I was enthralled, honored and proud to be part of the historic ceremony for all people with disabilities once prevented from seeking employment. I was invited by the White House to witness the Presidential signing ceremony of the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999. The Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 is intended to remove barriers to the employment of people with disabilities, by allowing people to work, without having to give up their healthcare benefits. It was so moving to see President Clinton sign this piece of legislation at the majestic Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
President Franklin Roosevelt will always be heralded as one of the greatest Presidents in history. He led the United States to victory in World War II as we fought against the greatest atrocity of the twentieth century - The Holocaust. FDR was a great President and a great leader who attempted to hide his disability. Due to the ignorance during his time, FDR hid the fact that he was seated in a wheelchair; one of the greatest Presidents of all time had a disability.
The Work Incentives Improvement Act will for the first time, allow a person on SSI or SSDI to accept employment and not be forced to give up Medicare or Medicaid. This act allows SSI/SSDI beneficiaries to obtain the employment, training and supports they need to work. As persons leave SSI/SSDI for work, they will receive extended healthcare coverage and employment supports, rather than penalizing them by withdrawing all support.
As President Clinton stated at the ceremony, "For many Americans with disabilities, medical bills, . . . may cost thousands more than what is typically covered by an employee's private health insurance. For some, . . . those medical bills, because of the attendant care services, may add up to more than any reasonable salary a person with disabilities could ever hope to earn." Thousands of Americans with disabilities who want to work could not work because they were forced to choose between a job and health insurance. The costs for example, for a personal attendant that many people with significant disabilities require is more expensive than a position offered. In addition, many companies offer minimal or no benefit coverage. What a deplorable state - To want to work and be unable to accept employment where the salary is lower than the costs of healthcare required. These handcuffs have been removed with the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, that allows persons with significant healthcare costs to be able to work. It was a great and glorious day for all of us with disabilities. It was a great day for America.
Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator James Jeffords, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Senator William Roth were the sponsors of this bill along with thirty-five other senate colleagues. This bill had bipartisan support in Congress. Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Jeffords (R-VT) spoke for a few minutes before President Clinton came to the podium. One of the most powerful speakers was Mr. Sullivan, a young man with a significant disability previously prevented from employment because he could not give up his healthcare insurance. As he told the audience, the key message for all of us with disabilities is that we want to work. With people with disabilities working, the economy and every American benefits by that individual becoming a taxpayer.
As President Clinton said, "This is an inflation-free way to keep American's economy growing. You are helping every single American - not just Americans with disabilities - every single American will be helped by this legislation today."
After the ceremony, I was invited to a reception with Senator Roth and disability leaders in our country, including two great civil rights leaders, Justin Dart and Pat Wright. It was a glorious day as we celebrated the chains to independence being broken for people with disabilities - providing the ability to work.
I am proud to be part of this historic day and proud to be a disability leader. The last piece of legislation any President of the 20th century will sign is, The Work Incentives Improvement Act. As I left the ceremony, I said to Pat Wright, "Let Freedom Ring" and she said, " Yeah, let freedom ring for everyone."
This is great news for employers. With the enormous scarcity of resources available today, employers in the 21st century will have many more people to suddenly choose from.