NCD letter regarding REAADI for Disasters Act

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August 6, 2021

The Honorable Bob Casey
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable James Langevin
2077 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 2051

Dear Senator Casey and Representative Langevin:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), to thank you for introducing the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act (REAADI for Disasters Act) and to express NCD’s support for this critical piece of legislation. If enacted and implemented correctly, it has the potential to save countless number of lives of people with disabilities and seniors.

As a federal voice for people with disabilities in this country and in our territories, NCD has consistently made recommendations to federal policymakers to prioritize the lives of people with disabilities and ensure their well-being before, during and after disasters. In 2019, NCD examined the institutionalization of people with disabilities, as well as threats of institutionalization that were thwarted during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, María, Florence, and Michael, and the California wildfires.[1] To inform our recommendations, NCD engaged in direct communication with local and national disability and disaster stakeholders via teleconferences held at the height of disaster response and recovery, convened focus groups and interviews with key informants about institutionalization of people with disabilities during and after disasters, as well as analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration University Center on Excellence in Disabilities Residential Information Systems Project. In addition, NCD met with various stakeholders in visits to Houston and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and María.

Based on this data collection and analysis, NCD found that people with disabilities are frequently institutionalized during and after disasters due to conflicting federal guidance; a lack of equal access to emergency and disaster-related programs and services; and a lack of compliance with federal law by recipients of federal financial assistance. Our frustration grows when the mistakes that were made in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago are repeated every subsequent hurricane season resulting in preventable loss of life, needless institutionalization and avertable human misery for our most vulnerable citizens.

The REAADI for Disasters Act incorporates many of NCD’s prior long-term recommendations, and the most important of our prior recommendations – the deliberate and meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of emergency preparedness, disaster response and recovery. While the Act portends well for the near future, as we write this letter, we are seeing a surge of COVID–19 cases rising again throughout the country and yet again are learning of the disproportionate impact of the surge on people with disabilities and seniors residing in congregate living facilities and nursing homes. For any of the programs proposed in the Act to be meaningful, a critical examination of what has occurred and what continues to occur to people with disabilities and seniors must be had so we are able to interrupt the cycle of committing the same needless acts or omissions that put the lives of people with disabilities and seniors at risk.

For the reasons set forth above, NCD supports the passage of the REAADI for Disasters Act. We welcome an opportunity to meet with you and your staff to further discuss the immediate issues we address above affecting the disability community today.  

Most Respectfully,

Andrés J. Gallegos
Chairman

 


[1] National Council on Disability. Preserving Our Freedom: Ending Institutionalization of People with Disabilities During and After Disasters. (2019), https://ncd.gov/publications/2019/preserving-our-freedom. (Accessed July 23, 2021).