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.

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