A recent trip to advocate before Congress members on Capitol Hill was a first for me. Here’s a quick firsthand account of my experience.
This opportunity was provided by ANCOR’s annual Policy Summit & Hill Day—an event that reached its 250-seat capacity and sold out. The attendees from across the nation were made up mostly of human service providers, regional advocacy groups, and ANCOR’s National Partners like Arlington Heritage Group.
The Policy Summit’s agenda was packed with well-informed speakers; including Rachel Patterson from the White House Domestic Policy Council, Jake Sherman from Punchbowl News, a bipartisan panel including Seth Gold, Marielle Kress, Stuart Portman & Rick Van Buren, as well as ANCOR’s own panel of Elise Aguilar, Noah Block and Lydia Dawson discussing federal rulemaking.
Each speaker provided their experience and offered real insight into the current political environment and I/DD issues. They each took questions and comments from the Summit’s attendees in a free exchange on how best to advocate for disability services.
Along with the Summit’s useful information, attendees received materials with specific information on current bills in circulation that our collective advocacy group would use for lobbying on Capitol Hill during Hill Day. ANCOR divided our force of 250 into smaller groups by state to lobby with its specific state’s legislators.
The morning of Hill Day, we all gathered at 7 am to fortify ourselves with breakfast, moved to a group setting for last-minute instruction, then our groups went to the Hill to lobby for bills that, if passed, would greatly help the I/DD community:
S. 100 / H.R. 547 – Congress must invest in Medicaid-funded home and community-based services (HCBS), including increasing the federal match to allow states to address HCBS payment rates to promote recruitment and retention of direct support workers.
S. 1298 / H.R. 4720 – Congress should enact legislation that would authorize federal grant programs to support the training and advancement of direct care workers, including direct support professionals (DSPs).
S. 1332 / H.R. 2941 – The need for a federal standard occupational classification (SOC) for DSPs. Congress should support the creation of a SOC for DSPs, which would ensure accurate data collection and help policymakers address the workforce crisis.
As a collective group, we requested support for these bills from all members of Congress. We also spoke with legislators about the U.S. Department of Labor’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking on overtime exemptions. We advocated for assistance in retooling the rule and helping with Medicaid reimbursement rates, to bring them to a level that can sufficiently support our I/DD system of services.
It has been profound for me to watch DSPs, mission-based individuals whose first choice of employment has been to care for others, be forced to make a different choice for work. Watching many in the direct support workforce make the choice to leave the I/DD community to obtain work in entry-level jobs in places such as food service and retail, it amazes me that a worker can make more money at a fast food restaurant than can be earned by taking care of our most vulnerable population.
On Hill Day, we lobbied for increased funding for workforce initiatives, the creation of a standard occupational classification for direct support professionals (DSPs), and the support for career pipeline programs for DSPs. I am hopeful that our collective work made and will continue to make a difference.