I got into politics because the state was not doing enough to protect the most vulnerable. As Attorney General, I fought to protect adults with disabilities who were criminally neglected, and as governor, I will look at every issue through the lens of disability justice. My veterans plan provides tax subsidies to encourage employers to hire disabled veterans. My Green Maryland plan will expand public transportation access, which is critical for many people with disabilities who might not have another way to get to work or participate in their communities.
Our government constantly fails people with disabilities. I know this from family experience. My nephew Vance lives with cerebral palsy and autism. When he was a baby, the doctors told his parents he would never walk, talk, read or write. But with his hard work and sustained interventions, he can do all of those things. He has worked as a ticket-taker for a minor league team for four years, and he even got to work the World Series for the Atlanta Braves this year.
Vance should not be an exception. He should be proof that a better world is possible — where government and society support, invest in, and uplift people of all different abilities. From physical access in public space, to investment in early intervention and education, to accommodation at work, we need to ensure government and society work for people with disabilities. My administration will reorient public services around accessibility to ensure that government is for all Marylanders regardless of ability.
The plan below is not the end of the ways we will incorporate access and responsiveness to people with disabilities in the Maryland government, but the beginning.
Transit and Paratransit Services
Transit is vital in connecting people to work and to family and friends. Our transit systems consistently deny Marylanders living with disabilities the ability to connect with jobs, with health care, and with the people they love. Metro Access and MTA paratransit services need to improve greatly. Disabled Marylanders consistently report missed appointments, circuitous routing, late pickups and more. Worse, Metro Access and MTA paratransit services are supposed to replace Metro services when elevators and escalators are not working for those who need them.The Gansler-Hollingsworth administration will work closely with the MTA and WMATA to improve these vital services. We will invest in making smooth, consistent transportation a reality for Marylanders living with disabilities.
Home and Community-Based Services
More than 21,000 low income older adults and people with disabilities in Maryland are on waiting lists for critical Medicaid Home and Community-Based services. These services include assistance with personal care, such as showering and dressing, as well as job coaching and transportation assistance. Other states do not have a waiting list for these critical services. Because of the shortage, parents have to worry about whether their loved one will receive needed support when they pass away. And as a result of the low payment rates providers receive, many direct care workers, who are predominantly immigrants and people of color, are forced to work two to three jobs. For people with disabilities the turnover rate among direct care workers is too high, nearly 45% nationwide, which undermines continuity of care.
We pledge that the waiting list for HCBS services will be at zero by the end of our second term. Solving this issue requires investment in facilities and employment. Our administration will work with the Maryland Association of Community Services (MACS) to ensure their members have the financial resources they need to do this critical work. We will also do more to promote the development disabilities income Maryland tax checkoff so that our waiting list can be further reduced. And we will also provide robust support and higher pay for providers to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so that disabled Marylanders get the care they deserve.
All students regardless of race, income, language, or disability status deserve a world-class education right here in Maryland. Nearly 12 percent of Maryland’s K-12 students (amounting to more than 98,000 kids) have a disability; of those, nearly two-thirds are students of color. And while Maryland’s high schools boast a graduation rate of about 87 percent across the board, only about 68 percent of students with disabilities will graduate in four years.
The Gansler-Hollingsworth administration is committed to closing that gap. We will work with school systems to find common ground with families rather than engage in costly litigation, and we know parents of disabled children know what is best for them. We will be intentional and proactive in ensuring our students with disabilities can earn a high school diploma and transition to employment or higher education. The Gansler-Hollingsworth administration will also track evolving best practices and will work in close partnership with our educators, students, families and advocates to deliver a world-class education to all Maryland children.
Given the learning loss caused by the pandemic, we will devote the resources to offer students who have failed to graduate and ALL students with disabilities an additional year of public education. This opportunity is particularly critical for students with disabilities to be able to take advantage of transition-services that will help them become gainfully employed. We will also ensure that youth transitioning out of public education understand the resources that are available to them as adults and that their curriculum includes not just financial literacy but also coursework on self-employment and entrepreneurship. We must also expand the highly-successful school-to-work transition program Project SEARCH beyond Maryland’s metropolitan areas and into more rural areas.
31 years after the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities are still disconnected from the labor force, with just 22.6% participating in the labor force compared to 67.6% of people without disability. And even among those in the labor force, the unemployment rate is over twice as high.
The Gansler-Hollingsworth administration will take a three-prong approach toward addressing disemployment among people with disabilities. 1) Ensure people with disabilities are adequately prepared to succeed in a job 2). Ensure employers, especially small businesses, have the training and support to accommodate people with disabilities, and 3) directly connect employers to job seekers with disabilities.
Specifically, we will expand Project Search, offer an extra year of high school, and facilitate cohort-based apprenticeships for workers in the knowledge economy, as was recommended by RespectAbility to the Workforce Development Board. While the pandemic has cost 1 million people with disabilities their jobs, it has also shown us that remote work is possible and is often a very reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.
We will also increase the incentive to hire people with disabilities by doubling the Maryland Disability Employment Tax Credit from 30 percent of the first $9,000 of wages paid in the first and second year of employment to 30 percent of the first $18,000 paid in the first and second years of employment.
And we will rely heavily on evidenced-based policies and evolving best practices to ensure students with disabilities can succeed, whether they choose to work for an employer or pursue their own path of entrepreneurship. We look forward to having RespectAbility and other disability advocacy groups as partners at the table as we formulate policy.
Accessible housing is vital for Marylanders living with disabilities. The need for accessible housing is urgent as the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that less than 1% of housing is accessible to those who use wheelchairs. With housing prices skyrocketing across the country and state, limiting the potential supply of accessible housing for people with disabilities only increases the difficulty in finding affordable housing. While great work has already been done in our state to incentivize people to make accessibility improvements to their homes, we plan to build on that, expanding subsidies for improvement. In addition, I will work with homebuilders to provide incentives to build more accessible homes.
Access and Inclusion
The state of Maryland must be a model employer for people with disabilities. The Gansler-Hollingsworth administration will set an ambitious goal that within 5 years, at least 5 percent of state employees have self-reported a disability. We will take the Montgomery County program to promote the hiring of people with disabilities statewide. My own campaign is also putting our money where our mouth is, captioning the videos we post to social media and ensuring our events are accessible. As Governor, I will work to consciously celebrate and elevate the disability community, including the autism community. That’s why my campaign is proposing the first permanent, standing Maryland Autism Commission.