Advocating with and on behalf of people with disabilities is a key Federation priority. In Washington, DC, we are a leading voice calling for groundbreaking policy decisions that drastically improve quality of life and opportunity for people with disabilities, their families and their support networks.
Each February during Jewish Disability and Inclusion Awareness Month, Jewish Federations partner with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to organize Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) on behalf of the Jewish Disability Network. Empowering and training people to become effective advocates builds community capacity and creates an environment for change.
This year, our group met with passionate advocates on Capitol Hill who are leading and shaping America's disability policies, with a focus on employment and increasing resources and support for family caregivers. These topics are timely: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 80% of people with disabilities are not in the work force, as opposed to about 30% of people without disabilities. The Center for American Progress reports that the poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities is nearly two and a half times higher than that for people without disabilities.
We heard about the latest legislation and the future of disability policy from leaders like Maria Town, associate public director of the Office of Public Engagement; Jennifer Sheehy, acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy; Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO & president of RespectAbility; and Genie Cohen, CEO of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services. We met with several members of Congress, including Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Congressional Disability Caucus Co-Chairs Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Gregg Harper (R-MS), to express our support for caregivers and legislation to promote competitive integrated employment for persons with disabilities. Finally, we held individual meetings with more than 40 members of Congress and their staff to advance our agenda.
JDAD is the latest in Federations’ long history of disability advocacy. We were a major force behind the enactment of the ABLE Act in 2014, the most important disability legislation to pass Congress since the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago. The law permits millions with disabilities to create tax-free savings accounts for qualified expenses such as medical, post-secondary education, housing, and transportation, without having to forfeit life-saving Social Security and Medicare benefits.
We’ve accomplished so much, but there’s still much to do. We’ll never stop working on behalf of and with our communities, and for everyone who will benefit from these important policy changes.