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Thousands Call on Congress To "Free Our People"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 18, 2003

WASHINGTON, DC--U.S. Senators Tom Harkin and Arlen Spector, along with Representatives Danny Davis, John Shimkus and Dennis Morris, were among dozens who took the microphone Wednesday afternoon to speak out for real choice in Medicaid supports for people with disabilities during the "Free Our People" rally.

The speakers joined several thousand disability rights advocates from across the country who had traveled to the nation's capital to bring the "Free Our People" message to Congress. They represented dozens of groups including ADAPT (American Disabled For Attendant Programs Today), NCIL (National Council on Independent Living), and SABE (Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered).

The demonstrators called for Congress to pass MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community-Based Attendant Services and Supports Act, introduced into Congress this year as S 971 and HR 2032. Medicaid regulations currently force hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities -- regardless of their age -- to be housed in nursing homes and other institutions for long-term care supports. MiCASSA would loosen up the regulations to allow Medicaid recipients to purchase supports to remain in their own homes or with family members.

Even though the measure was introduced into Congress in 1997, it has been repeatedly stalled, primarily because of the powerful nursing home lobby.

"Keep plugging and one day we will win this thing," said Senator Spector, a long-time co-sponsor of MiCASSA.

The event was the culmination of a year of behind-the-scenes work by organizers. Leading up to the rally was 144-mile march from Philadelphia to draw attention to the need for MiCASSA. A group of about 150 activists, most in wheelchairs, endured rain, cold, and intense sun during the 14-day trek.

"We better have gotten the message across after all we have been through," said marcher Peggy Dourghty.

"This is good, this is good," said activist Tom Cagel. "I hope this stirs things up."

"Thoughts of the people in the march" (Free Our People)
"The Journey is not over until Congress passes MiCASSA" (Free Our People)
"Disabled get on the move for freedom" (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe Welcomes Disability Activists" (Justice For All)
Quick Slide Show of "Free Our People" March


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