The Arc Applauds Appointment of Disability Champion Tom Perez as U.S. Secretary of Labor

Washington, DC – The Arc, the largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), applauds President Obama’s nomination of Tom Perez, the current head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, as the next U.S. Secretary of Labor.

“Tom Perez has been a champion for people with disabilities throughout his career, and we are pleased that he has been nominated for a post that plays a critical role in employment for people whom The Arc represents.  We are thrilled that he steps into this important position with a wide breadth of knowledge regarding people with I/DD, and we look forward to his confirmation and to working with him in his new role,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In 2012, The Arc and the five other disability organizations that host the annual Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, DC presented Perez with their prestigious Leadership in Disability Policy Award for his aggressive enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s “integration mandate” and the Olmstead decision.  Just since 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been involved in several cases that will result in major transformations of states’ delivery of long term services and supports to people with disabilities.  In each of these cases, people with disabilities were living in segregated settings or at risk of being institutionalized while they could be living in more integrated community settings.  Due to Perez’s tireless work, thousands of people with disabilities will be able to leave institutional settings or avoid ever having to enter an institution, and will be able to participate more fully in their communities.

“Tom Perez has set a high bar at the Department of Justice for the enforcement of the laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities to be a part of their community.  We appreciate his tremendous efforts and look forward to working with him at the Department of Labor to further the employment of people with disabilities,” said Berns.

The Arc at the Table with President Obama to Discuss Tax Cuts for the Middle Class, Budget and Medicaid

Washington, DC- Today, The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns participated in a small meeting with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior economic advisors about the President’s goal to stop middle class tax increases and to raise revenues to help invest in the nation and reduce the deficit.  The discussion centered on the urgency of passing a plan to avert raising taxes on the middle class and to raise revenues to finance the federal government without allowing drastic cuts to programs that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and other vulnerable groups rely on, like education, housing and employment.  These cuts are scheduled to take place on January 1, 2013, along with the expiration of a variety of tax provisions.  Without a deal this year, The Arc is very concerned about the future of Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, along with Social Security and Medicare.

“I think everyone agrees that raising taxes on the middle class will hurt families, and that it would be particularly troubling to those that have a loved one with I/DD.  These families report that they already don’t have the money they need for the care and support their loved ones need to live a decent life in the community. What will they do if they suddenly have a bigger tax bill come January 1st?”  Berns said.

“We welcome the President’s framework for generating revenue and protecting low income families,” Berns added.  “Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income, which are lifeline programs for people with disabilities, should not be at risk in these budget negotiations.  This approach from President Obama would help keep our nation’s commitment to people with disabilities.”

The Arc has been on the front lines of the recent budget battles to protect Medicaid, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare from cuts.  As the nation faces this January 1 deadline, known as the “fiscal cliff”, The Arc is urging Congress to restore the scheduled cuts in non-defense discretionary programs and find other ways – specifically through increasing revenues as included in President Obama’s plan – to move the nation forward.  This effort is critical to protecting the people that rely on Medicaid, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare from losing these critical services and supports.

“We can’t afford to not protect Medicaid.  Medicaid is the lifeline keeping people with disabilities from unfathomable alternatives – like being institutionalized and losing their independence – and preserving all that we have worked for as a nation over the last 60 years to bring people with disabilities out of the shadows and into society,” said Berns.

Berns was joined at the White House by Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK, Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Deepa Iyer, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Ben Jealous, NAACP, Marc Morial, National Urban League, Janet Murguia, National Council of La Raza, Barry Rand, AARP, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising.org, Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network, Aaron Smith, Young Invincibles, and Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners.

The Arc’s Peter V. Berns on the White House Blog

One thing I have learned in my 3 ½ years as CEO of The Arc is that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), their parents, siblings and family members are a passionate lot.   So when the White House invited us to bring in 150 of The Arc’s chapter leaders, including people with I/DD, I knew we would have an enthusiastic response.  Yet little did I expect the extraordinary energy that erupted when President Obama entered the room to speak to the group.  Our leaders from throughout the country were quick to their feet with a rousing welcome, rising again when the President concluded his remarks telling the disability community “I’ve got your back.”

– The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns pens a guest post for the The White House blog with thoughts on The Arc’s White House visit during the Community Leaders Briefing (which included a surprise visit from President Barack Obama).

In case you missed President’s Obama’s remarks, you can view them below:

The Arc Brings Issues Facing People with Disabilities to the White House, President Obama Tells Disability Community “I’ve Got Your Back”

Washington, DC – Today, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country met with a variety of senior White House officials at a Community Leaders Briefing to ask questions and discuss issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The session, held just for The Arc, included an unannounced visit from President Barack Obama. The President spoke of his commitment to people with disabilities saying, “I’ve got your back.”

This surprise appearance by the President of the United States was the highlight of the day for many attendees, along with the opportunity to interact with high level government officials about how they can support people with I/DD to live in the community. Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc were briefed on topics ranging from Medicaid to education to community living and employment for people with I/DD. Many of the speakers, including President Obama, referenced the impact advocates made during budget negotiations to protect Medicaid, and encouraged The Arc and others to continue these efforts.

Another unannounced speaker was White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who reiterated the President’s opposition to turning Medicaid into a block grant. He also took questions from the audience, including Barbara Coppens, a member of the national board of directors of The Arc and a self-advocate who took the opportunity to speak about the importance of self-advocacy by people with disabilities.

“I tell other self-advocates – you’ve got to get out there and advocate for yourself because you can’t rely on other people to make change for you,” said Coppens to Chief of Staff Jack Lew.

The day was organized by Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, who kicked off the agenda by welcoming guests and speaking about employment issues. The Arc heard from Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who spoke of their commitment to providing services and supports to all in need. Other speakers included Carol Galante, Acting Assistant Secretary – Federal Housing Administration Commissioner, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Robert Gordon, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget; and Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Department of Justice.

Assistant Attorney General Perez discussed the recent Department of Justice settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia regarding people with I/DD who live in any of its five institutions who could live in the community. He spoke about the bipartisan work going on across the country to implement the Olmstead decision, which states that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), unnecessarily institutionalizing a person with a disability who, with proper support, is capable of and who wants to live in the community can amount to discrimination.

After a tour of the East Wing of the White House, advocates from The Arc took part in policy breakout sessions that allowed for more detailed discussions on certain issue areas, like community living, family caregiving, education, and Medicaid. The purpose of these briefings was to allow White House and administration officials to engage in a dialogue with leaders of The Arc about how government policies affect the lives of people with I/DD and impact their ability to live full, independent lives. Given the Department of Education’s announcement yesterday to allow ten states waivers from some of the No Child Left Behind law requirements, the education session with Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, was incredibly timely, as were meetings with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Administration on Aging, and the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“This unique, face-to-face opportunity to speak directly to people in positions to make change from within the government allowed leaders of The Arc to make the voices of the millions of people with I/DD heard at the White House. Our network seized on this opportunity, and we left the White House feeling a sense of accomplishment and inspiration for continued advocacy that we will take back to our communities to help grow our movement,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

White House Community Leaders Briefing Gallery

A collection of photos from The Arc, taken at the White House for the Community Leaders Briefing February 10, 2012.

Tune in to see The Arc at the White House!

Television image

Tomorrow, 150 leaders of The Arc from across the country will attend a White House Community Leaders Briefing just for The Arc. Over the course of the day, leaders of chapters of The Arc , including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), will be briefed by high level White House and Administration officials on topics ranging from Medicaid to education to community living for people with I/DD, and have the chance to engage with and ask questions of these officials.

You are invited to tune in online. The opening session of the day will be streamed live, courtesy of The White House live feed at www.whitehouse.gov/live from 8:00 to 11:00 AM ET. Participants will also be live-tweeting from the event so feel free to join in by following the #AtTheWH hashtag on Twitter.

You can also share your thoughts by tweeting at @TheArcUS or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.

We hope you are able to tune in and watch this exciting opportunity for The Arc!

What Did Obama Say About the Budget Battle?

You may have read our CEO Peter V. Berns’ reaction to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday about the budget battle being waged at the Federal level. You know that we at The Arc are unwavering in our conviction that we must preserve the social safety net for the most vulnerable Americans, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We simply can’t balance the budget on the backs of individuals and families who need our support to meet the most basic needs of medical care, housing, employment and education opportunities, much less to meet their expectations that they be fully included and able to participate in their communities and in society. Now, you might want to read the full text of the President’s speech on the matter and judge for yourself where he falls on the subject. Tell us what you think. Is the President pursing the right path? Will he succeed against the opposition he faces in Congress?

Bullying in Schools Could Violate Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Department of Education issued guidance last week to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate federal education anti-discrimination laws. The guidance comes in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools, colleges and universities, explaining educators’ legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment. President Obama also recorded a message about the problem broadcast on YouTube.

The White House and Department of Education also announced next steps to address bullying and harassment in schools. Early next year, the White House will host a conference to raise awareness and equip young people, parents, educators, coaches and other community leaders with tools to prevent bullying and harassment. This conference will build upon efforts led by the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies to spark a dialogue on the ways in which communities can come together to prevent bullying and harassment.

“We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” said President Obama. “We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. Every single young person deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential, without having to worry about the constant threat of harassment.”

Following the release of today’s guidance, the Department plans to hold technical assistance workshops around the country in early 2011 to help educators better understand their obligations and the resources available to take prompt and effective steps that will end harassment and bullying in schools and on college campuses.

The Obama administration launched a Stop the Bullying Now campaign and www.bullyinginfo.org, a national database of effective anti-bullying programs. Read the “Dear Colleague” letter here or hear the President’s message here (or view it above).