By Michelle Diament
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living said it is committed to making “community living possible for all.”
The assertion comes in a letter to members of Congress weeks after the agency’s principal deputy administrator, Mary Lazare, spoke at two disability group conferences. A similar set of remarks during both appearances left some advocates alarmed and sparked concerns from a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers.
In letters sent to Lance Robertson, who heads the Administration for Community Living, last month, the lawmakers said they were told that Lazare indicated that the Supreme Court came to the wrong conclusion in the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. case, which affirmed the right of people with disabilities to access community-based living.
Furthermore, the letters from U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Gregg Harper, R-Miss., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., as well as Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said Lazare reportedly stated a preference for segregated and institutional settings.
There are believed to be no recordings of the appearances, which Lazare made at conferences put on by the Autism Society and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities during the same July day.
However, later that day, Lazare seemed to back away from her own words through a statement on the Administration for Community Living’s Twitter page.
“I regret & apologize for my words at #ASAconf18,” thestatement read. “ACL believes ppl w/disabilities have the right & choice to live in the community. We work to expand those opptys & are 100% committed to that mission. We also recognize Olmstead gives people the right to other choices.”
Now, in a written response to members of Congress, ACL’s Robertson is denying that Lazare expressed the alleged views.
“As you know, Principal Deputy Administrator Mary Lazare spoke on July 11 at two events. We know portions of her remarks caused concerns, which we are happy to address. I want to assure you that she did not state, or intend to express, the opinions referenced in your letter,” Robertson wrote.
“At ACL, we believe community living should always be the expectation,” he continued. “An integral part of our mandate is to uphold those rights guaranteed in the Americans with Disabilities Act and reinforced through the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which we fully support.”
In addition, Robertson said his agency remains “firmly committed” to supporting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in implementing a Medicaid rule outlining what types of settings qualify as community-based. The lawmakers had indicated that Lazare reportedly said the rule should be revisited.
Even with the response, Langevin said he remains unsatisfied.
“Despite the agency’s assertion that Ms. Lazare ‘did not state, or intend to express, the opinions referenced in (our) letter,’ I remain concerned that we received no additional information or clarification on her original remarks,” the congressman told Disability Scoop. “People with disabilities deserve to be fully included in society, and any suggestion to the contrary is simply unacceptable.”