In an effort to better inform voters with disabilities, their friends and families, this election cycle Independence, Inc. undertook an effort to ask candidates running for office directly about a few of the issues that people with disabilities may care about this election cycle. We decided to ask all the major candidates running for US House and Senate, the Governor of North Dakota, as well as all everybody running for North Dakota Legislative office throughout our service area four basic questions in order to allow them to present to us their vision of how they will address the issues facing people with disabilities. Sadly, not every candidate responded to the multiple efforts by our office to get their input. The following is from US Senate candidate and current US Congressman Rick Berg. In the next few days we will be posting North Dakota Gubernatorial candidate and current North Dakota State Senator Ryan Taylor. We would like to thank Congressman Berg and Senator Taylor for taking the time to fill out the surveys and sharing their views with the readers of The People’s Voice.
It is important to note that the following information is shared for informational purposes only and should not be seen as an endorsement of any candidate for any office.
Candidate Name: Rick Berg
1. The state of North Dakota, and specifically the 11 counties served by Independence Inc., has some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, studies have continued to show that employment rates for people with disabilities are significantly lower than the rates of those without disabilities. How do you feel this problem can best be addressed?
Answer: The disconnect between overall low unemployment in the community and underemployment among the disabled suggests that we have much work to do. I believe we need a multi-pronged approach to address this issue: (1) We need to continue training programs such as those operated by Independence Inc., (2) Greater outreach to the business community to educate employers and break down stereotypes, and (3) Continued advocacy with government leaders to understand the needs and challenges faced by the disabled and the organizations which exist to assist them.
2. We have an extreme shortage of affordable; community based and integrated housing options for people with disabilities throughout our service area. What policies or programs would you support to help change this?
Answer: The shortage of affordable housing – particularly in western North Dakota – is a challenge shared by all members of the community. However, many of the issues surrounding housing are addressed at the State and Local level. For example, transportation and other infrastructure policies are most often set in Bismarck and have a direct impact on housing availability. Likewise, regulations such as zoning and housing codes are determined locally. The Federal Government retains also a significant role in housing both in direct support through HUD as well as a large role in providing access to credit for affordable housing construction through the LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit). As a Member of the House Ways & Means Committee with jurisdiction over the tax code, I have and will continue to support reauthorization of this vital program to encourage the construction of more affordable housing across North Dakota.
3. Health care access is an issue that affects all North Dakotan’s, but specifically adults and children with disabilities. What policies will you support to fully ensure access to much needed medical treatment, including access to mental health treatment, throughout our state?
Answer: The Federal Government most directly supports state medical needs through Medicare and Medicaid. The single greatest threat to these programs is the massive and rapidly growing federal debt – totaling over $16 trillion and growing at a rate of over $4 billion per day. If we fail to bring this debt under control, interest on that ballooning debt will increasingly crowd out important national priorities like providing adequate medical care. I’m committed to preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare, which is why I’ve voted consistently to reduce the debt.
4)What do you see as the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities in North Dakota in 2012? How do you feel these barriers can best be removed?
Answer: Education is the key to removing barriers for the disabled. We need more organizations such as yours which not only provide services – which are obviously important, but also to serve as a vital link in telling the story of the many successes and challenges overcome by the disabled every day in North Dakota. People need to understand that the lives of young women, like Debbie Denatdeale, who you highlighted in the Spring newsletter, enrich and should inspire us all.