Two Kentucky representatives — Rep. Al Gentry and Rep. Brandon Reed — have crossed party lines to co-chair a caucus focused on issues facing people with disabilities. The bipartisan caucus is currently comprised of nine republicans and nine democrats.

Gentry, who lost his dominant arm in a workplace accident when he was 28, uses his experience to empower others through sports and advocacy, and hopes to see the caucus thrive in years to come.

“The mission of the Engage and Empower Caucus is to open up a direct pathway of communication for advocates of people with disabilities and the state legislature so that we [Kentucky] can more effectively and efficiently address the issues at hand,” Gentry said.

Given the wide-ranging goal of the caucus, it will be comprised of four subcommittees, including:

1. Healthcare and Insurance

Civic education policies have begun to diversify over the past few years as state-level institutions have taken a holistic approach to become more involved in the administrative planning and support process. Included in the state-level changes are revamped curriculum standards, better professional support for educators and newly established assessment tools for classroom programs. New policies are making a difference in the quality of students’ education and civic engagement.

CSG Midwest
As a library media specialist in a Minnesota middle school, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein comes across potential teachers all the time. It’s the students themselves. “At our school, students are often mentoring other students, and we are flabbergasted at what we see,” she says. “They have the patience. They have the understanding. They connect well with that other student.
“And we think, ‘This kid would make such a great teacher.’”
As a legislator, Rep. Kunesh-Podein also thinks about this: What state policies could expose more of these young people to the profession, and get them on a path to becoming a teacher? One idea, part of a legislative proposal in Minnesota this year (HF 824/SF 1012), is to bring college-level, credit-bearing Introduction to Education classes into the state’s high schools; another is to identify and eliminate barriers (financial or otherwise) that stand in the way of lower-income individuals getting certified to teach.
Attracting more teachers, as well as retaining them, has been on the minds of many state policymakers in the Midwest, as evidenced by the burst of new legislative proposals, laws and investments over the past few years.

CSG Midwest

Fear of losing Medicaid coverage can deter people with disabilities from entering the labor market. Medicaid buy-in programs allow workers with disabilities to purchase Medicaid coverage that enables them to participate in the workforce without losing health care benefits. A large majority of states such as Colorado, Illinois and Ohio, amongst others, are participating in or pursuing these kinds of programs.

In 2003, New York implemented the Medicaid Buy-In for Working People with Disabilities program, or MBI-WPD. In doing so, the state created an online toolkit outlining eligibility, income, financial planning resources, as well as other program requirements. The toolkit also provides a number of examples, worksheets and outlines for helping individuals create a Plan to Achieve Self-Support, or PASS.

The Council of State Governments hosted policymakers from across the country in June for the first meetings of its two national task forces: Healthy States and The Future of Work.