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Why Bernie Sanders' Disability Proposal Is Revolutionary

“It’s time for us to acknowledge that disability rights are civil rights,” proclaimed Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in his newly-released disability rights proposal. “A society that does not center the voices and needs of people with disabilities has yet to fulfill its most basic obligations.” In his much-awaited plan, entitled Fighting for Disability Rights, Sanders proposes revolutionary policies that will free disabled people from the shackles of the American system, which has too often treated us as third-class citizens.

Outdoing his rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders will increase and index the Supplemental Security Income benefit level to 125 percent of the federal poverty line. This proposal finally sends the message to those of us with disabilities that if we cannot work, we do not deserve to live in poverty. In other words, disabled people have intrinsic economic value to society, beyond what we are able to earn in the labor market. After centuries of injustice, America will finally fulfill the promise that all disabled people are worthy of the pursuit of happiness, for which economic security is a precondition.

Furthermore, Sanders will do away with the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits cliff, raising the Substantial Gainful Activity threshold to 250 percent of the poverty level. That way, before disabled people are jettisoned from the Social Security rolls for working, the government must first ensure we earn over double the federal poverty level. As it stands right now, blind adults may make $2,110 a month, and those with other disabilities may earn $1,260, effectively creating a system where disabled people are disincentivized from working and forced to choose between our benefits and having any gainful employment. This will change under a President Bernie Sanders; simply put, disabled people will no longer have to take a vow of poverty.

Sanders’ plan will also make the SSI marriage penalty a relic of an oppressive past. The status quo means that disabled people on Supplemental Security Income are effectively barred from an institution that is fundamental to American society, namely, marriage. If disabled people enter into conjugal bonds, then our assets are pooled together, meaning we lose our paltry SSI benefits. One does not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to comprehend how the marriage penalty is a systemic injustice. President Bernie Sanders will end a discriminatory policy that has deprived disabled people of rights and privileges our abled brethren take for granted.

Equally important, Bernie Sanders will ensure that the days of disabled people spending as much as 50 percent of our meager incomes on housing — if we are even housed at all — are over. To this end, a Sanders administration will oversee the construction of 10 million new permanently affordable and fully accessible homes. He will also fully fund “Section 8” Housing Choice Vouchers, and implement laws preventing landlords from discriminating based upon the source of tenants’ incomes. Moreover, the Sanders plan promises $70 billion to repair and modernize existing public housing, which will do worlds to help disabled people, too many of whom have not realized the ideal of housing being a human right.

In a Sanders administration, healthcare is another area where disabled people can expect radical change. Any plan must address the needs of people with disabilities who often require long-term care and support services, and the Vermont Senator does just this in his disability justice proposal. Gone will be the asset and income restrictions that have forced so many of us to impoverish ourselves to receive the care and supports we need to remain in the community. Such home and community-based services will be administered to any disabled person who is unable to perform one or more Activities of Daily Living, and we will be allowed to manage our own care team. This plan is a boon to disabled autonomy and independence, in a society where too many see institutions as a palatable alternative to our civil rights under Olmstead.

In addition to home care, the Sanders plan addresses many of the other healthcare needs disabled people face. Sanders will cap prescription drug costs at $200 a year, which means we won’t have to choose between paying for our prescriptions and affording our food and rent. Furthermore, mental healthcare will be free at the point of service, without the costly co-pays and deductibles that keep so many of us with behavioral health conditions from seeking treatment. Also, the one in six Americans who deal with chronic pain will have access to medications, including opioids where appropriate. Discrimination in healthcare, a problem that is de rigueur for many of us with disabilities, is another area Sanders targets. All told, the plan promises to fundamentally improve healthcare delivery in the United States.

By all measures, Bernie Sanders’ disability plan is the most progressive of any candidate in the U.S. presidential race. It will revolutionize so many areas of life for disabled people, including but not limited to civil rights, healthcare, criminal justice, social security, education, jobs and wages, transportation and emergency preparedness. He clearly listened to policy experts within the disability community, and has made it manifest that he values us enough to want us to be in charge of our own destinies. In tune with the needs and best interests of our community, as President, he will appoint a person with a disability to be Senior Advisor on Disability Policy on the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Sanders’ disability rights proposal truly embodies the spirit of our motto, “nothing about us without us.” For these reasons and more, I am proud as a disabled person to both volunteer and cast my primary ballot for Senator Bernie Sanders.