Hitting Close to Home: How our Poverty Agenda Offers Hope to Millions with Disabilities

With our bold policy plan, A Better Way, House Republicans are addressing the devastating impacts of poverty. We believe that if the American Dream isn’t true for everyone, then it isn’t true for anyone.

Unfortunately, poverty and disability go hand-in-hand.

For individuals with disabilities, the American Dream can seem a lofty, unattainable goal meant for someone else, not for them.

The numbers are staggering.

Today, 1 in 5 Americans live with disabilities. And as of 2014, the Census Bureau estimates that nearly 29 percent of people with disabilities live in poverty — compared to 12 percent of those without disabilities.  That’s more than double.

Workers with disabilities are also twice as likely to be unemployed as their nondisabled colleagues. And, for those who are employed, research shows a significant pay gap.

In my home state of Washington, there are roughly 465,000 working age people with disabilities. Only 38.3 percent of them are employed.

Unfortunately, the national numbers are even worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, only 17.5 percent of Americans with disabilities were employed. These numbers have remained largely the same for the past 25 years.

These numbers hit close to home for me. My son Cole, a thriving nine-year-old boy and big brother, was born with Down syndrome.

He is a daily reminder to me that every life has potential, every life matters, and everyone has something unique to offer the world. I want him, and every individual in this country, no matter their background or walk of life, to have the ability to pursue their own unique version of the American Dream.

Cole is one of the more than 50 million inspirations in the disability community for our Better Way to Fight Poverty, and for our ongoing work in the House to make sure that people are defined only by their potential.

We’re  currently working on legislation, the ABLE to Work Act, which allows individuals to save part of their income while guaranteeing those savings don’t cost them to lose their benefits like health care and SSDI, making it easier for them to work more. The ABLE to Work Act, like the ABLE Act and the Steve Gleason Act, both of which are now law, is part of our ongoing efforts to increase access to life-changing, critical innovations, and limit bureaucratic barriers that get in the way.

Last summer marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was one of the most important civil rights achievements in American history. Now 26 years later, we celebrate the positive disruption of the ADA in an ongoing journey towards equality of opportunity for everyone, including those with disabilities. It was a momentous step, but it was just one step. An important next step is to combat the existing stigmas associated with having a disability.

While the law improved the ability of men and women across the country to find employment, some of the stigmas associated with having a disability persist.

This is hindering people from achieving their dreams of being independent, having a job, and being seen as a contributing member of society. Individuals with disabilities face an added cost of living, transportation difficulties, insufficient affordable and accessible housing, and other challenges.

Our work is far from finished, but united by a common cause and legislation like ABLE, Gleason, and ABLE to Work, we have – and will continue to – achieve the remarkable. We can help every man, woman, and child in this country have a chance to break free from the cycle of poverty.

We can find a Better Way.

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