ICI Director Speaks Out Against New Federal Tax Bill

Our director, Tom Sannicandro, wrote to members of Congress describing ways in which the proposed tax bill may harm citizens with disabilities. Here is an edited version of his remarks.

As the director of the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston (ICI), an internationally recognized entity focused on the rights of individuals with disabilities to be fully included in all aspects of society, I would like express my strong opposition to the tax bill currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.

If the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act becomes law, it will likely have a devastating impact on services and supports that allow individuals with disabilities to fully participate in American society, and be fully productive citizens with maximum independence.

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does not directly address services for individuals with disabilities, it is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that this bill will result in a loss of revenue to the federal government of $1.5 trillion over the next decade. As a result of the Pay As You Go rules, the Office of Management and Budget will need to sequester mandatory programs to make up for the loss of revenue.

Such a drastic level of automatic cuts will possibly result in:

  • Massive reduction or complete elimination of the public vocational rehabilitation program, which works with 1,000,000 individuals annually, assisting them with employment and other needs.
  • Massive cuts in Medicaid, which not only provides health care coverage for 10 million individuals with disabilities, but also provides funding for services that enable individuals to live and work in the community via Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services provisions. In particular, state agencies for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities would be hard hit, as they are highly reliant on Medicaid for the vast majority of their funding.
  • Cuts in Medicare, which 9 million individuals with disabilities rely on for health care coverage,
  • Major reductions in Social Security benefits, providing an essential safety net of basic cash assistance for 15 million individuals with disabilities that allows them to at least live at a subsistence level.
  • Devastating reductions in non-disability-specific programs that individuals with disabilities rely on, such as public housing, SNAP benefits, and public transportation.

In addition, the repeal of the charitable contributions deductions for individuals will have a negative impact on giving, and will likely decrease availability of services and supports provided by non-profit agencies that provide supports and assistance to persons with disabilities. because their budgets will be constrained.

Also, the elimination of the Affordable Care Act mandate contained in the current version of the bill leaves open the possibility that health insurance costs would escalate out of reach for those who do not have the option of declining health insurance due to pre-existing health conditions or disabilities.

Secretary of Labor Acosta has stated that if we are to achieve economic growth, we need to get people who are out of the workforce to enter the workforce. One of the biggest groups currently out of the workforce are persons with disabilities. Eliminating or risking programs that support moving people into the workforce, such as the public vocational rehabilitation program, and employment services funded via Medicaid, undermines the claim that the tax bill will promote economic growth.

We at ICI have shown through rigorous research that people working with vocational rehabilitation and other workforce development programs can enter or re-enter the workforce at earnings that would lead them to economic self-sufficiency.

As a parent of an adult son with a disability, I am well aware of the high level of reliance that even middle-class families like mine have on federally funded services and supports, that allow our family members to enjoy lives of maximum inclusion fully included in their communities. I also know, as a former state legislator, the critical importance of fully understanding the short and long-term implications of legislation on the lives of constituents.

While it may seem on the surface that the tax bill will be positive in terms of more money in the pockets of Americans, and funds available to American businesses, that lost of revenue, particularly in the current era of high federal deficits, must come from somewhere. Alas, it is likely to come from reductions for individuals highly reliant on federal assistance, including persons with disabilities.

I would ask that you give full consideration to all of the implications of this bill, including the undermining of the services and supports that individuals with disabilities are highly reliant on that will likely result if this bill becomes law. I am calling on members of the U.S. Congress to vote NO on this legislation.