06 Sep 2023 Melissa Ortiz: 61 Million People With Disabilities Are Counting on Us to Develop Good Policies
The goal of Able Americans, in Melissa’s words, is to “move to a free-market, limited-government perspective on disability policy — the idea that people can make the best decisions for themselves, instead of the government imposing on them how it’s going to be.”
Melissa told host Kelly Wright that overcoming employment challenges for people with disabilities is more than possible. Unfortunately many of these individuals believe “that there’s no way out once they’re stuck on the federal dole.”
There are 61 million Americans with disabilities. Seventy-five percent of them who are work capable are unemployed or underemployed. And we need to stop that, because it’s a 2.8 billion dollar a month drag on the economy, when these people could be self-sufficient, wage-earning taxpayers.
Melissa then spent several minutes debunking employment myths. People with disabilities won’t lose their Medicare or Medicaid if they go back to work. It’s not cost-prohibitive for employers to set up workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.
Melissa said that while Able Americans is solidly a right-of-center program, the solutions it offers should be able to be embraced by people of all political persuasions:
Neither side of the aisle is getting it right. But when we start having conversations, it starts sounding an awful lot like we’re saying the same thing: that we want people with disabilities to be fully enfranchised and fully part of the American fabric and have a seat at the table. The question is how do we get there in a way that is helpful for everybody? And what Able Americans is doing is making that path.
To that end, “the most important thing that we’re doing right now is we are doing a deep dive into federal disability programs, and looking at where’s the money going, where it’s not going, where it’s supposed to be going.”
While that research is underway, Melissa suggested one idea that — similar to school choice policies — would empower individuals to determine how federal dollars are spent:
I personally think it would be better if we followed an idea called “Money Follows the Person,” so that the person with the disability could determine how they’re going to use their Medicaid/Medicare dollars to best care for themselves, get the medical care of their choice, the medical equipment of their choice, instead of being told how they’re going to spend that money and how they’re going to live their lives.
And above all, Melissa said she wakes up everyday choosing hope, which is based in her Christian faith and her sense of purpose:
I get up every morning (a) because of the life [Jesus Christ] has given me, and (b) because there are people counting on me. There are 61 million Americans with disabilities who are counting on me to get these policies right.