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On Anniversary of Olmstead, President Obama Highlights Administration's Actions to Assist Americans with Disabilities

Last year, on the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Olmstead v. L.C., President Obama launched "The Year of Community Living," a new effort to assist Americans with disabilities.  One year later, the Administration has taken many steps towards achieving that goal.  

"Olmstead was a critical civil rights decision that affirmed a fundamental right for Americans with disabilities – the right to live independently,” said President Obama.  “Since I launched the ‘Year of Community Living,’ my Administration has taken a number of important steps to address the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.   And as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we must renew our commitment to uphold the civil rights of those living with disabilities and to fully include all our people in the life of our nation. 

In the Olmstead decision, the Court held that the unjustified institutional isolation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Last year, the President directed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to work together to identify ways to improve access to affordable housing, community supports, and independent living arrangements.  These agencies launched several new initiatives including increasing Section 8 vouchers and enhanced interagency coordination.  HHS also conducted listening sessions across the country to hear the voices and stories of Americans.

As part of the "Year of Community Living", Secretary Sebelius created the "Community Living Initiative" to coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies and underscored the importance of the ADA and Olmstead and affirmed the Administration's commitment to addressing isolation and discrimination against people with disabilities across the age span.  Today, HHS awarded a $3.2 million contract to establish a Housing Capacity Building Initiative for Community Living.  This initiative, administered over a three year period, will support a collaborative working relationship between housing and human service agencies at the Federal, State, and local levels.  This is one of the key initiatives in the HUD-HHS partnership that is also seeking funding in the 2011 budget for 4,000 Housing Choice Vouchers for homeless persons with disabilities.

The Administration has also been implementing the Money Follows the Person (MFP) Rebalancing Demonstration Program, which awards funding to States to achieve increased use of home and community based services for eligible individuals who choose to transition from an institutional setting.   Such settings often cost less than an institutional setting.  MFP seeks to eliminate barriers to the use of Medicaid funds for appropriate and necessary long-term services in the settings of their choice, to achieve continuity of service in transitioning from an institutional to community setting, and to ensure that procedures are in place for ongoing quality improvement in the implementation of Medicaid home and community based services.  In support of the MFP effort, HUD made available 5,300 vouchers for non-elderly persons with disabilities.   1,000 of these vouchers were explicitly targeted to link with the MFP program.  HUD has also encouraged housing authorities across the country to support the MFP initiative through the establishment of preferences for institutionalized individuals who are in need of affordable, community-based housing.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has also taken steps to ensure that the promise of Olmstead is kept – it has filed lawsuits in Arkansas and Georgia, intervened in a case in New York, and filed amicus briefs in cases in Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and California.  In these cases, the Division has sought to ensure that people with physical, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities can leave inappropriate institutional living arrangements and receive services in supported housing and other community settings.  It has also sought to ensure that people with disabilities who are living in the community can stay there.  The Division continues to investigate and prepare cases alleging violations of Olmstead.

Earlier this month, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, kicked off the President’s and White House’s observance of the 20th Anniversary of the ADA by delivering remarks at the VSA International Festival at the Kennedy Center.  In the coming weeks, the Administration will continue to commemorate the anniversary with various events.

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