The Republican tax bill stands to harm many US communities, but disabled people could particularly struggle thanks to a combination of cuts to vital services and the elimination of key deductions.
And the tax plan won’t just affect disabled people, who are already more likely to live in poverty than nondisabled people. It could also hit the families of disabled dependents hard, along with older adults, many of whom benefit from the same programs used by disabled people.
Understanding the harmful elements of this bill will help you better advocate for yourself and the people you care about when you contact your legislators.
The Cruelest Cuts
Republicans are fond of saying that they won’t cut Medicare and Social Security, two programs historically associated with older adults in the United States — a formidable voting block. Some have also indicated that they won’t touch Medicaid, either. And while this bill might not technically do that, the tax plan’s structure almost assures that it will happen.
Confused? Here’s how this works: In the United States, if legislation contributes to the national debt — increases the deficit — it must include offsets to address the problem. These can be achieved by raising revenue or cutting expenses. This bill contains what are known as “triggers” that would automatically cut some government programs to offset the expense of giving the rich a tax cut.
The bill would likely include cuts to Medicaid funding, along with financial resources used to provide vocational supports, education assistance and other programs that help disabled people live independently and reach their full potential.
As for Medicare, the program Republicans swear is off limits? It could see $25 billion in automatic cuts in 2018. Social Security? Also slated to take a hit, because this bill drives up the deficit so much.
Being disabled can get expensive. Under the current tax framework, out-of-pocket medical expenses can be deducted from people’s taxes if those expenses exceed 10 percent of their income. Nearly nine million families took advantage of this deduction in 2015. And without this option, ruinous medical expenses could be exacerbated. Loss of deductions for child care, adoption and student loans will also hurt the disability community, making it more difficult to engage fully with their communities.
And it’s not just individuals who suffer. Businesses that have to invest in accessibility improvements can deduct those costs from their taxes, which creates an incentive for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance — and makes it possible for businesses running on a slim margin. Republicans want to eliminate that option, while at the same time attacking the ADA with legislation that would make it harder for disabled people to request and receive accommodations.
The bill has another kicker: the elimination of the tax penalty for not having insurance, which functionally undoes the controversial individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
Starting in 2019, people who don’t have health insurance won’t be dinged for it on their tax bills, and this could set off a cascade effect that would lead to millions of uninsured people and a radical premium increase as insurance companies try to catch up. Disabled people who aren’t eligible for Medicaid and don’t get employer health insurance could be vulnerable to dramatic cuts in coverage or losing their coverage altogether because they can’t afford it.
The bottom line: Republicans say this bill will grow the economy and support the middle class. However, the government’s own analysis shows that it will push the deficit up by an estimated one trillion dollars, thanks to the slashes to tax rates for corporations and the rich, who already don’t pay their legally mandated share. Meanwhile, 87 million families will see tax hikes under the bill.