Commentary Law and Policy

Republicans’ Proposed Tax Plans Will Have Devastating Consequences for People With Disabilities

Robyn Powell

Based on the plans' current incarnations, people with disabilities will likely face greater tax burdens and decreased opportunities to live the life they choose.

Living with a disability can be very expensive—and it is about to get a whole lot worse if congressional Republicans have their way. If passed, the GOP’s proposed tax plans in both the U.S. Senate and House will have devastating consequences for the nearly 20 percent of people in the United States who have disabilities.

Although members of the GOP claim their plans will lead to significant tax cuts for the middle class, that is not entirely certain. What is clear, however, is that based on the plans’ current incarnations, people with disabilities will likely face greater tax burdens and decreased opportunities to live the life they choose.

People with disabilities already have massive expenses and far less income, on average, than their nondisabled counterparts. Many of their medical necessities—such as long-term care and certain wheelchairs—are not covered by some insurance plans, including Medicare, and can cost an individual tens of thousands of dollars. These services are not just about one’s health; having access to a power wheelchair or in-home care can be the difference between living in an institution or a private residence.

Right now, taxpayers may deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses if they exceed 10 percent of their adjusted gross income. Notably, 8.8 million people—primarily people with disabilities and seniors, as well as their caregivers—benefited from this important deduction last year.

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Nonetheless, it is one of many on the chopping block in both the House and Senate plans.

Of course, the out-of-pocket medical expenses deduction is not the only way the GOP’s plans aim to limit access to needed supports and equipment for people with disabilities. Indeed, both chambers of Congress are using their tax plans to take another swipe at the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, by repealing the individual mandate.

The reason for the individual mandate is simple: Insurance only works if both healthy and unhealthy people pay into the coverage. This is exactly how all types of insurance work: If everyone had car accidents, the costs of auto insurance would be unaffordable. Insurance assumes not everyone enrolled will need benefits, but if they do, such benefits will be available.

If the individual mandate is eliminated, presumably only those with the greatest and most expensive health care needs (certainly including people with disabilities) will obtain insurance coverage. This would effectively create a “high-risk pool,” a health insurance program specifically for people with pre-existing conditions. President Donald Trump has previously floated the idea of implementing such pools. Because high-risk pools take on the most expensive consumers, they are quite costly to maintain and would likely lead to greater expenditures for people with disabilities, the government, or both. Hence, health insurance will be unattainable for the people who need it the most: people with disabilities. Before Obamacare was passed, several states tried implementing high-risk pools and they did not adequately cover many people with disabilities. There’s no reason to believe these programs would work now.

The ability to live and move in the world is also under assault by the GOP. Currently, small businesses can receive tax incentives for modifying their facilities so that people with disabilities can patronize their place of business (as well as comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA).

Disability-related small business tax incentives also help businesses employ people with disabilities by allowing them to deduct some expenditures related to accommodating those employees, such as providing sign language interpreters. The employment rates for people with disabilities are shockingly low: In 2015, only 35 percent of people with disabilities were employed compared with 76 percent of people without disabilities. As the party of “individual responsibility,” you would think that increasing employment across the board would be a priority for the GOP. However, without these important tax breaks for small businesses—both of which would be repealed under the House plan—far fewer people will be able to work.

Of course, the repeal of tax incentives for businesses who do the right thing by being accessible to people with disabilities comes as no surprise. Indeed, the ADA—which notably was signed into law by a GOP president—has been under growing assault in the recent months. If HR 620 becomes law, which seems probable, suing businesses for failing to comply with the ADA will be nearly impossible. The inability to bring lawsuits, coupled with the abolition of tax incentives, will give businesses absolutely no reason to be accessible.

Also in the House plan is the elimination of the adoption tax credit, which provides a one-time tax credit to assist with the financial burden of adopting. Nearly 32 percent of youth in foster care have a disability, and it can be very challenging to find people willing to adopt disabled children. The current adoption credit incentivizes adoption, and increases the odds of many children with disabilities finding a home to call their own. Its repeal will do nothing to address the ableism at the heart of the resistance to adopt those children.

The adoption tax credit is equally important for adults with disabilities, who often choose to adopt. Many people with disabilities have low incomes, and yet they want to offer a child in need of a family their home. This small tax incentive can be the deciding factor for some of them.

The GOP’s plans will eliminate several important tax deductions for people with disabilities and their caregivers, leaving this population with less money and greater expenses. The plans will also lead to less accessibility and fewer opportunities: Businesses will have absolutely no incentive for ensuring that people with disabilities can visit their facility, or even work there. Moreover, prospective parents with disabilities may be precluded from adopting, meaning that more children could linger in foster care.

2017 has been marked by a continuous war on people with disabilities by the GOP, and its tax plans are no exception.

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