Susan Collins

Working for Disabled Americans - Oct. 3, 2004

Susan Collins
October 03, 2004
Weekly Column
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Recently, I was honored to receive the Lead On award from United Cerebral Palsy in recognition of my work on behalf of people with disabilities. The award was presented at an “Honoring our Elected Heroes” event sponsored by a coalition of organizations, including United Cerebral Palsy, the American Association of People with Disabilities, Easter Seals, the Arthritis Research Campaign of the United States, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and a number of other disability organizations. I was chosen for this honor in recognition of my work on a wide range of issues of importance to the disability community, as well as my efforts to improve services for children with mental illnesses. When I first came to the Senate in 1997, I had the opportunity to hear a speech given by one of my heroes, Senator Bob Dole, which made an indelible impression. In reflecting on his recent run for the Presidency, Senator Dole observed that: “We need to make our deepest commitments clear: that aging should not mean poverty; that disabilities should not mean indignity; that diversity should not mean discrimination.” He continued with the observation that, we need to demonstrate more clearly our long-held commitment to the core values of compassion, justice and fairness. Needless to say, I took Senator Dole’s message to heart. As a consequence, during my time in the Senate, I have consistently worked to champion the rights of people with disabilities. I have, for example, helped lead the effort to fully fund the federal government’s share of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is based on the fundamental principle that disabled children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education and, to the maximum extent possible, should be educated alongside their nondisabled peers. IDEA authorizes federal funding for special education services to assist states in meeting this goal. When IDEA became law in 1975, Congress authorized funding for the federal share at 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure. But currently, IDEA funding represents only about half of that amount. Congress should fulfill the promise the federal government made nearly 30 years ago to support our schools with special education funding to ensure that all children in Maine and across the country have access to quality public education and to give special education students the help they need. With my sponsorship of the Work Incentives Improvement Act, I have worked to tear down the barriers that prevent Americans with disabilities who want to work from reaching their full potential and achieving economic independence This legislation ensures that working Americans with disabilities have access to affordable health insurance. I also am working with Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa to pass the Family Opportunity Act to ensure that children with significant disabilities have access to the critical health care services they need without impoverishing their families. This legislation would allow states to create a new eligibility category for Medicaid to cover children with physical or mental illness whose family income exceeds state limits. States could require families to pay monthly premiums for these services, based on their income levels. I have also introduced legislation, the Keeping Families Together Act, to support statewide systems of care for children with serious mental illness so that parents are no longer forced to give up custody solely for the purpose of securing treatment for their children. This bill would, among other things, provide grants to states to create infrastructure to support and sustain statewide systems of care to serve these children more effectively and efficiently while keeping them with their families. Given his inspiration, I was particularly proud to join Senator Dole as one of the recipients of this Lead On award for my work on behalf of Americans with disabilities.