White House Solicits Input From Disability Community

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When President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sat down Friday with leaders from special interest groups to discuss the impending fiscal cliff, at least one disability advocate was at the table.

Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, was one of 13 leaders representing groups including AARP, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign at the afternoon meeting in the West Wing of the White House.

The gathering was one of three sessions the president held with stakeholders last week as he looks to strike a deal with Congress to avert federal budget cuts scheduled to take effect in January. At that time, most federal programs are set to be slashed by at least 8.2 percent under a process known as sequestration, which was set in motion last year when Congress failed to reach a budget deal. Meanwhile, a series of tax cuts are set to expire as well.

Advocates from a wide range of disability groups say the budget cutbacks could have a devastating impact on people with disabilities affecting everything from special education to employment programs. What’s more, while Social Security and Medicaid are not slated to be cut, the entitlement programs are likely to be considered as lawmakers work to reach a deal.
With that in mind, Berns said he took the opportunity Friday to emphasize the importance of entitlements.

“Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, which are lifeline programs for people with disabilities, should not be at risk in these budget negotiations,” said Berns who urged Obama to “keep our nation’s commitment to people with disabilities.”

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