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Biden's infrastructure plan makes huge investment in people with disabilities

Posted at 10:58 AM, Apr 23, 2021

LITTLETON, Colo. — President Biden’s infrastructure plan has a price tag of more than $2 trillion, and while it will help with roads, expanding internet access, and other classic infrastructure needs, there’s much more to this proposal.

There is a $400 billion proposed investment in home and community-based services to help those with disabilities and the elderly. For families like Carol Meredith's, this could mean better care for those with disabilities and much less stress in keeping their family members healthy and safe.

“Ice skating was one of the things he’s always enjoyed,” said Carol Meredith of her son. “Alex is a wonderful man, he’s almost 37 years old. He qualifies as having an intellectual and developmental disability as well as autism and some mental health kinds of issues, so he requires 24/7 care."

With his caretaker P.J. Jordan, Alex can go out and do the things he loves, safely.

“We were doing it on our own for years, and it was exhausting and actually impossible,” said Meredith.

This family sat on the Medicaid caretaker waiting list for almost 18 years. They couldn’t afford the $100,000 plus per year cost for private care.

“It was scary every day. Literally, you were afraid every day that something bad was going to happen,” said Meredith. “Luckily, we made it through without any major injuries but it wasn’t a good life for him or any of us.”

Even with Medicaid, the government-provided support sometimes only provides care for an hour a day or a few hours per week. The rest of the time, family members are left to step in as caregivers.

“When we got off the waiting list and got the supports, it was doable. I mean, it’s still a house of cards and can fall apart at any moment,” said Meredith.

That’s why Meredith fought to improve caregiver access in her state and eventually took a job with The Arc, a Colorado group that advocates for people with disabilities. She successfully helped create legislation to get more families off the waiting list in Colorado and is hoping President Biden’s new infrastructure plan will bring the improvements enacted in Colorado nationwide.

“It’s a bipartisan issue. Everybody has and knows someone with an intellectual or developmental disability,” said Meredith.

Meredith hopes with the president’s new plan, more families will get off the waiting list and more caregivers will enter the workforce.

“I think it’s critically important because the long-term care system for everyone—for aging people like me and for people with intellectual disabilities—needs a good basic infrastructure upgrade,” said Meredith. “We don’t have enough staff. Turnover is too high.”

Biden’s plan invests in roads, bridges and broadband, but it also plans to invest $400 billion into raising wages for caregivers, getting families off caretaking waiting lists and expanding services for the elderly and those with disabilities.

“It’s a big plan; it’s not yet legislation of course,” said Ellen Jensby, the senior director of public policy and operations for Alliance in Colorado.

Jensby said better wages and benefits for caregivers will also help those with disabilities rely less on government services in the years ahead, eventually saving taxpayers money.

“These services are really the lynchpin for people with disabilities who otherwise and historically may have been segregated away from the community to live meaningful lives and participate the way the rest of us do,” said Jensby.

Jensby said this investment will also give caregivers a career to support a family, something that could help Alex’s caretaker, Jordan, a lot.

“I’ve been working for 20 months, but I haven’t gotten a raise," Jordan said. "Normally after six months or a year you can get a raise."

Her wages are set by Medicaid and cannot be negotiated, no matter the quality of her work. But, Jordan said, in the end, it isn’t about money. It’s about giving the best care to someone in need.

“After two weeks of being with him, he told his mother he loved me and he was happy,” said Jordan. “He’s like a son to me."

Their bond is an example of the positive impact that can only happen with the right help.

As this proposal is still legislation, not law, there is still no concrete plan for where the funding for the investments will come from. Critics believe the investment is too large and will fall too heavily onto taxpayers, but Jensby and Meredith believe this investment is critical, and critical right now.