Wexton and Cao face off in the first forum, hosted by Arc

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10) and her November election challenger, Hung Cao, took part in their first public forum on Monday evening to share their experience, plans and promises with Arc of Northern hosts Virginia, a non-profit organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

They shared the virtual stage with Seventh Congressional District contestants, incumbent Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) and Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega (R-Coles), along with a live rendition of sign language.

And the candidates have been reminded by Conner Cummings, son of Arc board member Sharon Cummings, to remain civilian.

“I’m a self-advocate and proud to be autistic. Remember this is a sensory forum. It’s not a debate,” he said. “Talk about what you can do and have done for all people and all families with all disabilities. Please don’t speak badly of each other, speak well of yourself.

Wexton highlighted his extensive experience working with people with disabilities in his legal career and at the Loudoun Community Services Board, and his advocacy with state and federal legislatures since. Cao said the country needs to “get through all this bureaucracy and help those who need it most” and said he would listen to the disability community, while highlighting his family’s nonprofit who made Easter eggs for blind children.

Moderator Lucy Beadness, director of advocacy at the Arc of Northern Virginia, asked candidates questions about the particular challenges faced by people with disabilities, such as asset limits for Supplemental Security Income, a program Social Security that supports low-income people who are blind or disabled. The program disqualifies people with assets including cash, stocks, land, vehicles and property worth more than $2,000 for a single person or $3,000 for a married couple – a limit which Beadness says hasn’t changed since 1989.

“You can tell a lot about a country by how it treats the most vulnerable, and I think unfortunately in terms of the SSI that we were missing,” Wexton said. She said she supports increasing the limits to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for a couple, eliminating the marriage “penalty” and indexing the asset cap to inflation going forward. She also raised concerns about the Medicaid Personal Needs Allowance for Medicaid-funded people in nursing homes.

“Anyone on Medicaid in a facility can only keep about $30 a month for personal needs. This includes everything: having to get adult diapers on your own, having to get a cell phone so you can communicate with family, having to get a haircut or groom,” she said. .

Cao said raising asset limits “seems like a no-brainer, and I honestly don’t see why it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Yes, we will and we will change that. It’s obvious. We should have dealt with this a long time ago,” he said.

Beadnell also asked about the low pay of home care workers, who she says often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Wexton said “the greatest thing we can do is pay somebody a living wage,” pointing to the success of Democratic legislation to raise the minimum wage. She said low pay also puts these people and the people they care for at risk, as they are forced to choose between missing work or possibly going to work sick.

“It’s just a matter of making those investments a priority, and that’s something Democrats in Congress have been trying to do for a long time,” she said.

Cao said that during the pandemic, he was unable to reach his sick father when “the government just arbitrarily shut down our whole country”, and argued “we really just have to get the government out of the way and let the market be free.” work itself”. .”

“We now have a workforce used to staying home and not getting stimulus checks,” he said. “The work ethic in our community has simply disappeared, and we need to reinvigorate it.”

In response to a question about the disproportionate arrests and incarceration of people with disabilities, Cao pointed to Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman’s programs to train all deputies in caring for people with mental health needs, as well as the crisis intervention training.

“It’s leaders like this at the lower level, at the community level, that we have to lean on,” Cao said. “…As a congressman, I want to be able to listen to them and see what they need to give them the support they need. I know some of these sheriffs yearn to speak to the reps, they haven’t heard from them in two and a half years.

Wexton also applauded the widespread adoption of crisis intervention training, recalling his service on the Community Services Board after seeing how the criminal justice system was disproportionately filled with people with disabilities and mental health issues. , and highlighting funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to support programs like this. She also raised the school-to-jail pipeline.

“The worst thing for a child…who may not communicate like other children is to be handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police cruiser, which is why we need the training to begin much earlier for things like [School Resource Officers],” she said. “… It’s a continuum. You can’t start when the kids are adults. You have to start when they’re young and make sure everyone is aware of the issues.

And Beadnell asked the candidates what they thought about barriers to employment for people with disabilities and the minimum wage exception that allows some people with developmental disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage. Wexton said the minimum wage loophole should be closed, and said supporting the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act would go a long way to help. This law provides, among other things, adult education and literacy programs, vocational training services and supports the employment and independent living of persons with disabilities. Including

Cao told Congress he would address those issues and provide those jobs “immediately.”

“It may be a mundane task that others don’t want to do, but for some in our community, it may be what they thrive on,” he said.

Wexton said his first meeting upon entering Congress was with the Little Lobbyists, an advocacy group for children with medical needs and disabilities, “because this concept of ‘nothing about us without us’ is really important. for me”.

“That’s why I ran for Congress, because I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless,” she said, and pledged to “continue to stand up for you as I have been. previously”.

Cao thanked the forum organizers and attendees for “making me smarter about these issues.”

“You want a voice, it’s true, you want to be heard. And you can’t be heard if the government shuts down, Cao said. He said he plans to be available for voters to listen.

Questions submitted in the Zoom webinar and on Facebook during the live stream would be sent to candidates after the forum, Beadnell said. She reminded viewers of some resources available to them to learn more about suffrage and accessibility, including calling the Voter Protection Coalition at 866-OUR-VOTE to ask questions about suffrage and 800 -949-4232 to speak to Americans with Disabilities Act National. Network, find a local ADA center and learn about voting facilities.

This year’s November general election will take place on November 8. The first day of in-person early voting at the Registrar’s Office is September 23, and in-person early voting will end November 5 at 5 p.m. The deadline to register to vote in the November election will be October 17.

In addition to the election for the House of Representatives, there will be elections for mayor and city council in the cities of Hamilton, Leesburg, Purcellville and Lovettsville, a special election for a seat on the city council of Round Hill and special elections for the Leesburg and Broad Organize district seats on the Loudoun County School Board.

See a recording of the full forum at Facebook.com/TheArcofNoVA.

Melvin B. Baillie