Disability Positions of Primary Candidates for President

vote imageNote: As candidates drop out of the race, their names will be struck through with a line.

As the 2020 election approaches, it is critical to pick candidates in both parties who will support the needs of children and adults with disabilities and complex medical conditions. Candidate health plans, education plans, home and community based services plans, and overall disability plans tell us a lot about how a candidate will — or will not — support the disability community in the coming years.

As in the previous presidential election, we will present the disability positions of the candidates currently running for president in a series of two articles. This article will focus more broadly on the positions of both Democratic and Republican primary candidates. We have included all 16 declared and registered candidates signified as “notable” by Ballotpedia, a non-profit collection of election-related resources. The second article on general election candidates, slated to appear in October, will outline in greater detail the positions of the chosen candidates for each of the major parties, including any viable third party candidates.

The primary sources of information for this article include:

Information is accurate as of January 20, 2020. As candidate websites evolve over time and some candidates may submit surveys late, some information may become outdated. We will attempt to update information as it becomes available.

Note that because of the large number of candidates, we have focused particularly on issues that affect children with complex medical conditions and disabilities. More fully comprehensive information on candidate approaches to disability rights and needs will be included in the general election article that is slated for publication in October.

Does the Candidate Address Disability?

An easy way to assess whether a candidate is engaged with the disability community is to see if the candidate has a disability section or plan on his/her website, or has filled out the surveys and questionnaires sent out by disability organizations. The table below summarizes this information. We’ve listed whether candidates have a specific disability section on their website — no matter how small or large — with links to each one. We’ve also listed whether or not they have filled out two major disability surveys or questionnaires. Because of ongoing issues with the AAPD/NCIL questionnaire links that make it impossible to determine candidate participation, we have not included that survey in this table.

Here is a summary of the information for those unable to access the table below:

Candidates who have disability platforms on their websites, all of whom are Democrats: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, and Yang.

Candidates who completed the DRCNH Survey, all of whom are Democrats: Bennet, Biden, Buttigieg, Delaney, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren, and Yang. Candidates who only completed the video portion were Patrick (Democrat) and Weld (Republican).

Candidates who completed the RespectAbility Questionnaire, all of whom are Democrats: Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, and Yang.


Table 1: Candidate Engagement with the Disability Community

Candidate Party Disability Platform on Website Completed DRCNH Survey Completed RespectAbility Questionnaire
Michael Bennet D No Yes No
Joe Biden D Yes Yes No
Michael Bloomberg D No No No
Pete Buttigieg D Yes Yes Yes
John Delaney D No Yes No
Tulsi Gabbard D No Yes No
Amy Klobuchar D Yes Yes Yes
Deval Patrick D No Video only No
Bernie Sanders D Yes Yes Yes
Tom Steyer D No Yes No
Elizabeth Warren D Yes Yes Yes
Andrew Yang D Yes Yes Yes
Roque De La Fuente R No No No
Donald Trump R No No No
Joe Walsh R No No No
Bill Weld R No Video only No

Candidate Support For Specific Issues or Legislation

Sometimes a good way to evaluate candidates is to take a look at their positions on issues related to disability. While there are many critical issues currently facing the disability community, we’ve chosen just two issues to serve as benchmarks: whether a candidate supports the Disability Integration Act, and whether the candidate plans to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at 40% or higher. Note that if a candidate does not address either issue on their website or in the disability surveys, that candidate is listed as “not addressed.” Some candidates listed as “not addressed” likely do support these policies, but their failure to discuss them gives us a sense of where their priorities lie.

The Disability Integration Act is a civil rights bill that requires individuals with disabilities to be offered home and community based services and supports, instead of forcing individuals to live in institutional settings. Support for this Act, indicated either directly by a candidate or by co-sponsoring the legislation, means a candidate is likely to support critical home and community based services and Medicaid waivers. Candidates who have expressed support for this Act are listed as “yes” in the table below, and those who have co-sponsored it are listed as “co-sponsor.” Note that only candidates who are currently elected to the House or Senate have the ability to be a co-sponsor.

IDEA is the main special education legislation governing the right to be educated for children with disabilities. The federal government is supposed to pay 40% of costs for special education; however, this amount has never been funded by the budget. Currently, only 14% of costs are being funded. Candidates who support fully funding IDEA as mandated, at 40% or higher, are listed as “yes” below.

For those unable to access the table, the following candidates, who are all Democrats, have expressed support for the Disability Integration Act: Bennet, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren, and Yang.

The following candidates, all of whom are Democrats, have expressed support for fully funding special education: Bennet, Biden, Buttigieg, Delaney, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren, and Yang. Gabbard has stated she would increase funding, but did not specify by how much.


Table 2: Candidate Support for the Disability Integration Act and Full Funding of Special Education (IDEA)

Candidate Party Disability Integration Act Fully Fund IDEA
Michael Bennet D Yes, co-sponsor Yes
Joe Biden D not addressed Yes
Michael Bloomberg D not addressed not addressed
Pete Buttigieg D Yes Yes
John Delaney D not addressed Yes
Tulsi Gabbard D Yes, co-sponsor Would increase funding
Amy Klobuchar D Yes, co-sponsor Yes
Deval Patrick D not addressed not addressed
Bernie Sanders D Yes, co-sponsor Yes
Tom Steyer D not addressed Yes
Elizabeth Warren D Yes, co-sponsor Yes
Andrew Yang D Yes Yes
Roque De La Fuente R not addressed not addressed
Donald Trump R not addressed not addressed
Joe Walsh R not addressed not addressed
Bill Weld R not addressed not addressed

Candidate Health Plans and Support for Home and Community Based Services

Most candidates have some form of health plan on their websites. In the listings below, we’ve listed the type of health plan as well as any plans for long term care and home and community based services (HCBS). Plans for home and community based services discussed in either candidate health plans or in candidate disability platforms are included.

Some candidate plans, like that of Bernie Sanders, are easy to categorize. Others are not. Many Democratic plans fall on a spectrum that encompasses some aspects of Medicare for All (single payer system) and some aspects of a public option. We’ve placed them in three general categories: Single Payer only (full Medicare for All), Public Option (building on the ACA by adding a public insurance option open to all), and Combination, which includes a public option and some aspects of Medicare for All. Republican candidates tend to have less comprehensive plans, so general descriptions have been provided.

The following Democratic candidates have no plan for home and community based services: Bloomberg, Delaney, Gabbard, Patrick, and Steyer. No Republicans have home and community based services plans.

Michael Bennet (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: Would “implement a long-term care strategy,” but no further details provided.

Joe Biden (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: Will “make sure…those on Medicaid who need long-term care [have] the flexibility to choose home- and community-based care.”

Michael Bloomberg (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: none

Pete Buttigieg (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: Plan would increase “Medicaid eligibility, eliminating Medicaid’s bias towards institutional care, ending Medicaid waiting lists, and permanently funding the Money Follows the Person program, which eliminates barriers that restrict using Medicaid funds for community-based care.”

John Delaney (D) – Combination

HCBS plan: none

Tulsi Gabbard (D) – Combination

HCBS plan: none

Amy Klobuchar (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: Plan includes tax credits for long term care, such as assistive technologies, respite, and home modifications. “Invest in and address shortages in our long-term care workforce,” and “address institutional bias in Medicaid to expand access to home and community-based services for people with disabilities.”

Deval Patrick (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: none

Bernie Sanders (D) – Single Payer

HCBS plan: Plan will “pass the Disability Integration Act, to establish a clear standard for the delivery of high-quality services endorsed by a broad cross-section of the disability community.” Under Medicare for All, people with disabilities, “will be entitled to receive home- and community-based services at a level necessary to ensure they can survive and thrive in the community. No asset and income restrictions will be placed on these services.” It will also allow “all people with disabilities…the right to convert their existing home- and community-based services into a self-directed model of service, where those receiving support may choose who provides them with assistance.” Respite care will become an entitlement, and the plan will “ensure that every family caregiver is able to receive compensation for their labor through self-directed services.”

Tom Steyer (D) – Public Option

HCBS plan: none

Elizabeth Warren (D) – Single Payer

HCBS plan: Plan will “improve critical elements of Medicaid’s long-term services and supports coverage, which states will continue to manage, including strengthening and expanding the MFP program.” Will “make home and community based services mandatory under Medicare for All, [and] better standardize these benefits across states and eliminate LTSS asset test.” Plan will also “end the bias towards institutional care and guarantee seniors and those with disabilities the right to home and community-based services.” Finally, there will be “increased funding for direct support, home health services, and financial support for those who currently provide home care for loved ones with disabilities without reimbursement.”

Andrew Yang (D) – Combination

HCBS plan: Plan will “ensure healthcare covers preventative care services for people with disabilities like assistive mobility devices, hearing aids, adequate catheters, and sufficient physical therapy visits to prevent further secondary conditions.”

Roque De La Fuente (R) – Minor reforms to current system

HCBS plan: none

Donald Trump (R) – Repeal ACA and block granting Medicaid

HCBS plan: none

Joe Walsh (R) – No Plan

HCBS plan: none

Bill Weld (R) – Amend ACA

HCBS plan: none

Evaluating Disability Plans

This year, for the first time, six candidates — all Democrats — have actually created disability platforms beyond the usual couple of platitudes we have seen in the past. We now have the ability to compare platforms for a number of the leading candidates. Candidates with plans are listed below in alphabetical order.

Biden’s Disability Platform

Biden’s platform is not particularly detailed; however, it has been gradually expanded over the month of January from three sentences to its current four sections, with much of the information pulled from other parts of his website. It addresses special education, health care (particularly Medicare), long term care, and disability and the criminal justice system. Most interesting is his section on long term care, where he commits to helping individuals who have been negatively affected by for-profit Medicaid managed care plans. Overall, the platform is positive for people with disabilities, but it lacks detail and fails to address a number of critical issues, such as the Disability Integration Act.

Buttigieg’s Disability Platform

Buttigieg’s platform must be commended for its comprehensive nature, including sections on employment, education, civil/voting rights, social security, long term care, accessible transportation, health care, mental health, housing and disaster preparedness, inclusive technology, and global leadership. Most importantly, it is introduced and suffused with a philosophical sense that he truly values people with disabilities, creating a fully realized plan of inclusion and access. For example, he commits to increasing federal contracts with disability-owned businesses, would require 100% of transportation projects to be accessible, and aims for 85% inclusion of students in schools. He also addresses issues rarely acknowledged, such as accessibility in aircraft. His long term care plan is particularly important for families, as he would eliminate Medicaid waiver waiting lists and increase pay for home care.

Klobuchar’s Disability Platform

Klobuchar’s platform is also comprehensive, but lacks the over-arching sense of value and inclusion seen in several other plans. This is clearly a platform of policies rather than a philosophical approach to disability rights. Nonetheless, it includes many excellent proposals on health care, long term care, mental health, assistive technology, special education, economic opportunity, accessible housing and transit, civil rights, voting, and the criminal justice system. Her proposals for long term care are notable, and include removing institutional bias, providing tax credits for home and community based services, improving the wages and conditions of home care workers, and improving access to assistive technology. For families with young children, her plan to expand access to preschool and day care for children with disabilities is especially helpful. Finally, her commitment to robustly enforce disability rights laws is admirable.

Sanders’ Disability Platform

Sanders’ platform was late to arrive, not being released until 1/31, but it was worth the wait. His platform sets the correct tone, creating a National Office of Disability Coordination and appointing a person with a disability to the Domestic Policy Council. His comprehensive plan addresses civil rights, community living, long term services and supports, home care workforce, caregivers, healthcare, criminal justice, social security, education, jobs and living wages, housing, transportation, research, emergency preparedness, voting rights, parenting, and immigration. He also attacks several major concerns with current Medicaid programs, such as rejecting for-profit managed care companies in Medicaid, and requiring states who request novel Medicaid demonstration programs (1115 waivers) to eliminate wait lists in their states. His education plans are robust from early childhood through college and employment. His plan includes several provisions that caregivers will welcome, including a guarantee for paid family caregiving and making respite an entitlement for all people with disabilities.

Warren’s Disability Platform

Warren’s platform definitely sets the right tone, with an introduction focused on disability rights advocates and a plan to create a National Office of Disability Coordination. Her extremely comprehensive plan includes sections on employment and economic security, social security, early intervention, special education, higher education, assistive technology, criminal justice, voting, immigrants with disabilities, housing, transportation, preparedness, health care, long term care, and global disability rights. Her plan for early intervention and access to child care will be widely embraced by parents of young children with disabilities, and her detailed education plans through the college level are equally valuable. Her plan guarantees the right to community based care, regardless of income or assets, and would improve wages and conditions for home care workers.

Yang’s Disability Platform

Yang’s platform is short and general, and seems rather haphazard in the topics it addresses. It almost exclusively focuses on access to health care, particularly for children. It remains more a litany of the problems that people with disabilities face, rather than a set of solutions to address them. He does provide more detail to some degree in his RespectAbility Questionnaire; however, this information is not presented on his website. Note that Yang earlier published a disability plan for children focused on early intervention and special education, and while the page is still available, it is no longer linked to his website.

Wrapping it All Up

We hope the information in this article has been helpful in making your voting decisions for the primary election. While Complex Child does not endorse any candidate, we do want to make special mention of candidates that checked all our boxes, and also of those who checked none of our boxes. Our “boxes” include:

  1. Having a disability platform or page on the candidate website
  2. Filling out the DRCNH Survey or Video
  3. Filling out the RespectAbility Questionnaire
  4. Supporting the Disability Integration Act
  5. Supporting full funding of Special Education (IDEA)
  6. Home and Community Based Services plan on website

Candidates who checked ALL six boxes are: Buttigieg (D), Klobuchar (D), Sanders (D), Warren (D), and Yang (D).

Candidates who checked 4/6 boxes are: Bennet (D) and Biden (D)

Candidates who checked 2/6 boxes are: Delaney (D), Gabbard (D), and Steyer (D)

Candidates who checked 1/6 boxes are: Patrick (D) and Weld (R)

Candidates who checked ZERO boxes are: Bloomberg (D), De La Fuente (R), Trump (R), and Walsh (R)

Author: Susan Agrawal • Date: 1/21/2020
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