NCD in an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress to enhance the quality of life for all Americans with disabilities and their families.
By the time you read this, we should know whether the United States Congress and President Barack Obama have developed a compromise plan to avoid a government shutdown and continue programs and services uninterrupted. Such a compromise may cover a short period or extend through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2011).
As Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD), I profoundly regret that a government shutdown is even a serious prospect. The failure to prevent such a shutdown is, in fact, irresponsible. I am all too aware of the sweeping impact that a government shutdown would present for our nation, and particularly people with disabilities. While Congress will eventually reach an agreement, it appears that the ideological chasm may be too wide to reach an agreement today. Ironically, our leaders seem to agree that a shutdown would have a profoundly negative impact on our nation and economy. Likewise these same leaders seem to agree that the longer a shutdown lasts, the more harm will be done.
Make no mistake. This is not a simple question of whether Washington D.C. bureaucrats keep working. The federal government is not neatly isolated from the rest of our economy but rather is inescapably intertwined with the healthy functioning of our economy. Not just federal employees across the country but also federal contractors depend on the continued functioning of the federal government. Hundreds of thousands of people may be temporarily put out of work, including countless people with disabilities, and they may or may not be reimbursed for their forced unemployment. These people are our family, our neighbors, and our friends.
In addition, while access to Medicaid and Medicare services and income support through Social Security and Supplemental Security Income will continue during a shutdown, the Social Security Administration has indicated they will not be able to provide its full range of services because of a reduction in hours of operation and a limitation of services offered. There can be no doubt that the effects of these reductions and limitations will be felt by scores of people with disabilities who rely upon SSA services to continue to live independently in their communities. Consequences such as these are unacceptable even though they are now a very real possibility.
Irrespective of Congress’s actions before midnight tonight, it is now clear that we are approaching a crossroads, or perhaps series of crossroads, that present fundamental choices about the purpose and scope of government in the United States—not just the federal government, but all levels of government. We do not need to make any final judgments about the best path forward to appreciate the gravity of these choices. We can all agree that our current course is unsustainable. We must work diligently, passionately, and respectfully to evaluate how best to restore prosperity while fulfilling our nation’s commitment to all citizens, including the declarations of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.
The only path forward on this year’s budget as well as future budgets is one that is based on pragmatic decisions and reasonable compromise. We need to understand the full impact of alternatives on people with disabilities—not just in terms of direct impact on disability-specific programs but also in enumerable indirect impacts that affect living, learning and earning. Unfortunately, ideology appears to be winning the day and thereby preventing responsible action.
Like all federal agencies, NCD faces extraordinary uncertainty in the days ahead. However, we have been actively planning to play a significant role in the budget-related debates. Our efforts will continue in earnest to the maximum extent possible in this environment. Among other things, we are well along in beginning to exercise NCD’s statutory authority to hold hearings regarding the potential real-life impacts on people with disabilities of the ongoing budget debates.
NCD is a small agency with an oversized mission. We have ambitious plans but know that they cannot be implemented without broad-based support and participation from our friends. Our ability to communicate will be dramatically impaired in the event of a shutdown. Nevertheless, on behalf of the entire National Council on Disability, we look forward to working with you in the difficult days ahead.
Jonathan M. Young, J.D., Ph.D.
Chairman, National Council on Disability
1331 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004