Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As I’m writing now, everyone’s attention is on the Senate bill to rewrite Obamacare and potentially reshape Medicaid.  It’s easy to get totally absorbed by what’s happening at the national level, but today I ask you to take a moment to note some hopeful signs on the local horizon.

I attended the June 15 hearing on B22-0154, the “Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act,” and testified along with other passionate advocates in favor of the bill.  Here is my own testimony, along with testimony by Andy Reese and a few others:  The overwhelming majority of people testifying were in favor, but there was also heartfelt testimony from family members and lawyers who feel the civil commitment system is working for them.  What’s important to remember is those already under court commitment will not be prevented in any way from continuing to receive services in this way – so hopefully those opposing the bill will reconsider and let the rest of us move forward with this important legislation.

Councilmember Nadeau, chair of the human services committee, seemed fairly persuaded from the outset to favor the legislation.  Her perspective was gratifying, and she had obviously done her homework.  The only other councilmember who attended in person was Robert White (at-large), and while he was initially teetering, after the hearing he seemed to be tipping in favor, as did David Grosso, the other at-large member.  They have some specific concerns that could slow or threaten the bill’s progress though – more on that below.  And as for Brandon Todd (Ward 4) and Trayon White Jr. (Ward 8), I for one have no idea where they come out – when I wrote after the hearing, Todd’s staffer was noncommittal and Trayon White’s staff didn’t answer my email. 

Even the three committee members who seem favorable toward the bill have concerns that the current safeguards – Medicaid oversight bodies, local organizations such as Quality Trust and University Legal Services, and DDS’s customer services hotline – are not adequate to ensure that people have recourse when they believe their supports are falling short.  Many would agree that a more robust grievance process is desirable, although there are legitimate worries that the price tag associated with setting up such a process as part of this bill could slow down committee action, or even cause some councilmembers to oppose B22-0154 for budgetary reasons.  Advocates for the bill are hopeful that the committee could agree to establishing a timeline for setting up a grievance process in DDS, rather than stopping to negotiate the structure and price tag for a grievance system, so that the bill can move forward.

I’ll keep you posted on the bill’s progress.  In the meantime, PLEASE REACH OUT TO THE AT-LARGE MEMBERS OR TO NADEAU, TRAYON WHITE OR BRANDON TODD IF YOU’RE IN THEIR WARDS.  We need to move into the 21st century of disability rights in D.C., then get ready to help extend those rights to others who do not currently qualify for supports.  You can make a difference, now, by letting the council hear from you on this bill.

It’s harder, of course, for those of us in D.C. to affect the national debate on health care and Medicaid, since we have no direct representation at the national level.  But what you can do is contact anyone you know in the fifty states and urge them to write or call their senators over the 4th of July break.  Tell them that they need to do the right thing and keep Medicaid intact, for our community and for all Americans in need of that safety net.  We’re all in this together, and our country must not lose sight of this essential fact.

Before closing, a shout-out to Omonigho Ufomata, who has been such a diligent and responsive member on the DDS/SODA staff (see Acronyms you Should Know page!).  Best of luck to her as she moves on to the D.C. Department of Health.

And finally, we all need a party – especially a party in a great, great cause.  The Quality Trust ( is holding its annual gala and marking its 15th anniversary on July 15th at the Renaissance Hotel downtown.  It will be quite a bash, with some very special guests, and landlubbers will enjoy our new off-the-water venue.  Incidentally, the Quality Trust board (on which I serve) has added six new members over the course of the past year, and the organization is taking on ever more important responsibilities now that the Evans lawsuit has closed out.  Come help celebrate the successes of our local disability community and dedicate ourselves to the battles ahead!  I look forward to seeing you there – contact Phyllis Holton (Phyllis Holton ( or Courtney Clark ( for tickets and information.

Friday, June 9, 2017

No Overnight Successes

You’ll recall that I wrote at length last year about bill B-21-0385, the “Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act.”  (Enter “B21-0385” in the “Search This Blog” box to the right to read my past blog posts on this subject.)  Last year a scheduled hearing was postponed due to “Snowzilla,” and the committee chair, Yvette Alexander, never rescheduled that hearing.  Now she no longer is on the council. (Maybe there’s a relationship there?)

Well, there’s a new committee focused on human services, and it’s chaired by councilmember Brianne Nadeau.  NOW SHE NEEDS TO HEAR FROM YOU, and so do the other committee members!  (See the new page I’ve added to the right, entitled “D.C. Council Human Services Committee” – it will come in handy!)  Why do you need to contact them?  Because B21-0385 has been resubmitted as B22-0154, and there will be a hearing next Thursday, June 15, at 10 A.M. on the bill –  Testify in person if you can, at least submit written testimony if you can’t, and by all means write to the committee members, and to your own ward councilmember, to express support for this important bill.

If you’d like to learn more, the bill, here is the full bill - (if you get a pop-up window requesting a password, just close it and the bill will load).  Here too are some Frequently Asked Questions from the DDS website:  And again, the bill is B22-0154, the Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act.
Incidentally, I don’t much like the bill’s title either.  Honestly, when the city council first passed its 1978 bill to move people with disabilities in our city out of Forest Haven and into the community, they were ahead of their time, so “restoration” is maybe a little extreme.  But without question times have changed, the system is way out of date, and disability advocates in our city and throughout the country are working hard to get the courts out of their business so people can take their lives into their own hands.

I know, I know.  Some of you reading this like the current system.  But look.  There are only a little over 700 people still under so-called “civil commitment” in D.C., and the bill gives every one of them the right to maintain that status if they like their lawyer and don’t want to change.  In fact, the bill as resubmitted makes it even easier for those who are under civil commitment to remain under that system if they want to (and also clarifies that having a supported decision maker doesn’t prevent a person from designating someone to have medical and general powers of attorney as well, an issue dear to my heart).  So please, I implore the lawyers and others who have come to rely on the civil commitment system, by all means keep it for yourselves but don’t stand in the way of further progress in our city by opposing this bill.  Have what you want, but don’t force everyone to do the same.  That’s not fair.

And to the rest of you – the majority of my readers, I hope.  This is about rights, and progress, for those with disabilities in D.C. and their family members, friends and other supporters:  even if you wrote the council last year about the earlier version of the bill, WRITE AGAIN.  The time is now to get the hearing scheduled.  It won’t take you long.  And you can – please, we must – make a real difference.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Good News

To quickly follow up on my last blog post:  Having written myself (as I know you did!) to the members of the D.C. council’s Committee on Human Services to urge them to restore cuts they had made to the DDS budget for FY 2018, I was elated to receive an email from committee chair Brianne Nadeau letting me know that those cuts had been restored!  Advocacy works!

But as I also pointed out in my last post, we need to create good news at the national level too, and that’s a harder slog  On June 6 at 11:30 beside the Capitol, there will be a rally by disability organizations - - urging the Senate to save Medicaid as it develops its own legislation in response to the devastating AHCA bill in the House of Representatives (  If you can possibly make it on June 6 for one hour out of your day, this is an important time to turn out!

I also want to make sure folks are aware that the Quality Trust’s 15th anniversary  gala will take place on July 15 at the downtown Renaissance Hotel.  Save the date! and contact Courtney Clark at or 202-459-4013 for more information.