attention to the legislative process knows that there are many hidden figures behind every breakthrough. There are people who have attended formal and informal meetings, and shared their stories over and over again, to help those with the power to implement change understand the need for it.
Kaufman is one of those people. For years, the Maryland native has worked behind the scenes to push for legislation that will provide more financial security for people with disabilities.
“Sometimes when I go to Capitol Hill, people have really big eyes,” he said. “They are shocked to see someone in a walker because there is a societal perception that people with disabilities can only achieve the four Fs – food, flowers, filing and dirt.”
To change stigmas and stereotypes, he said, people “need tools and support to help them thrive, and that’s what I do every day – advocate for the tools.” .
This week the country celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. On social media platforms, people have been sharing encouraging posts about how they have benefited from the ADA. Many also noted that there was still a lot of work to do.
One only has to speak with Kaufman to see that disability rights go far beyond the physical accessibility issues that many people associate with the ADA. It’s easy to see how the lack of ramps or broken elevators prevent people with disabilities from accessing a space. More complicated are the ways the systems have been designed to prevent them from earning and saving enough money to live more independent lives.
I often write about disability and poverty, and it has placed me in the unique position of witnessing these two overlapping issues time and time again. Being born with a disability shouldn’t condemn a person to begging for services and worrying about how much they can save before those services are taken away – but that is too often the case. Disabilities also stem from poverty. I interviewed several parents whose children developed disabilities because of housing conditions they could not afford to escape.
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When I spoke to Kaufman, he reminded me of a statistic I had heard before: Americans with disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as those without disabilities. But he also offered reasons for optimism.
A bill he and other disability rights advocates have lobbied for – the ABLE Age Adjustment Act – recently won a significant victory. For the first time since its introduction in 2016, the law passed through a congressional committee. The Senate Finance Committee passed it unanimously on June 22, thus bringing it closer to its status as law.
Legislation, presented by the senses. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan), would enable more than 6.1 million Americans with disabilities, including 1 million veterans, to open ABLE – which stands for ” Achieve a Better Life Experience” – accounts that offer them a way to save money without losing vital federal disability benefits.
“It will remove barriers to economic independence for millions of Americans, giving people the ability to open their own businesses, save for retirement, buy the technology they need, and more,” Casey said. said in a press release after the vote of the committee.
Kaufman lobbied for the legislation as Senior Director of Legislative Affairs for the Jewish Federations of North America. But for him, the question is also personal.
He and his brother, who has a disability and lives in a group home, have ABLE accounts.
They were able to open them after the adoption of the ABLE law in 2014, allowing people who acquired their disability before the age of 26 to open an account. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act would extend that age to 46.
“The way the law is written is if you’re diagnosed after your 26th birthday, you’re out of luck,” Kaufman said. “You step on an IED in Afghanistan, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a wheelchair. How are you going to pay for this?
A person’s insurance may cover certain items, such as a wheelchair, but not all repairs to that wheelchair or a wheelchair-accessible van or additional physical therapy, he said. “It’s so expensive to live with a disability,” he says.
He doesn’t receive Supplemental Security Income, but his brother is among millions of disabled Americans who do, and Kaufman has stood up for them on another issue that was recently introduced in the form of legislation. In May, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which would allow people who receive Supplemental Security Income to increase their savings without affecting their disability benefits.
“If you’re single on SSI, you can’t have more than $2,000 in your bank account, and if you’re married on SSI, you can’t have more than $3,000,” Kaufman said. . This amount has not been updated since the 1980s when he was a child. “What it does is it traps people in poverty.”
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It also keeps skilled people out of the workforce. Kaufman said he had a friend who had a bachelor’s degree but wasn’t working because she was worried her savings account would go over $2,001 and she’d lose the disability services she needed.
The law would increase the asset limit to $10,000 for a single person and $20,000 for a married couple.
Kaufman knows that most people prefer to avoid thinking about the financial security issues he spends his days focusing on. But he also knows the stakes and hopes people will keep up the pressure on lawmakers to pass these measures and more.
Fixing broken elevators is not enough. Repair of faulty systems is also necessary.