Bennet, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Help People With Disabilities Access Care in the Setting of Their Choice

Named After Colorado Activist, the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act Would Strengthen Civil Rights to Help People With Disabilities Continue Living Independently

Washington, D.C. –  Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act to strengthen the civil right for people with disabilities, who need long-term services and supports, to receive care in the setting of their choice. 

In 1991, Latonya Reeves fled a nursing home facility in Tennessee to move to Colorado. In Colorado, she could live independently while still accessing the care she needed in her own home. This legislation named in her honor would strengthen the federally protected right of individuals with disabilities to be meaningfully integrated into their own community and to receive long-term services and supports (LTSS).

“Every person deserves the opportunity to live independently while still having access to the care that they need,” said Bennet. “Latonya Reeves was forced to leave Tennessee and come to Colorado to find that opportunity. Then she dedicated her life to helping others do the same. Our legislation will help ensure people like Latonya and the individuals that she has helped can live independently in their communities while still accessing the care they need -- no matter where they live.”

“I am honored for the bill to be named after me, and just want other people to get out of nursing homes. Thank you, Senator Bennet, for your support,” said Latonya Reeves who left Tennessee and came to Colorado to avoid being institutionalized and has since dedicated her life to ensuring other Disabled individuals are given the opportunity to live in freedom.  

"We are thrilled that Senator Bennet has introduced the LaTonya Reeves Freedom Act," said Dawn Russell, an ADAPT activist who has spent more than 30 years fighting for freedom.  "Because of Senator Bennet's leadership, we can see the day when people who need long term services and supports can live in the community and will no longer be forced into unwanted institutionalization.  His work honors every ADAPT activist, beginning with Wade Blank and the Gang of 19, who put their bodies on the line for decades in our fight for civil rights."

THRIVE Center fully supports the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act. This piece of legislation will allow people with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) to live quality lives in the community of their choice. Finally, access to Long Term Support and Services that are person-centered, self-directed, culturally responsive, and comprehensive. Currently, many people with I/DD and their families/caregivers have to constantly fight for services that they are eligible for. The crazy bureaucracy, the nonsensical rules that families had no part in creating, the exhaustion and uncompensated effort families must endure to keep their loved ones from being in an institution is far from equitable or inclusive. But, there is hope with the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act where our voices were heard, heeded, and acted upon. Nothing about us without us,” said Yvette Burkhalter, Executive Director of THRIVE Center, a Colorado Community Parent Resource Center and Family-to-Family Health Information Center. 

“Jewish Family Service of Colorado (JFS) enthusiastically supports the adoption and passage of The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act. As a provider of Disability Services, we strongly believe that individuals with disabilities should have the autonomy and freedom to live in their desired location and be integrated in the communities they live. This legislation is a matter of civil rights for those with disabilities. JFS encourages the passage of The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act during the 117th Congress,” said Linda Foster, President and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado.

“Greeley, Colorado-based organization, Connections for Independent Living, fully supports the passing of the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act. Our nonprofit organization has served Northeastern Colorado’s disability community since 1986. We encourage individuals who live with disabilities to live as independently as possible in the community of their choice. Considering some individuals we serve require Long-Term Services & Support (LTSS) in their lives, the Freedom Act is vital to their future independence. At Connections for Independent Living, our team has directed a long-standing nursing home transition program for nearly 25 years. Its success relies on LTSS arranged in part by Home & Community Based Services. The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act will be of critical importance to our participants who are transitioning from skilled nursing facilities into private residences,” said Brad Taylor, Director of Transitions and Director of Advocacy at Connections for Independent Living. 

In the United States, over a quarter of individuals, or 67 million people, are living with a disability. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. (Olmstead) that individuals with disabilities have a qualified right under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to receive supports and services while living in the community of their choosing. This landmark decision has assured people that they will not be forced into institutions, including psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes. 

The legislation will enable individuals with disabilities to live independent lives in their community and would: 

  • Establish a comprehensive State planning requirement with enforceable and measurable objectives to transition individuals with disabilities out of institutions and into the most integrated setting, if they choose that transition;
  • Prevent State governments and insurers from engaging in discriminatory practices, policies, or rules that would prevent an eligible individual from receiving community-based LTSS;
  • Identify and address disparities in the provision of community-based LTSS; and
  • Accelerate State compliance with the integration mandate of the ADA.

The bill would guarantee minimum requirements for coverage of LTSS, regulated by the Attorney General. Public entities and LTSS insurance providers would be required to conduct evaluations of their current practices and policies, identify current gaps in their systems, and implement a transition plan that addresses barriers to community living. The Department of Health and Human Services will be responsible for providing technical assistance, reviewing, and approving these transition plans. 

In addition to Bennet, this legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The bill text is available HERE. A one-pager for the bill is available HERE.