By Henry Kuczynski
Boston University News Service
Estate recovery and housing policy provisions important to the disability community have been left in limbo and will have to be re-filed if the state economic development bill to which they are attached is held in conference committee for the remainder of the legislative session, advocates said.
During a Wednesday meeting of the Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, members were informed that the bill, introduced in April, was still under review. The status of the bill prevents attached legislation, aimed at protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities, from proceeding.
The economic development bill was due to be voted on in the final days of July as the Legislature wrapped up business. However, concerns over tax credits stalled the process. Charles Carr, a commission volunteer and legislative liaison for the Disability Policy Consortium, expressed disappointment at the situation.
“This is politics in this state,” Carr said.
The now stagnant legislation would address two major issues within the disability community: estate recovery and housing.
Estate recovery refers to the process by which MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, recovers assets from the families of deceased policyholders to reimburse the state for the cost of care. Because many individuals with disabilities require long-term care, their families often owe a significant amount to the state.
“It’s unbelievably devastating,” Carr said. “It stops any kind of intergenerational wealth for the families of people with disabilities.”
Cathy Taylor, director of services at the Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled, agreed, adding that the system “hits those who are most vulnerable the hardest.”
“It’s like you’re getting penalized for having a disability,” Taylor said. “It’s just not right.”
The proposed estate recovery provision would limit the amount the state can recover to the federal minimum. It would also exempt individuals who pay premiums for coverage.
Housing, specifically accessibility, has been another long-standing issue for individuals with disabilities. Currently, not all private businesses and housing units within the state comply with the federal guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The proposed housing provision would require the state to enforce the ADA guidelines, ensuring that new and existing businesses can accommodate individuals with disabilities. It would also require private housing contractors to make a certain percentage of units accessible to individuals with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are a part of every community,” Taylor said. “We want to live like everybody else and that’s how it should be.”
If the legislative session ends without a passing of the economic development bill, Carr said these important policy pieces will likely be re-filed next year as standalone legislation.
“We will be back,” Carr said. “We hope that you’ll support us this time around.”