Press Releases

Bipartisan House Legislation Introduced to Remove Barriers to Work for People with Disabilities

Statement of Laurie M. Flynn, Executive Director National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Mar 18 1999

Arlington, VA - Americans with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders are profoundly grateful to the bipartisan coalition of House members who today are introducing the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

NAMI deeply appreciates the leadership of Representatives Rick Lazio (R-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Tom Bliley (R-VA), John Dingell (D-MI), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Bob Matsui (D-CA), Mike Bilirakis (R-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jim Greenwood (R-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dave Camp (R-MI), Pete Stark (D-CA), Chip Pickering (R-MS), Frank Pallone (D-NY), Mark Foley (R-FL), Sander Levin (D-MI), John Tanner (D-TN), Brian Bilbray (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), John Murtha (D-PA), and other members of Congress for their joint sponsorship of this important legislation. Its passage in 1999 will go a long way toward removing the fear of losing federal health benefits as a barrier to employment for people with mental illnesses.

The Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 will permit states to allow people with disabilities to buy health insurance through Medicaid even if their incomes or medical improvement make them otherwise ineligible. People with disabilities earning above federal income restrictions will be able to secure affordable healthcare coverage by buying into Medicaid. Similarly, the bill will permit states to allow people who receive support because of health impairments to continue Medicaid coverage after their medical condition improves and they are able to return to work.

Further, the "ticket to independence" proposal in the legislation will allow people with disabilities greater choice in selecting employment and rehabilitation services and provide greater access to supports and services in the workplace that are not currently provided by public vocational rehabilitation agencies.

This legislation will liberate many Americans with disabilities. It will empower them and strengthen self-esteem. It will help to restore their individual dignity in the mainstream of American life. Persons with severe mental illnesses require continuity of care to sustain recovery and renewal. Those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments must not face the threat of losing those benefits in order to work. In 1993, approximately six million Americans received SSI assistance, approximately 28 percent of whom were disabled by mental disorders other than retardation. Approximately five million Americans received SSDI assistance, 26 percent of whom were disabled by mental illness. Unfortunately, too many adults with severe mental illnesses who receive SSI and SSDI have been trapped in those programs because of the disincentives to work that currently exist, particularly the threat of losing healthcare coverage.

NAMI applauds the bipartisanship that has made the introduction of this legislation possible and looks forward to the House Committees on Commerce and Ways and Means acting on the bill later this year.