During an emergency such as a hurricane or a public health crisis, there is not only a need to focus planning and response efforts on disability-specific aspects of the emergency, but also to seek the input and expertise of people with disabilities in the process. If elected, how would your office work to ensure that state emergency planning (i.e., health testing, sheltering and safety of congregate living populations, et cetera) is inclusive of Florida’s disability communities? How will you work to ensure that communications and other information from the state is accessible to people with disabilities?
As a State Representative, I have a duty to listen to my constituents and provide them services, as well as the chance to speak out on issues that affect my district. I will use my office to coordinate with state executive branch offices to ensure that disability communities have input and adequate services during an emergency. I volunteered to help run a shelter at my school during hurricane Irma, so I know the realities of sheltering members of the disability community. I am already a member of the disability caucus and know enough to ask questions when I am unsure of how issues affect the community.
In the event that the global pandemic lasts through the current school year or possibly beyond, how would you work with state educational officials to ensure that relevant state and federal educational guarantees for students with disabilities are adhered to, and do you believe that it is possible to appropriately educate students with disabilities remotely or through virtual education?
I will advocate for bottom up planning, instead of the current top down model of planning that the state and school district is driving. As a teacher who has taught ESE students, I know that the relationship between the teacher, student, and family is most important. We should let teachers figure out how to deliver the services, and then back them up with the necessary resources, including home visits or other innovative means to keep safe, face-to-face instruction. Virtual education may be a starting point for educating students with disabilities, but we need to follow up with their Individual Education Plan services.
In recent years, the state legislature has devoted much attention to the issue of mental health service delivery and crisis response systems in state public schools. In your opinion, how should the state work to ensure that the mental health needs of its students are met, and what reforms are needed to provide adequate mental health and crisis response services in our schools? When, if ever, is it appropriate for schools to initiate involuntary examinations for its students under the Florida Mental Health Act (“the Baker Act”)?
As the husband to a Title 1 public school counselor, I know that the state legislature has paid lip service to mental health without providing enough additional resources to make a meaningful difference. The state needs to provide more money into mental health programs. One way to do that is through Medicaid expansion, but we also need to fund our schools so that we no longer rank in the bottom five states in educational funding. That would pay for additional student services personnel (counselors, school psychologists, social works) who could identify mental health issues and refer those students to appropriate, funded local resources. There is inconsistency in the use of the Baker Act in our schools. In my personal experience, I have not see a student inappropriately Baker Acted. I do know that in other places, the Baker Act is used almost as a behavior management tool, which is totally inappropriate and must be stopped. The bottom line is we need more student services personnel who are trained and actually servicing our students.
It has become apparent that COVID-19 spreads most easily in institutional and congregate living arrangements. If elected, how would you work to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities and reduce other forms of congregate living in favor of serving persons with disabilities in their own homes or the community both during and after the current pandemic? What will you do to ensure that people with psychiatric disabilities are afforded the services they need to succeed in their own homes and communities and avoid psychiatric hospitalization?
Florida underfunds iBudget waivers, which leaves thousands of persons with disabilities waiting for the funding for appropriate at home care. We must accept the Medicaid waiver so that we bring in more federal funding and use it to support persons with disabilities. As the question states, the Florida legislature's failure to do this has resulted in a public health issue as COVID-19 has torn through our institutional and congregate living arrangements. We need the Medicaid expansion to provide the services that those with psychiatric disabilities need. Without Medicaid expansion, we often place people who need medical care into the criminal justice system. We should expand programs that have special courts for those who are homeless or have mental health needs.
Even before the pandemic began and massive job losses ensued, 2.7 million Floridians were uninsured. Research shows that under normal circumstances the uninsured have much greater challenges accessing health care, and these disparities are exacerbated during a health crisis. Do you support expanding the state’s Medicaid program to cover adults (19-64) with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to provide more than 800,000 Floridians with coverage? Why or why not? Do you support proposals to utilize a “block grant” or “per capita cap” approach to contain Medicaid spending? Why or why not?
As I've stated in answers above, I do support Medicaid expansion, and I believe that it is critically important as we recover from the financial effects of COVID-19. I do not support any type of caps on Medicaid spending. Although caps are proposed to save money, Medicaid greatly increases positive health outcomes, which in turn saves the community and country much more than is spent on the program.
Despite the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) and related state and federal laws, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities continues to be much higher than that of people without disabilities. If elected, how would you work to promote meaningful opportunities for supported employment and competitive, integrated employment of people with disabilities in the state? What policies do you advocate to support the academic and career success of students with disabilities, especially for students from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds?
There are a number of things we can do better. We need to provide local job placement assistance and coaching programs to match talent with employers. Part of that effort must be education - not for people with disabilities - but for employers who need to know the amount of talent that is waiting to be hired and the different types of assistive technologies to unlock that talent. We also must ensure that people with disabilities are not penalized for working by the loss of their benefits.
Nationwide it is believed that there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities who are incarcerated, and many of these individuals face substantial barriers to reentry when they complete their sentences and return home. What reforms do you support to ensure that returning citizens with disabilities have the resources, skills and mental health supports to succeed when they complete their sentences?
I partially addressed this in a previous answer. We need to increase funding for mental health in the state (starting with Medicaid expansion) so that those who need mental health care are not pushed in the criminal justice system. We also need to expand the use of special courts for mental health. All returning citizens should have local programs that partner them with local employers who are willing to provide a second chance in employment.
What is your experience working with people with disabilities or alongside disability-led organizations? Please provide examples of your experience addressing and responding to disability issues or describing disability advocacy efforts you have participated in either personally, professionally, or while in elected office if applicable. If elected, how would you integrate the input and perspectives of people with disabilities in your office’s planning and legislative efforts?
I have worked with students with disabilities throughout my teaching career and know how much talent they bring to the world. I have worked diligently to provide Individual Education Plan services for those students and have seen them flourish. I have also joined and supported the Disability Caucus because I know that I need to learn more and advocate more for the 1 in 4 Floridians who have disabilities. After I'm elected, I will continue to do the same thing - which is to communicate, ask questions, learn and listen.