CTD’s Statement on Harvey

September 6, 2017

The hearts of CTD’s staff, board, and membership are with those who have survived Hurricane Harvey, and with the many more Texans who will contribute to the years of recovery this disaster has placed before us. As Texas embarks on this long road of rebuilding, CTD adamantly reminds our lawmakers and recovery planners that people with disabilities and seniors are at additional risks during natural disaster recovery efforts. Physical and communications barriers during and after a disaster can limit access to shelter and means of evacuation. Add to this, people with disabilities are over-represented in the low-income population, and low income individuals are hit particularly hard by disasters like Harvey. 

To ensure that seniors and people with disabilities can continue to live the lives that they choose in a post-Harvey Texas, we offer the following observations and recommendations.

1. Steps must be taken to avoid unnecessary institutionalizations.

As the organization Rooted in Rights has noted, seniors and people with disabilities living independently in their own homes may be forced into an institution during recovery. This may be a safety measure initially, but it is imperative (and required by law) that they are returned to the setting of their choice as soon as necessary support is in place. Regular tracking must be in place, as no one should fall through the cracks and be lost in the system.

2. Recovery planners must take into account the daily needs and equipment that people with disabilities rely on for their independence and health.

There may be Medicaid or public health practices that need to be modified in this extremely disruptive disaster. For example, people who rely on wheelchairs and similar durable medical equipment will need rapid replacements. Those who lost daily necessities like catheters and incontinence supplies must be immediately restocked. People who need therapy should have access to it. While we have practices in place for cost containment, we need to recognize that fast-tracking authorizations, waivers, and exceptions is not only humane but smart cost control.

3. Community attendant care must continue with as little interruption as possible.

Community attendants allow seniors and people with disabilities to live in their own homes. Many paid through Medicaid have a base hourly wage of just $8 with no benefits, and we must think out of the box to maintain these important caregivers. That means Texas should continue paying the community attendants while their consumers are temporarily hospitalized or in a nursing home and install a $3 emergency hourly wage increase for the next six months to help reestablish seniors and people with disabilities in the independent living they prefer.

4. Public schools must continue to serve students' with disabilities IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).

Students in areas affected by Harvey are starting the year in overwhelming situations, including school closures and delays and homelessness. Students with disabilities may face even greater challenges in adjusting to new schools. Many will be transferring into different schools with the potential for a disruption of services and supports, unaccustomed routines and new unfamiliar school staff. Navigating new surroundings may take additional patience and supports. In addition, delays and gaps in services can cause setbacks in a student's progress that will make it difficult for student to continue growing and learning.

Parents of students with disabilities must know their child's rights; namely, that federal law for displaced student’s states that schools must immediately enroll students even when records are not present, and that schools must serve the students' IEPs. More special education guidance for families displaced by Harvey. En Español.

CTD also suggests that mental health services be made available to all students and that State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing be eliminated for children in the affected areas until the following school year.

5. As we rebuild, principles of universal design should be used whenever possible.

Simple building practices can ensure that seniors and Texans with disabilities can live independently and safely in their homes. Homes with at least one entrance without a step, single-floor living, and wide hallways and doorways can drastically improve the safety and independence of many Texans. Over the past ten years, people have begun to design their homes around the concepts of universal design and to be able to age in place over time. Simple planning at the time of rebuilding or during new construction can cost pennies on the dollar and last for generations, housing multiple families over the lifetime of a single home.