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How 'Build Back Better' Supports People with Disabilities

A man in a wheelchair using a laptop at home.

​In October, the White House called President Joe Biden's proposed Build Back Better Act "the most transformative investment in access to home care in 40 years."

If approved, Build Back Better would allocate $150 billion to home- and community-based services (HCBS), allowing people with disabilities to live independently and hold a job. It would also expand and increase pay for the direct-care workforce, a group under significant strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In our view, Build Back Better as currently constructed has the potential to substantially improve the lives of people with disabilities," said Cyrus Huncharek, a senior public-policy analyst for the National Disability Rights Network. "We would argue that the bill is almost a once-in-a-generation investment in and for people with disabilities at multiple levels."

Build Back Better's framework comprises three parts. The American Rescue Plan, signed into law in March 2021, provided a relief package to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Portions of the American Jobs Plan were signed into law in November 2021 through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The House of Representatives approved the American Families Plan, which became the Build Back Better Act, in November 2021. However, the bill is currently held up in the Senate due to concerns about the cost of the legislation.

The Act Supports Better Pay

For decades, federal funding has paid for people with disabilities to receive services in institutions rather than in communities and homes. Build Back Better would allocate funds for people with disabilities to receive services in a more integrated setting—goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision, which found unjustified segregation of people with disabilities to be unlawful.

Josh Basile understands the importance of receiving care in an integrated setting. The Maryland-based lawyer and community relations manager for the web-based accessibility hub accessiBe lives with quadriplegia. He is able to work thanks to the nursing and attendant care he receives through HCBS funding and programs.

"If I did not have access to home- and community-based services, I would have been forced out of my home and into a nursing home in order to access the proper nursing and attendant care supports," Basile said. "Investing in home- and community-based services helps millions of people with disabilities not only survive in the community but thrive."

HCBS services also free up time for parents of children with disabilities to go to work to support their families, a luxury not many of these families have.

[SHRM Foundation resource: Employing Abilities @Work]

"Millions of families are on long waiting lists for these services, which would allow their children with disabilities to receive in-home services," Huncharek said. "In the absence of the HCBS services, many parents must stay out of the workforce to care for their children with disabilities."

People with disabilities have historically experienced difficulties finding work. The jobless rate for individuals with disabilities was more than double that of those without a disability, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Build Back Better aims to prepare those with disabilities for the workforce by increasing investments in community college workforce programs, sector-based training and apprenticeships that directly train them for jobs.

It would also allocate around $300 million to fund five-year grants to states to assist entities with transitioning from paying subminimum wages to competitive wages in an integrated environment, Basile said.

"These grants would require that workers with disabilities be paid no less than other workers performing similar work, and in turn would help to incentivize states to end the practice of subminimum wages," he noted. "The grants would provide additional job-related supports to people with disabilities to find positions within the regular labor force."

Tips for HR Managers

Basile calls people with disabilities "natural problem-solvers," as many overcome life obstacles in creative ways. These problem-solving skills add great value to businesses that want to creatively tackle problems of all sizes.

"Workers with disabilities are always trying to give back and advocate for those who come to their aid and are on their side," Basile said.

However, he believes businesses need to become more educated about disability and inclusion. This takes a willingness to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including disability-friendly policies and trainings, which could also support recruitment and retention efforts.

"An organization's corporate responsibility is set by leadership," Basile said. "Leading by example through executives and managers has a ripple effect throughout the company."

Leadership should embrace change, seek advice from individuals with disabilities, incorporate respectful disability etiquette, and highlight progress and successes. Over time, disability inclusion naturally becomes integrated within company culture and is no longer a forced conversation.

"HR managers can play a powerful role in enforcing policy, training employees and hiring workers with disabilities," Basile said. "They can make sure that disability always has a seat at the table to be properly heard and respected."

These tips can help employers engage more effectively with employees on disability accommodation issues and avoid disability-related lawsuits.


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