Wagner releases plan to aid Virginians with disabilities
Today, in coordination with the beginning of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Democratic Nominee for Lieutenant Governor Jody Wagner unveiled her agenda to help Virginians with disabilities. The first statewide candidate to release a comprehensive plan dealing with disabilities, Wagner pledged to protect rights and improve quality of life of Virginians living with disabilities.
“Jody Wagner has put forth a comprehensive, forward-thinking agenda to help Virginians with disabilities. Her commitment stands in stark contrast to Bill Bolling, who over the last four years has ignored these important issues by failing to show up to a single meeting of the Virginia Disabilities Commission. We welcome leaders like Jody who will work on behalf of Virginians with disabilities in Richmond. I am excited about Jody’s policy platform and look forward to working with her over the next four years to implement it,” said autism activist Jennifer Maloney.
Wagner’s agenda includes measures aimed at: expanding access to educational opportunities, expanding employment opportunities, providing for independent living, focusing on Virginia veterans with disabilities, investing in the Department of Rehabilitative Services, continuing to appoint Virginians with disabilities to boards and commissions, adding a member to the Virginia Workforce Council focused on Virginians with disabilities, and mandating Autism coverage in health insurance plans in Virginia.
The current lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, has failed to attend a single meeting of the Virginia Disabilities Commission, on which he sits.
Jody Wagner’s Plan to Help Virginians with Disabilities
Expand Access to Educational Opportunities. Jody made investing in education a top priority during her seven years in state government, playing a leading role in passing two of the largest investments in education in Virginia history-the 2004 bipartisan budget, and the 2008 Higher Education Bond Package. Jody believes we must continue to expand educational opportunities for Virginians with disabilities, from the pre-K through post-secondary levels.
Expand Employment Opportunities. With a record of fostering a strong business climate in the Commonwealth and helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, as Lt. Governor Jody will work to continue creating jobs throughout Virginia. Jody also believes we should make a concerted effort to provide employment opportunities for Virginians with disabilities, including partnering with the non-profit community. As a small business owner, Jody has employed workers with disabilities who received support and training from a local non-profit, and she would work to bring the business and non-profit communities together to foster a spirit of cooperation and encourage businesses to hire, train, and support workers with disabilities.
– Jody will leverage opportunities created by the federal government’s commitment to dramatically increase its hiring of people with disabilities in the federal workforce, taking advantage of the large share of federal jobs that are based in the Commonwealth.
– Jody will also work to increase opportunities to use the Medicaid buy-in program so that people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for long-term services and support don’t risk the loss of their benefits in order to pursue opportunities to work.
Help Virginians with Disabilities Live Independently. Jody recognizes that the most important issue for many Virginians with disabilities is the ability to live independently in their community. Jody will work with state and local governments, the business community, and the non-profit sector to help provide more opportunities for independent living for Virginians with disabilities. With housing being the cornerstone of independent living and community integration, Jody will promote the use of tax credits and building codes to incentivize building more accessible, affordable housing units to meet the needs of Virginians with disabilities. Jody will also build on the Kaine administration’s success in reforming long-term care for people with disabilities under the Money Follows the Person program, and look for new initiatives such as the Community First Choice Option proposal to leverage enhanced federal matching dollars.
Support Veterans with Disabilities. Jody would put a special emphasis on supporting Virginia veterans with disabilities. Jody believes the Commonwealth should help invest in two additional veterans’ care facilities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, as both regions are home to some of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country. In addition, Jody will seek to continue Governor Kaine’s commitment to funding the Wounded Warrior Program, which assists veterans and family members on their road to recovery from the effects of stress-related injuries (such as post traumatic stress disorder) or traumatic brain injuries. The program fills a critical void: according to estimates, nearly 20% of service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD or depression, yet only half seek treatment. So far, Governor Kaine, with Jody’s assistance, has dedicated $5.5 million to the program.
Invest in the Department of Rehabilitative Services. The Department of Rehabilitative Services has seen its budget steadily increase under the Kaine administration, and Jody believes it is important to continue investing in DRS. The Department plays a critical role in providing services to help Virginians with disabilities become more independent and self-sufficient, and also provides a valuable service in linking people with disabilities to prospective employers. Part of the investment should include direct funds to the loan program for the Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS), which helps to provide appropriate, affordable assistive and information technologies and services to Virginians with disabilities of all ages, so they are able to participate in society as active citizens.
Continue to Appoint Virginians with Disabilities to Boards and Commissions, and Add a Member to the Virginia Workforce Council focused on Virginians with Disabilities. As lieutenant governor, Jody would push to continue appointing Virginians with disabilities to boards and commissions that direct services to all Virginians. In particular, Jody believes we should add a permanent member to the Virginia Workforce Council who is focused on Virginians with Disabilities. The VWC serves as the principal advisor to the Governor on workforce development issues, helping to provide leadership that helps to align the business community’s workforce needs with the state’s focus on development. By appointing a member focused on advocacy for people with disabilities, we would help ensure that issues important to Virginians with disabilities are always part of the broader economic and workforce development dialogues in the Commonwealth.
Mandate Autism Coverage in Health Care. Jody believes that autism should be covered by the estimated 95% of health insurance plans in Virginia that don’t currently cover treatment. Autism is a medical and education issue, and should be treated as such. It can cost a family $5 million over a lifetime to care for a child with Autism, and Jody strongly believes that Virginia should join 33 other states that are on the path to or already mandate Autism coverage in private health insurance plans.