What does The American Rescue Plan Act do for our community?

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 17, 2021 # Advocacy and Policy

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law on March 11, 2021. While certain provisions in the $1.9 trillion relief bill have gotten a lot of attention since the President was inaugurated in January, such as the direct payments of $1,400 to individuals making less than $75,000 and couples making less than $150,000, or the plan to raise the federal minimum wage, which was ultimately dropped from the final package due to Senate rules, the bill includes many more provisions that could prove to have a more lasting impact on the paralysis and spinal cord injury (SCI) communities.Capital Building

Here are a few that we think are worth noting.

More Money for HCBS

First among these is the increase in funding for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, along with our dedicated advocates, have been calling on Congress to fund HCBS since the first COVID-19 relief bill passed in April 2020. In 2014, 53% of all Medicaid long-term care spending was on HCBS, money that ensured Americans could receive the care they need from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

Given the popularity of the program and its importance for maintaining quality of life for the paralysis and SCI communities, we applaud the one-year, 10% funding increase, roughly $12.6 billion, included in the American Rescue Plan Act. We also thank Senator's Bob Casey (PA) and Tammy Duckworth (IL) for their hard work and determination in ensuring these increases for HCBS.

The bill also offers a two-year, 5-point increase in the federal share of Medicaid across all services, including the HCBS programs, to encourage states that have previously opted out of Medicaid expansion to expand their programs now.

ACA Boost and COBRA Increase

Along with maintaining the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through September 6, 2021, the ARPA temporarily increases subsidies for those purchasing insurance through the ACA marketplace and covers 100% of COBRA health insurance programs for that same period.

COBRA is a program that allows people who have lost health benefits due to job loss or other life events, to keep their health insurance for a limited period. Previously, the government would cover just 85% of these costs.

More Money for IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 1990, to ensure children with disabilities have access to free public education that is tailored to their individual needs. The bill gives more than $3 billion to the Department of Education to fund grants to assist states in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, ages 3 through 21.

This includes money for technology (software, hardware, connectivity) that "aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors."

Child Tax Credit

The plan to increase the Child Tax Credit up to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 (and $3,600 for children under age 6) to low- and middle-income families for 1 year will, some experts say, cut child poverty in the United States in half.

Knowing that the highest rate of spinal cord injury happens between the ages 16 and 43, this provision could be an important lifeline to thousands of families as they begin adjusting to a child's injury.

Other Provisions

The American Rescue Plan Act also:

Sends $350 billion to the states, cities, and tribal governments to help shore up depleted budgets

Dedicates $50 billion for additional COVID-19 testing and contact tracing and $16 billion to fund vaccine distribution and supply chains

Delivers $80 million to VA for paid leave, covering, among other things, VA employees who must care for a family member with a disability

As vaccine distribution and immunization efforts ramp up, there is hope that we could all return to a sense of normalcy by the end of summer. When that time comes, it will be great to take our masks off and spend time together again, but it will also be the time when Americans everywhere begin to put their lives back together.

For the paralysis and SCI communities, that may mean catching up on missed appointments with healthcare providers, catching up with loved ones they haven't seen in a year, or getting children reacclimated to school. There will be more work to do when the pandemic ends, but the Foundation is hopeful that this bill's provisions will help make things easier. We look forward to working with our advocates, coalition partners and members of Congress to ensure the programs that work best are extended and the needs of our community are met.

To join us in that effort, sign up to become an advocate today.