This month marks the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. This was a landmark event for the disability rights movement, as it was the first federal legislation designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Before the ADA’s enactment, it was common for individuals with disabilities to be turned away from jobs, denied housing, and refused the same access to public and private spaces as the general public. While the ADA has bolstered civil rights for millions of individuals living with a disability, significant challenges remain to achieving an inclusive society. This is particularly true regarding income equality and food security for people with disabilities.
Even prior to COVID-19, compared with the national average, people with disabilities had higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes, more expensive medical costs, and higher rates of food insecurity and hunger. According to Census Bureau research, in food-insecure households that include an adult with a disability, about half are in the very low food security category.
COVID-19 has exacerbated long-standing financial and other stresses for families with people who live with disabilities. Unemployment rates increased with the onset of COVID-19. While jobless rates have decreased from peak highs, they are still above pre-pandemic levels. Disparities in unemployment rates for workers with disabilities compared to workers without disabilities have remained stark: 7.8 percent versus 3.8 percent in January 2020; 18.9 percent versus 14.3 percent in April 2020; and 12.5 percent versus 7.5 percent in September 2020.
Disruptions in services during COVID-19 have taken a toll. Parents of young children with disabilities have been more anxious during COVID-19, according to Urban Institute analysis of survey research.
The National Disability Institute has set up a Financial Resilience Center, which provides information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Tax Credit, and many other resources to “help those with disabilities and chronic health conditions navigate financially through the COVID-19 crisis.”
SNAP is making a difference. One in 5 SNAP households has a person with a disability. Temporary boosts to SNAP benefits have increased the per person per day average SNAP benefit from $4 pre-COVID-19 to $7 in April 2021. As we celebrate the ADA’s anniversary, our nation should double down on measures that mitigate hardship and promote a robust, equitable, and inclusive economic recovery that includes people with disabilities.
For SNAP, those include extending SNAP benefit boosts for the duration of the economic crisis and beyond; improving SNAP access for people with disabilities; and conducting outreach and application assistance to get benefits to more eligible households with persons with disabilities.
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