As our mission statement says, Women of Reform Judaism is dedicated to creating caring communities, nurturing congregations, and cultivating personal and spiritual growth. We achieve these goals by using our collective voice to speak up and advocate for change.
I was given the immense honor of representing WRJ in the U.S. Capitol last week as we celebrated the 9th annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD).
JDAD is an opportunity for professionals and lay leaders from Jewish organizations and diverse communities from around the United States to come to Capitol Hill and advocate with, on behalf of, and for individuals with disabilities. It also teaches participants about the relevant public policy issues of the day and raises awareness about presently available programs for people with disabilities and their families.
The two pieces of legislation that we focused on during our time this year were:
- EMPOWER Care Act. The longest-running and most successful demonstrations, or added benefits, in Medicaid is the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program. This program allows individuals with disabilities and older adults return home to live in their communities with appropriate services and support. Originally signed into law by President George W. Bush, MFP significantly improves the lives of vulnerable, low-income people with disabilities covered by Medicaid. Ensuring Medicaid Provides Opportunities for Widespread Equity, Resources, and Care Act (EMPOWER Care Act) would extend this program for five years and allows individuals to pay for needed transition costs associated with moving out of institutions and back into homes and community-based settings.
- Able Age Adjustment Act. Starting in 2014, for the first-time people with disabilities up to age 26 and their families could establish tax-advantaged savings and investment plans called ABLE accounts. These accounts ease financial strain for people with disabilities by allowing them to withdraw their own tax-free savings to pay for costly disability-related expenses. Although the ABLE Act continues to provide people with disabilities up to age 26 with a new measure of financial security, this important program is now in jeopardy, and many people with disabilities who became disabled later in life have been left out. This adjustment act would extend the savings program from the age of 26 to 46. Importantly, money saved in ABLE accounts does not count against asset limits for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. The money can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for disability-related expenses, such as costly new therapies and durable medical equipment.
The 250 participants during the advocacy day helped lobby in more than 60 different congressional offices, hopefully bringing these two pieces of disability advocacy legislation closer to becoming laws. At the heart of these two programs up for debate is a commitment to caring for all members of our community. The term Kehilla Kedoshah, or holy community, is only possible when every member of society is welcome to be an active participant.
Alyson Malinger is WRJ's Advocacy and Communications Associate.