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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

ADAPT Urges the Obama Administration to Delay Finalizing the Companionship Exemption Rules

ADAPT logo: Free Our PeopleSource: ADAPT

ADAPT calls on President Obama to fulfill his promise during the campaign that the voice of the disability community would be the guiding voice in the debate over the companionship exemption by delaying release of the final companionship rules and facilitating a process that brings the disability community and labor to the same table to work these issues out and develop rules that support both attendant service users and the attendants who assist them.

Although these rules have been publicly praised by progressives and organized labor, many organizations within the disability community have expressed concerns that the proposed rules will:

  • Force seniors and people with disabilities into institutions;
  • Cut the take-home pay of attendants;
  • Reduce the attendant workforce;
  • Force people with disabilities to hire strangers as attendants; and
  • Devastate consumer directed programs. 

The US Department of Labor developed and published these rules without input from the disability community, even though President Obama had issued an Executive Order (13563) that instructed federal agencies to engage all stakeholders before issuing proposed rules. The DOL analysis of the impact of these proposed rules indicated that these rules would result in the institutionalization of people with disabilities and failed to even assess the impact on consumer-directed personal assistance services. During discussions with the Department of Labor, they indicated that these rules would not be enforced on private households, but would apply to the vast majority of Medicaid recipients, further destabilizing the workforce available for Medicaid attendant service users.

During a campaign that lasted more than a year, ADAPT, NCIL and other disability organizations urged the Obama Administration to find a way to engage the disability community. We even proposed a compromise that would cover 70 percent of attendants, but allow the disability community to be engaged in the process of developing rules that impact consumer-directed service. During the Presidential campaign, the White House assured the disability community that our voice would be the “guiding voice” in the debate about these rules.

The National Council on Disability scheduled a meeting of all stakeholders in late January 2013 that could have provided the opportunity for the disability community to provide input. Less than two weeks before the NCD meeting, the White House sent the rules to the Office of Management and Budget to be finalized, preventing the disability community from being engaged in a process that could impact the proposed rules.

In the Spring, Senator Harkin’s HELP Committee staff facilitated a meeting between organized labor and the disability community which was intended to start a process of discussion between the labor unions and disability community so we could jointly go to the administration with a proposal that would meet all of our needs. Although the unions were not responsive during that meeting, after protests by ADAPT they agreed to come to the table with proposals. Regular meetings began with SEIU, and ADAPT felt we were making substantive progress in finding a way forward that would support both labor and the disability community.

With very little notice, Secretary Tom Perez announced he was holding listening sessions about the rules in late August. This seemed to signal that the Obama Administration was likely bringing the rules back to the Department of Labor where he could engage the disability community. This process could have been the starting point for substantive discussions about the real-world impact of these proposed rules. We understand that instead of doing that, administration intends to release the rules for Labor Day.

This indicates that the listening session wasn’t intended to bring the disability community to the table, but instead was designed to undercut our criticism of the process and give the administration a response to our concerns about the lack of engagement. ADAPT is appalled that it is clear Secretary Perez started a process that will go nowhere. This decision also – once again – undercut our efforts to be engaged in the process by rendering the meetings between ADAPT and SEIU as meaningless.

If President Obama, Secretary Perez and the Obama administration truly support the disability community and believe in keeping campaign promises, they will delay these rules and formalize the process begun by ADAPT and SEIU to find common ground between the disability community and organized labor.

There is precedent for such a process. The Obama administration had facilitated such meetings among the leadership of the LGBT, African American and Latino communities to resolve conflicts over marriage equality. They should do the same in this case involving leadership from ADAPT, other disability-led organizations, and organized labor. We should expect no less, because the cohesiveness of the progressive caucus is more important than any public relations event the administration intends to hold.

We have only ever wanted to be fully included in decisions that affect our lives and worked toward that end. Instead of being given a seat at the table, we have had a door slammed in our face.


The ADAPT Community


  1. This article is clear about the fact the disability community needs to be part of the negotiations. But for those of who don’t spend everyday steeped in governmental processes the article is not clear about the “rules ” and what consequences you’re championing on our behalf.
    Please lay an information foundation for your concerns so I can be an informed advocate.

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