Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division told members of a Senate committee Tuesday that the Justice Department has made enforcement of a landmark Supreme Court decision for disabled persons a top priority.
At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the anniversary of the Olmstead v. L.C. decision — a 1999 case where the Supreme Court ruled that individuals with disabilities have the right to live in their communities — Perez said that the Obama administration is committed to ensuring that disabled persons don’t have to live in unsuitable institutions and can receive appropriate services to live in a community.
He said the Civil Rights Division has filed amicus briefs on cases related to these rights in several states, including Georgia and Florida.
“We are indeed making progress, but we have a long way to go,” Perez said.
Panel Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) expressed frustration with states that have not taken significant steps toward improving the access to community-based services for disable individuals. The senators said it is cheaper for states to supply disabled persons with community-based services than it is for states to put them in an institution.
Perez said states tell him they aren’t taking certain steps to increase services because they have always handled disabled persons are certain way. The Assistant Attorney General said that response from states is a “fingernail on a chalkboard answer.”
“Community is the exception. Institutionalization is the norm,” Perez said. “And so that type of paradigm has pervaded for a long time.”