As part of its work with the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), ANCOR joined a letter to key House committee leaders requesting funding in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget for Assistive Technology Act Programs. While legislation for the COVID-19 outbreak has thrown normal congressional budget processes off-course, Congress is still working on a budget for the next fiscal year. As such, this is a timely moment for the disability community to highlight underfunded assistive technology programs. As explained in the letter:
“When the Assistive Technology Act was reauthorized by the Congress in 2004, Statewide AT Programs became responsible for providing more services that bring assistive technology directly into the hands of those who need it. AT Act Programs are required to operate statewide programs that are available for persons with all types of disabilities, all ages, in all environments (education, employment, community living and information technology). State programs are required to provide a continuum of services that increase awareness of and access to assistive technology, including state financing activities (such as financial loans, cooperative buy, funds of last resort, etc.), device reutilization (including recycling, repair, refurbishment and device exchange), device loan/borrowing and device demonstration services. These state level activities are provided in addition to previously required activities including information and assistance, training, technical assistance, and coordination and collaboration. While individuals with disabilities, their families and guardians are the primary beneficiaries of services, the AT Act requires Statewide AT Act Programs to provide a wide range of services and supports to other stakeholders such as educators, employers, health care providers, rehabilitation providers, and technology experts including web designers, procurement officials and AT manufacturers and vendors. While the 2004 amendments to the AT Act have had a positive effect by improving the consistency and availability of a continuum of services nationally, it is unfortunate that the increased requirement to implement seven, rather than four, activities has not been met with the full amount of resources needed to meet the intent of the law.
The nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy for Assistive Technology (PAAT) programs in every state and territory has been similarly under-funded, with 31 P&As receiving a minimum allotment of just $50,000 and territories receiving $30,000. Larger states such as Pennsylvania ($153,398), Georgia ($124,934), Florida ($251,373), and Ohio ($139,659) receive insufficient funding when compared to their populations. The PAAT programs use these very limited funds to provide needed advocacy services to children and adults with disabilities. Every PAAT program conducts trainings and works with families, medical providers, schools, employers, and communities to ensure that individuals have access to the assistive technology they need. Given the current level of demand experienced by P&A agencies — as well as the heightened demand for the assistive technology needs of returning wounded veterans and an aging population – reaching the level of fully funding the AT Act is needed.”