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Highlighting Disability / Poverty Connection, NCD Urges Congress to Alter Federal Policies that Disadvantage People with Disabilities

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Press Release

October 26, 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY – The National Council on Disability (NCD) – a nonpartisan, independent federal agency comprised of presidential and congressional appointees – today releases an advisory report to Congress and the President on poverty and disability during its business meeting in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

NCD’s report addresses why people with disabilities are often destined to live in poverty and experience high unemployment despite existing federal regulations and public policies that were intended to improve their lives. The report asserts that the basic needs for people with disabilities go beyond what is covered in the official U.S. definition of poverty and that a new definition of poverty could help highlight the financial challenges facing people with disabilities and influence changes in policy. 

“At a time when many respected scholars and policymakers are announcing plans to combat poverty, NCD wanted to shine a light on the unique ways in which existing policies hold back people with disabilities from economic self-sufficiency so those barriers can be addressed in any plans moving forward,” said Clyde Terry, NCD Chairperson. “NCD focused on poverty in our report because it dramatically compounds the greatest areas of concern for people with disabilities.”

The NCD report focuses on seven factors that are crucial for enhancing the economic independence of people with disabilities – education, employment, financial assistance and incentives, health care, long-term services and supports, transportation, and housing – and offers recommendations to policymakers in each area.

Report Recommendations:

A small sampling of the report’s recommendations includes:

  • Congress should amend the Small Business Act to expand the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program to include people with disabilities as a presumed socially disadvantaged group.
  • Congress should decouple eligibility for health care benefits from eligibility for cash benefits like SSI and SSDI to prevent people with disabilities from being forced to choose between getting a job or having access to health care.
  • Medicaid reforms should safeguard access to home and community-based services waivers which are essential to promoting independent living, employment, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.

Quick Report Takes:

  • People with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. working-age population; however, they account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty.
  • More than 65 percent of the 17.9 million working-age adults with disabilities participate in at least one safety net or income support program.
  • Only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed compared with 73 percent of those without disabilities.
  • The median annual income for households receiving federal rental assistance from the three primary HUD programs is $13,500.
  • Students with disabilities often graduate from high school at rates nearly 20 percentage points lower than students without disabilities.
  • During the crucial time immediately after the onset of disability, when they may still have some attachment to the labor force, the current Social Security system encourages applicants not to work, which often leads to poverty.
  • Only 6 percent of federal transit funds are allocated to serve rural communities.
  • Currently, an estimated 228,600 people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and other significant disabilities work for subminimum wage.
  • 45 states offer a Medicaid Buy-in program for people with disabilities who do not qualify for Medicaid through SSI eligibility. From 2010 to 2011, the average earnings among Medicaid Buy-In enrollees were $9,135 per year.

Report: The NCD report on poverty and disability is available for download at:

About the National Council on Disability: First established as an advisory Council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the ADA in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting disability policy, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.


An official website of the National Council on Disability