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How COVID-19 Stimulus Will Impact Folks with Disabilities in Maine, U.S.


Monday, March 30, 2020   

PORTLAND, Maine -- President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion relief package to help most U.S. residents deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. But the bill doesn't detail how it affects people with disabilities who rely on Social Security disability income.

In Maine and elsewhere, this group has among the lowest income levels. Tucker Conley, a self-advocate and former board chair of the nonprofit Speaking Up For Us, said this worries him and others in the disability community.

"I've been kind of stressed out on trying to figure out, like, how this new stimulus package is going to affect me - or if it's not going to affect me at all, since I don't have work right now," Conley said.

Conley is unemployed and relies on Social Security. He didn't file income taxes in 2018 or 2019, and is worried this might prevent him from getting a $1,200 stimulus check.

But according to AARP, anyone receiving Social Security is eligible for the one-time stimulus payment. The Internal Revenue Service gets that information from a person's annual Social Security benefits statement.

Conley said the other big part of the coronavirus pandemic affecting folks with disabilities is dealing with being stuck at home.

"A lot of us are stranded inside and already suffer with self-isolation," he said. "So you can just imagine what a crisis like this would do, as a lot of us are lonely even without the crisis and being locked inside."

He noted that as group homes, day programs and other services are shut down and people are losing work, people with disabilities are at greater risk of a crisis.

Conley said he's lucky that his support staff is still coming to his apartment. Monique Stairs, interim executive director at Speaking Up For Us, said not all programming that serves people with disabilities is on hold.

"Some agencies are still providing a level of home supports, or the portion of their services that they can do as community supports in the home, they're still doing that," Stairs said. "But they've limited how many people the support staff have contact with."

The Office of MaineCare Services has expanded and approved the use of telehealth for all MaineCare providers. And the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is applying for an emergency waiver to keep some services running and stabilize the adult-care workforce with overtime, hazard pay, and childcare.

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