COLUMBUS, Ohio (TMR) – Sen. Sherrod Brown and his Republican challenger, Josh Mandel, each appeared briefly at the National Forum on Disability Issues on Sept. 28 at the Hyatt Regency.
Brown was not originally scheduled to appear, so Ohio Rep. Nancy Garland spoke on his behalf to open the forum.
Mandel, the state treasurer, spoke for less than 10 minutes, and Brown arrived later for a similarly brief appearance.
The crowd seemed to appreciate their presence, since President Barack Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney did not attend the forum. Ted Kennedy Jr. and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers pinch-hit for them.
Mandel talked about his cousin, Allison, who has a mental disability. While Mandel has served two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq, “I never met anyone who inspired me more or had more toughness and heart.”
He said that as a candidate or Senator, he is accessible to the people.
“Call me or e-mail me anytime,” he invited the crowd at the forum and listening on the webcast. “With Allison, the guys I served with Iraq, and my mom and sister who have worked with autistic kids, this isn’t political, it’s personal. If there’s anything I can do, call me or e-mail me.”
Brown said the most important issues in this election are health care, education and economic security.
He called Medicaid “a safety net for people with disabilities that must be preserved” and opposed VP candidate Paul Ryan’s proposal to administrate Medicaid through block grants.
Brown also called the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) “one of the most important accomplishments of this generation” and that it would help patients to avoid running into lifetime caps and being denied insurance coverage due to a preexisting condition.
Brown also touched on Romney’s controversial “47 percent” comments.
“I think that betrays incredible ignorance,” he said. “Some people aren’t paying income tax only because they are only making $30,000 to $40,000 per year. Then there are those who aren’t working because they are staying home as caregivers. Those people aren’t slackers; they’re saints.”
Garland began her remarks by pointing out the success of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). She pointed out that her daughter, who is deaf, grew up to become a successful lawyer.
However, Garland noted that the federal government has never funded IDEA to the full 40 percent level that was intended when the act became law in the 1970s.
Garland told the crowd that Brown has worked for the disabled community by promoting the Ready Schools Act, which calls for the tracking of at-risk students’ progress, and the Achieving Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which allowed tax-deductible accounts to help people with disabilities to save for their needs.
Garland also noted that more progress is necessary.
“We have only 32 percent of the disabled population in the labor force, but we are working to finally turn corner bring more into labor force
We also need to reinstate the protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that have been eroded in case law. “We need to get the ADA back to where it was 21 years ago.”
Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno moderated the forum, and he asked Garland what she would ask Romney and Obama if she moderated their Oct. 3 debate.
“How are you going to ensure that people with disabilities will get what they need if you block-grant Medicaid?”
That was a popular topic during the forum, as was the “bias” toward institutional care, as opposed to home care, despite the fact that nursing homes costs an average of $74,000 per year vs. $17,000 per year for home care.
Garland and other speakers cited those statistics, as well as the 1 million jobs lost during the recession by members of the disabled community.
“Ms. Wheelchair Ohio” Angela Hunter attended the forum along with her counterparts from Michigan and Texas.
“I would have liked to hear more about employment opportunities since it’s such a big problem in this country, especially in the disabled community.”
Thanks to the Columbus Hyatt Regency for their courtesy and accommodations this weekend!