Governor Cuomo and the ADA: Actions Speak Louder Than Words
By Bryan O'Malley Executive Director of Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Assoc. of NYS (CDPAANYS) July 26, 2019
“People with disabilities have the right to receive services and supports in settings that do not segregate them from the community; it is a matter of civil rights.” — Governor Andrew Cuomo, from the Report and Recommendations of the Olmstead Cabinet
Today is the 29th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the disability community, the day marks a moment in history where the government affirmed that we have the same right to live independently in the community as anyone else. For elected officials, it serves as an annual day for them to talk about how much they care about inclusion and how much they have done for people with disabilities.
When these officials have a track record, it is important to look at the past promises to see if the actions they take the other 364 days of the year are consistent with their words from this one day. Unfortunately, in the case of Governor Andrew Cuomo, his past promises are undermined by his current actions. Most notably, his high profile $150 million cut to the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance (CDPA), a program created by people with disabilities for people with disabilities, is jeopardizing its very existence and creating a New York where the promise of the ADA is getting further away.
The good news is, he can still fix it.
During Governor Cuomo’s first term, he formed the Olmstead Cabinet to revamp the work that had previously been conducted by several state agencies through the state’s Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC). Governor Cuomo’s Olmstead Cabinet was a welcome supplement to the MISCC and led to the publishing of his Report and Recommendations of the Olmstead Cabinet.
This document laid out a revolutionary blueprint to ensure that people with all types of disabilities were welcome in the State of New York. It laid out employment, transportation, deinstitutionalization, criminal justice, and other markers that could be measured and met.
Since the report’s release, it has sat. The measurements to track progress, which should appear on the Governor’s website, do not exist. The promises have not been kept.
One year ago, on the 28th Anniversary of the ADA, Governor Cuomo unveiled his “ABLE New York” campaign. In what was identified as a “Phase 1 package” of initiatives, the Governor outlined a series of initiatives that advocates had long been seeking; but which came with little to no substantive fiscal commitment to improving services.
One year later, advocates are still waiting for the promised Phase 2.
While we waited for additional promises, the Governor took two critical actions. When ABLE New York was announced, disability advocates were told that it did not include any financial promises, such as action on a long-standing request for higher wages for workers, because there was no money. However, months later, the Governor gave $1.35 billion of state money to nursing home workers, prioritizing institutions over services in the community.
The real attack came in Governor Cuomo’s 2019–20 budget, where he cut CDPA by $150 million. This cut undermined his own Olmstead Report, which promised to “…offer consumer directed services as the first option for plan enrollees.”
Despite assertions by his Department of Health that the cuts would not impact people with disabilities, the community immediately realized what was at stake. Sure, the cuts only impact the agency’s portion of the reimbursement; but those cuts are so dramatic that they threaten the very existence of the program.
Unfortunately, despite efforts to stop the cuts, they are still moving forward. Right now, the Governor’s Department of Health is putting in place rates that are supposed to go into effect on September 1. If these rates take effect, the services of 70,000 disabled New Yorkers will be put in danger. The program created by disabled New Yorkers to give themselves more control and independence will be gutted.
I am certain that Governor Cuomo will make an announcement today about the ADA and how important it is to protect the civil rights of those with disabilities. The reality is though, unless he takes immediate action to undo the draconian cuts to CDPA, these are just words.
As Governor Cuomo has said, if New York is to be a progressive leader we need more than words and promises, we need action. That action must begin by ensuring that the civil rights of every New Yorker, including people with disabilities, are respected. Particularly by our government.
The time is now. Will Governor Cuomo be remembered by people with disabilities for promises kept or promises broken?
His actions will decide.