COLORADO SPRINGS – A small group of demonstrators took to the steps of Colorado Springs City Hall Wednesday to raise awareness about the rights of the disabled and the importance of government assistance programs to this community. The protest was organized by members of The Arc Pikes Peak Region.
“Many of the things that are going to be cut or that have been discussed to cut like SNAP or Medicaid or Social Security impact people with disabilities,” said Christina Butero, the Guardianship Coordinator at The Arc.
The protestors wrote messages on paper plates urging the protection of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Butero worries that stricter work requirements contained in a House version of the 2018 Farm Bill will disproportionally affect adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. She said the unemployment rate among that population locally is close to 80 percent.
Under House Bill 2, all Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents between the ages of 18 and 59 years old would need to work a minimum of 20 hours per week to continue receiving SNAP benefits beyond a three months period. As it’s currently written, the bill exempts people with disabilities. However, Butero is concerned that language could be removed or changed before it becomes law.
“We hope that people educate themselves to know how our candidates support disability rights,” Butero said.
Protestor Norm Thom’s daughter Kris has intellectual disabilities. He said she loves what she sees as her jobs.
“Our daughter specifically goes out and does public service,” Thom explained. “They go to the animal shelter and play with the animals, they go to the library and dust books, they go to Christmas Unlimited and pack bags.”
Yet it’s nearly impossible for someone with Kris’ disabilities to get hired for a paid position.
“It wouldn’t happen because of her disability,” Thom said. “She’s legally blind, has very limited sight and also has very severe intellectual disabilities.”
The non-partisan Center on Budget Policy and Priorities notes that people already receiving federal disability benefits will automatically be exempt from the proposed SNAP work requirement. They also believe many people with disabilities who do not currently receive those benefits could fall through the cracks because they will need to prove that they qualify for an exemption.
News 5 reached out to our local members of Congress to ask about the proposed SNAP work requirements. Senator Michael Bennet said, “we worked hard to keep nutrition assistance intact in the Senate Farm Bill. SNAP is critical for families across our state, and we’ll oppose efforts to cut or dismantle the program.”
The Farm Bill is reauthorized once every decade. The current bill expires September 30.