Friday, September 29, 2017

What do you think about SNAP?

MCIL Focus Group: SNAP Benefits and the work requirement

On September 29, MCIL held a focus group to gage the Memphis disability communities reaction to the scheduled change to the Food Stamp Program. There were six participants in the focus group with various disabilities. The focus group started with a brief overview of the news about the addition of the work requirement and who it will cover.

The first question also helped to provide the group with basic information about the new work requirement.

What do you know about the SNAP work requirement?

The group responded with various bits of information about the change. They noted that it did not cover people with dependants and people in school. There was more discussion about what volunteer programs and work programs would exempt people from the requirement. The group knew details about the change, stating that people would not be instantly denied and that the beginning will be delayed.   

The bulk of the discussion was on the “able-bodied” requirement. The group felt that the distinction was aimed at people with disabilities, and that it was not clear. Everyone thought that it cast the disability community as not productive and not included.

How do you feel about the exemption of people with disabilities?

One respondent thought it depended on a person’s level of disability. They thought that if you have an obvious physical disability, you were also tagged with the stigma of the exemption. Another participant felt that all people should be held to the same standard, but the community should be ready to make accommodations that are needed just like in the ADA.

One participant thought that they should take out the term “able-bodied” and make other, more clear qualifications for who would be required to work and who would be exempt.

The group seemed to have a consensus that the exemption also limited the opportunities that people with disabilities would have. One respondent said that it means that “people with disabilities don’t have to try.”

Another participant said that more jobs means more opportunities, but if people with disabilities are left-out here, they will not find opportunities and not find jobs. Someone else pointed out that more jobs for people with disabilities also would mean more accessibility and more information in the community about work and accommodations.

How do you feel about an incentive program: people with disabilities that volunteer, work or are in a work program would get more benefits?
This hypothetical was positively received. One respondent said that volunteering means that person has more needs that are not covered by the job. The volunteer has more needs in transportation, laundry and general expenses. Another person in the focus group said that volunteers also have less time to do housekeeping and shopping. They all thought the incentive was a good idea and that a 100% increase was too much. The group felt that 50% was reasonable. For example, a $50 SNAP benefit would increase to $75 for a person with a disability in this hypothetical program.

What is the biggest employment issue for the community al large in Memphis?

Some things were suggested. The lack of a living wage, the dominance of temporary jobs without benefits and the lack of reliable public transportation. Because there was no clear biggest issue, the group added some other problems they felt the city faces. Getting businesses to come to Memphis was seen as a problem and that can be from education, economy or even transportation.

The focus group stated some specific problems when the question was applied to just people with disabilities. One respondent said that job-placement at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation was a significant barrier for our community. There was however general consensus on this question for people with disabilities. Everyone, at this point, agreed that transportation was the biggest barrier for our community.

To solve this problem the group suggested more job-training and more job readiness. They felt that employers need more info and more options to hire people with disabilities. One participant said that poor education in our community from segregated schools and low expectations of students with disabilities was a barrier for our community. Some of the focus group rethought their feeling that transportation was the biggest barrier and felt that discrimination may be larger of a barrier than transportation.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Action Report Day 4

Tennessee needs the DIA

By Allison Donald
September 27, 2017- The last day of a National ADAPT action in Washington DC are reserved for visits to Capitol Hill.  Before, we could ascend on the hill ADAPT decided to have "brunch" at the home of the Health and Human Secretary Thomas E. Price.  ADAPT took over the street chanting, “We told you once we told you twice, ADAPT is here to talk to Price.”
American Flag with ADAPT slogans

Although there have been increased opportunities for community living, many individuals remained trapped in nursing facilities and other institutions and many of that underpin the progress we’ve made are being eroded or eliminated.  Tom Price has the ability to enforce the laws so that the civil rights and civil liberties of people with disabilities remain protected under the law.  If you would like to view ADAPT’s demands to HHS Secretary Price go visit  

As he stood looking down at from the upstairs window of his house, I hope he remembers that he can’t run from us, because we know where he lives and have no problem shutting down the street until he faces us.  

Our day was not done National ADAPT had meetings to attend with elected officials to speak with them about cosponsoring the Disability Integration Act (HR 2472) in the house and (S910) in the Senate.  My team members were Rodney Whitmore, Susan Norwood, Cathy Cranston, Brian Johnson, Toni Saia, and Michael Heinrich.

As a team we visited a total twelve Representatives and Senators from across the country. Michael Heinrich and I split off into a team and visited five representatives Gaetz (R-Fla.), Banks (R-Ind.), McSalley (R-Az.), McArthur (R-NJ), and Kustoff (R-TN.).  We did not get an opportunity to meet with any of these representatives, but we were given cards and we left them with a packet of information about the Disability Integration Act.  

I will be following up with David Kustoff, because he is a Representative from Tennessee.  Michael and I also visited Congressman Cohen’s office as a follow-up visit and to thank him for being a co-sponsor of the DIA.

Our final meeting of the day was with the staffers of Senator Lamar Alexander.  Lamar Alexander is the chairman of the H.E.L.P (Health Education Labor and Pension) committee.  His support is critical to the successful passage of the DIA.  Furthermore, it is imperative that he stands up for the life and liberty of Tennesseans with disabilities.
Michael Heinrich and a scroll of over 300 DIA supporters.

Mid-South ADAPT has visited the Memphis office of Lamar Alexander many times over the past several months and all we have gotten in response is lip service and pre typed letters mailed to our homes.  Mr.  Morton expressed to us that Senator Alexander does not support many bills.  I was not worried about the bills he chooses to support.  As a person with a disability I am concerned about the inadequate home and community based services that are being delivered, the lack of a cohesive plan that will allow people with disabilities to work on the necessary independent living skills a person is going to need to stay in the community, and the mediocre wages some personal care attendants are earning.  In all of these issues Tennessee ranks near the bottom in providing for its citizens with disabilities and the people who take care of us.  The Disability Integration Act (HR 2472) (S910) will address these needs.

I was sitting at the head of the table as Michael unrolled the scroll of three hundred names who had all signed on in support of the Disability Integration Act.  The scroll hit Alexander’s staffer who was seated at the other end of the table Michael was sitting informed Mr. Morton (Alexander staffer) that Alexander’s inaction and his unwillingness to answer whether he is firmly for or against the civil rights is no longer and acceptable answer.  

"I do not have much faith in the state of Tennessee to do what’s right by its citizens," said Michael Heinrich, “because in the past former administrations have had to be taken to court to enforce the civil rights of people in Tennessee who have a disability.”

Senator Lamar Alexander it is your move. Do you support civil rights for people with disabilities Yes or No?  The people of Tennessee deserve an answer, because disability rights are constitutional rights. 

Free Our People!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Action Report Day 3

ADAPT Continues to Protect Medicaid

By Allison Donald
September 26, 2017- National ADAPT took the streets for a third consecutive day with the understanding that even after the failure of the Graham-Cassidy bill, there is still more work to be done to ensure that this bill stays dead.
ADAPT banner
National ADAPT returned to the Hart Senate building to confront the Graham (R-S.C., Cassidy (R-La.), Heller (R-Nev.), Johnson (R-Wisc.) the coauthors of this bill.  Each team was dispatched to a Senators office.  Our mission was simple tell our stories and how the cuts to Medicaid would affect our lives as people with disabilities.  

The red team members crowded into Johnsons’ office and began to tell their stories and talk about the impact these cuts will have on their.  The staffers were so impressed and moved by the stories that they set up a meeting for later this evening that will be attended by Marilee Adamski-Smith and Joseph Adamski-Smith (Wisconsin ADAPT) members.  The purple team was assigned to Lindsey Graham’s office.  As they were being escorted out of the office Lindsey Graham passes by surrounded by five bodyguards.  As he passed by, he looked over in the direction of the purple team and gave them a smirk.  

The orange team was assigned to Heller and that went off without incident but they were escorted out after the second warning about arrest.  

I found myself on the blue team and in Senator Bill Cassidy’s office.  Denise McMullen-Powell was day leader so as she began to yell her story to staffers and so did I. As we were being threatened with arrests Denise grabbed the hand sanitizer off the Senator's desk and ask each of us “if we want to wash our hands to get the stench of this office off of us.”  Each person received a small amount of sanitizer while they were sitting in the office.

After leaving the Hart building we all regrouped and marched to the Upper Senate Park where Senator Bob Casey’s (D-PA.) held a press conference on healthcare.  He thanked every person in the park.  

“If it were not for the efforts of people with disabilities we would not have made it to the edge of victory in this fight for healthcare," said Sen. Casey, "but we can’t stop, because they (Republicans) won’t stop.”  

Our next stop was the Health and Human Services to confront Thomas E. Price.  He is the Health and Human services secretary.  The Department of Health and Human Services is the federal agency most directly responsible for ensuring that Americans with disabilities who need long term supports and services receive them in the most integrated setting.
The police placed barricades in front of the entrance of the building to prevent us from entering the building. In true ADAPT style we blocked the doors.  The stand- off began and so did the endless chant “Just like a nursing, you can’t get out.”  Elaine Sabol, nicknamed Spitfire, was determined to get her eighty-forth arrest.  She climbed out of her chair and started scooting under the barricades while her ADAPT family chanted, “go spit”.  

The standoff between ADAPT and the building security lasted eight hours.  Orange team leader Scott Nance capped off our visit to the Health and Human Services building by taping the signs to the windows around the building.  

Even though we have won the battle, the war for life and liberty for people with disabilities continues.  National ADAPT will be on Capitol Hill to as ask our Senators to support and cosponsor the Disability Integration Act (HR2472) (S 910).
Free Our People!
ADAPT in Washington DC

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Graham-Cassidy bill is dead!

ADAPT Activists are arrested protesting at the Senate Hearing: ADAPT Action Report Day 2

By Allison Donald
Monday September 25, 2017- After fifteen hours, endless chanting, one hundred and nineteen national ADAPT members arrested and defections from Republicans Cruz (Texas) McCain (Arizona), Collins (Maine), Paul (Kentucky), and Murkowski (Alaska) the Graham-Cassidy bill did not have enough votes to be brought to the floor for a vote.
ADAPT at the Senate Hearing

The bill crafted by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV.), and Ron Johnson (R-WI.), essentially turns control of the healthcare markets over to the states.  Rather than funding Medicaid and subsidies directly, that money would be put into a block grant that a state could use to develop any healthcare system it wants.  

The bill would also allow states to opt out of many ACA regulations.

This bill is a direct attack on the life and liberties of people with disabilities on many fronts.  Graham-Cassidy does not fully cover all pre-existing conditions. The bill would also effectively put a cap on long term supports and services allowing states the choice to pick and choose which community based services they are going to provide.

Tennessee would be even more vulnerable to subpar healthcare, because the state did not choose to participate in Medicaid expansion.  If block grants became a reality the already stressed long term support system in Tennessee will be stressed and people will end up on waiting list and receive inadequate care both in the home or community.

At 6:00 am members of National ADAPT were lined up at the front and back entrances of the Hart Senate building waiting for the doors to open, because we were going to attend the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill at 2:00pm.  National ADAPT two-hundred strong settled into the building, but the overflow of people caused the line to extend all the way into the Dirksen building.  

As other groups like Planned Parenthood and The Arc began filing into the hallway of the second floor the police officers’ on the scene began to place chairs in the committee room limiting access to only seven wheelchairs in the meeting space.  
ADAPT packs the halls for the Senate Hearing

“This is unconscionable," said Bruce Darling of Rochester ADAPT. "These people want to get in there to hear what they are going to do to Medicaid and how they are going to take away the things that underpin our life and liberty.”

ADAPT members had taken over the second floor inside the Hart Senate building chanting in support of their nineteen sisters and brothers who had gotten into the hearing for the Graham-Cassidy bill. The chanting lasted for hours and even when the gavel dropped to begin the hearing and continued until they were escorted out by the police.

As people were passing us through the halls they were high fiving us and calling us heroes.  

We are not heroes.  This victory today was about the people putting themselves on the line in the pursuit of life, liberty, and healthcare justice for all Americans not just people with disabilities.

Free Our People Y’all!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Washington DC Action Report Day 1

ADAPT visits Attorney General Sessions home

By Allison Donald
Two hundred ADAPT activists marched and chanted through the heat and the streets of Washington DC to confront Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. ADAPT members crowded onto the sidewalk in front of the steps leading up to his front door.  
ADAPT ready for action

ADAPT came there to hold Jeff Sessions accountable for his failure to uphold the ADA and protect the life and liberty of Americans with disabilities.  Sessions has also failed to recognize and support the Disability Integration Act (HR2472) Senate bill (S 910).  

We were met by an elderly gentleman and a woman, two neighbors of Mr. Sessions’ both of whom had very different and strong reactions to our chant of “Our homes not nursing homes.” 

The elderly gentleman was visibly upset and said “you will get nothing done by harassing this man (Sessions) at his home.”  Soon after his objections were drowned out when ADAPTERS started chanting, “Free our siblings free our children now.”  As I looked over to my left the woman was standing at the top of the steps clapping and nodding her head in agreement with ADAPT.  

During his confirmation hearings Jeff Sessions said “the Justice Department must remain faithful to the Constitution’s promise that our government is one of laws, not of men.”  It will be my unyielding commitment, if I am confirmed to see that the laws are enforced faithfully, effectively, and impartially.”

“We (ADAPT) are going to save Medicaid not only for ourselves," said Dawn Russell of Denver ADAPT, "but for our brothers and sisters locked away in nursing homes or buried on endless waiting lists.”  

Disabled people deserve to live in the community with the proper long term supports and services which is our right as Americans.

ADAPT demands that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recognize the following:

  • Acknowledge the unwanted institutionalization denies disabled Americans their constitutional right to liberty.
  •  Work with ADAPT and the disability rights community to pursue high profile Olmstead and ADA enforcement actions in every state to address the institutionalization of thousands of people with disabilities-of all ages-in nursing facilities.
  • Work with ADAPT and the autistic advocates to stop the torture of disabled Americans in the Judge Rotenberg Center who are subjected to electric shock and other painful aversive treatment.
  • Work with ADAPT and the National Council on Independent Living to devise enforcement and technical assistance strategies to assure that the civil rights and civil liberties of disabled Americans are protected across the disaster cycle of preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.
Allison Donald

This show of force by was to put Jeff Sessions on notice that we are not going to stand by or sit down while disability rights continue to be disregarded. If we have to ADAPT will come back.  As people with disabilities we are not going to apologize for who we are, because disability rights are civil rights.

If you would like more information about ADAPT and our demands to Attorney General Jeff Sessions visit   If you want more information about the Disability Integration Act (HR 2472) or Senate bill (S910) visit  You can also follow Mid-South ADAPT on twitter @southadapt and on Facebook at  to keep with our journey this week just use the hashtag #ADAPTandResist to keep up with our journey this week on all social media platforms.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Food Stamps to begin a work requirement

MCIL’s Timothy Redd is a national panelist

By Timothy Redd
On Feb 21, 2018 the Food Stamp work requirements will be reinstated for most of Tennessee.  Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that Tennessee will re-establish federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits work requirements in 70 counties for able-bodied adults without dependents.  The work requirement was waived in 2008 during the recession and will continue to be waived for sixteen economically distressed counties.

Haslam states it's now difficult to justify the waiver amid record-low unemployment rates and substantial job growth. The governor's office also points out that other states have similarly restored work requirements. The change affects 58,000 of about 1 million Tennesseans on food stamps. The administration says Haslam also will propose legislative changes to reduce welfare fraud, waste and abuse.

"According to the most recent census data,” said US Rep. Steve Cohen, “the Memphis metro area has the highest poverty rate of metro areas with at least one million people. We need to be making nutrition assistance more available, not less.”

Yesterday my coworkers and I had a discussion about the work requirement with various viewpoints. I would agree with Cohen that we need to make food assistance more available but I also don’t think there is anything wrong with a work requirement. I did notice that people with disabilities are exempt from this requirement.

Historically people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and that is where the issue is for me. According to the Department of Labor, in 2016, the unemployment rate for the general population was 4.6 percent, but for people with disabilities it was stuck around 10.5 percent. Finding employment for people with disabilities is extremely challenging and if our community could truly take advantage of skill training and employers were more accommodating I think people with disabilities could make our workforce stronger. What do you think?

This past Tuesday, September 12, I took part in The American Public Human Services Association Conference’s, Improving Access to SNAP for People with Disabilities panel discussion at the Hilton Hotel.  I shared the panel with Oregon’s Belit Burke, Self Sufficiency Design Administrator Oregon Department of Human Services and Massachusetts Brittany Manini, Acting SNAP Director Department of Transitional Assistance. 

My contribution to the discussion was about barriers. It’s hard to schedule transportation for SNAP benefits because waits are so long at the office, kiosk are not accessible, emergency responses for replacement benefits have not been very accommodating to folks with disabilities; these are some of the areas I addressed.

Belit Burke shared that for a long time Oregon system had not been the friendliest for people with disabilities. Advocates are a big reason why things have improved. Today Oregon offers same day benefits, program evaluations, feedback on websites, and even focus groups to improve service.

Much has changed in Massachusetts on the heels of a now settled lawsuit. Harper vs Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance was a class action lawsuit brought by disabled clients alleging that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide clients with disabilities with equal access to Department benefits.

The plaintiffs alleged that the Department fails to provide clients with disabilities the special assistance needed to ensure that they can maintain their benefits. Today there are system enhancements, screen prompts and scripts for employees, built in tracking to maintain customer documentation, mobile alerts, and employees assist in filling out paperwork and reading notices through home visits for people with disabilities. The offices now have at least one director of Disability Access in each office whose goal is to keep disability access in the discussions as well as collaborate with community liaisons and other agencies.

Massachusetts currently partners with the aging commission and other agencies. There is also an Elder Unit being developed that will cater to seniors 60 and older and also provide a direct line for them to call with no automation.

At the end of the discussion I met Lisa Cowell, Tennessee SNAP Director. She informed that she submitted a ticket to have the kiosk lowered which will make them more accessible and she forwarded my information to Shelby County’s Field Management Director Yolanda Shegog-Wright.  Ms. Cowell also advised that Tennesseans can now send emails for a 48 hour response, apply for SNAP benefits online and also take advantage of live chat by accessing the website at  

Timothy Redd
After hearing some of what is happening in other places I am convinced that a better system for accessing SNAP benefits is possible if we as a community continue to speak and make demands when we see barriers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The STAC Report

MATAplus news 

By Allison Donald
MATA has an organizational overhaul in the effort to improve on time performance and customer service.  MATA has hired Victor Riley, as the Safety and Security officer, for rail operations Anthony Amos the new Compliance officer, and Frank Hauser the new Trolley Director.
Prior to joining MATA, Wiley served as the Transit Safety Programs Manager for the Florida Department of Transportation, advising local transit agencies on matters of safety and compliance with state and federal regulations. Trolley Director Frank Hauser joined last month, giving the MATA Trolley a leadership team with nearly 45 years combined experience in the transit industry. 
Allison Donald

The STAC plans to work with Mr. Hauser and Mr. Riley to ensure that the trolley system is accessible for individuals with disabilities.  As the STAC we are going to request a meeting with both individuals to address our concerns regarding accessibility and compliance with the trolley system.  Mr. Wiley will also be receiving a phone call from STAC requesting a meeting.  MATAplus and the trolleys has shown some improvement but, problems still persist with both systems.

As a committee we have requested the policies and procedures for MATAplus, but those requests have continued to be ignored.  At our August meeting which was attended by La Barbra Houston (MATA representative), Bobbie Fields the STAC secretary had still not received the renewal application. Even today, Bobbie does not know if she will get the renewal. Other customer service problems like hold times for dispatch are still too long and the professionalism and customer service of the reservationist leaves a little to be desired. 

We plan to continue to demand full transparency about MATAplus, because it affects the way many people with disabilities travel around the city.

The STAC committee and MATAplus will be celebrating the annual driver appreciation luncheon on October 19, 2017 from 11am-3pm.  We are looking into giving an award out to a driver who has gone above and beyond duty to provide exemplary customer service.  If you would like to contribute to the event please contact Bobbie Fields or Christina Clift at the Memphis Center for Independent Living at 901-726-6404.

If you have any complaints or comments you can attend the monthly STAC meeting on Friday October 2:00 pm at the Memphis Center for Independent Living.  If you would like to keep up with what going on with MATA and how it will affect MATAplus riders you can visit our website at to read September’s STAC report or any of the past news you may have missed in our past reports.