By Bridget O’Brien Swartz, CELA

As the 113th Congress gets down to business, it’s all about the budget. Given the limited tax hike that was approved in the early hours of 2013, the long-term sustainability of many social services remains an issue and cuts appear inevitable. The question is where they will fall. Although entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are exempt from the draconian measures threatened by sequestration, they will surely be the subject of heated discussion. Still, they constitute a political third rail, given the large constituencies dependent upon them. President Obama’s inaugural speech further suggests that he’s prepared to invest political capital in keeping much of the social safety net intact. Despite the foregoing, Medicare provider reimbursement rates will be cut by 2 percent, affecting quality of care and accessibility of services for the elderly and persons with special needs.

More likely budgetary targets are some of the less visible health care and social service programs upon which people with special needs depend. Unfortunately, many individuals with disabilities rely not only on the more obvious assistance programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but upon services for the indigent, as well. It’s been estimated, for instance, that potential cuts to housing assistance could affect 250,000 households, over half of which include individuals who are elderly or have a disability. Displaced individuals could then find it more difficult to access food stamps (now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). Other possible targets include:

  • the low-income subsidy for Medicare recipients who receive benefits surpassing the “catastrophic” level;
  • insurance premium subsidies covered under the Affordable Care Act; and
  • federal funds to the states for vocational rehabilitation programs, community health centers and special education.

Each cut would have a ripple effect, causing further deterioration in the quality of life for individuals with special needs.

On April 16, during the course of the Special Needs Alliance’s spring meeting in Washington, D.C., members will visit their U.S. Senators and Representatives to emphasize the important role that government programs play in the lives of children and adults with disabilities. This is a critical time for those who advocate for people with special needs to connect with leaders they have elected and their staff members. The SNA hopes to become a resource for legislators, sharing insights concerning the needs of the families we serve, a large and vulnerable population that could be imperiled by uninformed changes to critical social services.