Jewish disability activists lobby Congress

Marcy Oster

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Activists from across the country marked Jewish Disability Advocacy Day by lobbying members of Congress to preserve Social Security disability insurance and increase funding for transportation.

The day-long event held Wednesday was sponsored by two dozen organizations and included lobbying on Capitol Hill and speeches by disability experts. The group of 90 activists was addressed by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)

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Jennifer Dexter, assistant vice president of government relations at Easter Seals, told the lobbyists states need funds for transportation needs of those with disabilities and the elderly.

Funding for the two-year federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, a transportation authorization law, expires May 31 and Congress currently is deciding on funding levels.

Congress should allocate at least $5 million, Dexter said, adding, “It’s a small program that makes a difference.”

Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, advocated for the shifting of funds from Social Security’s retirement fund to its disability insurance fund, saying the disability fund could be insolvent by the fall of 2016.

“We’ve known this was coming” for 25 years, she said.

Social Security’s retirement funding is expected to last through 2034. If the requested shift of one-tenth of 1 percent is agreed upon, that would move forward the program’s insolvency date by one year, to 2033, Goldberg said.

It is important to fight “not just for Jewish people but for all the disabled in the world,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, one of the event’s sponsors.

Jewish people “shouldn’t allow there to be stragglers at all,” he said. People with disabilities “belong at the center of our community, not the rear,” he said.

Panelist Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, agreed. “We take a radical view. We believe all people with disabilities can be included,” he said. “Disability rights are human rights.”