Advocacy on the Hill: Easterseals New Jersey at the Easterseals Policy and Partnership Forum

Easterseals Advocacy in Action. Photos of Easterseals staff on the steps of the US Capitol building

On April 17, Easterseals Affiliates and the National Office came together with thought leaders in Washington, D.C. to advocate for active-duty, veteran, and military families at the 2024 Easterseals Policy and Partnership Forum. Over two days, Affiliate leaders attended meetings with Congressional staff to advocate for the 4.7 million veterans with disabilities and the disability community as a whole. 

Matt wearing a blue suit with an orange tie, standing in front of the US Capitol building. Blue sky and clouds.

Matt in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Matt Binder, Senior Advocacy Specialist at Easterseals New Jersey, was excited to attend again after last year’s Policy and Partnership Forum on airline accessibility. “D.C. is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Talking to my colleagues across the country who are doing this work, hearing what they’re working on and their perspectives is interesting,” he says. Matt adds that every Affiliate location “has its own flavor” as far as what services they provide, and he found it exciting to see the breadth of Easterseals’ work in communities nationwide. 

Being at the center of our nation’s political beating heart is exhilarating. Meeting the Congressional offices representing every state, surrounded by the historical marble architecture and statues, Forum participants get to peek behind the curtain to witness the intensity in the day-to-day work of Congress. While Matt met with legislative staff, Congress was about to vote on aid to Ukraine, and many staff worried they would not have a Speaker the next day. Still, the legislative staff Matt met with, which included 12 different offices, confirmed their commitment to the work of Easterseals and the evolving needs of veterans and disabled people.   

In these meetings, Matt and his team at Easterseals New Jersey presented Congressional staff with their top concerns and support for bills that can positively impact disabled people and their families nationwide. One such bill is the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which will drastically raise the asset limit for SSI recipients to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for couples—currently, the limit is set to $2,000 and $3,000 respectively, which has not changed since 1984. Other legislative issues Matt shared include support for Medicaid funding to address the ongoing healthcare crisis, rising Medicare copays, telehealth access, and accessible and available transportation. 

Matt and Anysa of Easterseals New Jersey meet with Senator Cory Booker's staff.

Matt and Anysa of Easterseals New Jersey meet with Senator Cory Booker’s staff.

Direct care support is another big concern for Easterseals. “There really are no theoretical rights for our community without practical rights,” said Matt. “It’s great to say, ‘you can get a job,’ but if you can’t get out of bed in the morning, that’s not happening. And so you need direct care.” The bill, Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals, would require the federal government to study issues affecting Direct Support Professionals and recognize them as a distinct profession from home health aides and certified nurse’s assistants. This bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent. “That never happens. So being able to go to the House and speak in this really divided Congress on something that’s actually moving … that was our top priority,” Matt added.  

During the Forum, various speakers addressed the issues affecting veterans and the disability community. Matt particularly found it inspiring to learn of the work at Easterseals Oregon to address veteran homelessness. “It’s really cool to see that perspective and the diversity of what we do [at Easterseals]. It’s just a really positive thing.” 

Speakers at the Forum included: Sheila Casey, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of Joining Forces; Hans Nichols, political reporter at Axios; Sharene Brown, veteran advocate and spouse to the sitting Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General CQ Brown Jr.; James “Patch” Ackland, the Veteran Career Services Manager for Easterseals Oregon; and Kendra Davenport, President and CEO of Easterseals, Inc. and daughter and spouse of career veterans. 

A man with glasses and an eye patch on a panel on stage, talking

James “Patch” Ackland, Services Career Manager, Easterseals Oregon, at the 2024 Policy and Partnership Forum 

Easterseals also highlighted the Easterseals Disabled Veterans Study, which was conducted in partnership with Voya Cares. This study highlighted the urgent need for supports in employment and financial wellness, as well as mental health services for veterans as they transition back into civilian life. Caregivers are struggling and are frequently overlooked for support. These findings underscore the urgent need for services and care that Easterseals continues to provide every day, and the importance of backing from Congress and other leaders to widen and advance our impact. 

When asked about what he hopes for next year’s Forum and Capitol Hill Day, Matt shares that he wants to get more meetings with Representatives and to continue building on the progress Easterseals makes each year on the Hill. Collaboration is key, and what we can do when we are on the same path as advocates, service providers, families, corporate partners, and the entire Easterseals network is monumental.    

To learn more about Easterseals’ advocacy efforts, visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. 


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