HONORED BY CHAMBER: Rep. Bruce Westerman got one award but a harsh review from advocates for the disabled in Hot Springs.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman displayed an antagonistic view of advocates for the disabled in an appearance in Hot Springs Monday reported by the Sentinel-Record. Great account by David Showers.

Westerman was talking about a 2017 federal law he supported that gave businesses a “grace period” before a claim can be filed for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A delay, in other words. He depicted this as an opportunity to address a problem.

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Brenda Stinebuck, executive director of Spa Area Independent Living Services Inc., said businesses have already had 28 years to adjust to the 1990-passed ADA. Westerman responded:

“I’ve done a little research on y’all’s organization,” he told Stinebuck. “I believe y’all get funded mainly with a federal grant. Don’t you? And your largest expenses are your salaries, and I believe yours is over six figures. Isn’t it?”

Actually, he was wrong on the salary, though he tried to insist a “report that was filed with the federal government” said otherwise.

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According to the nonprofit’s federal tax reporting form for 2016, salaries and benefits accounted for $392,466 of the organization’s $665,110 in expenses. Government grants made up $674,299 of the $676,345 in 2016 revenue, and Stinebuck’s compensation was reported at $90,000.

Amy Tweedle, the nonprofit’s advocacy coordinator, said Westerman rebuffed her question about the Disability Integration Act. The civil rights legislation would require community-based services to be offered to the disabled who would otherwise qualify for institutional placement, helping those with long-term needs receive services in their home rather than a nursing home or similar facility.

Tweedle gave Westerman an information packet and asked him to review it.

“This is the second time he’s done something like this to us,” Tweedle said after the event. “When we have asked him a question, instead of answering it he just attacks us. He kept us from coming to an event last year because we weren’t supporters.

“We may not be his supporters, but he’s still our congressman. He’s the congressman for the people with disabilities in the 4th District who we represent.”

Stinebuck said a grace period for ADA compliance is unnecessary in light of the law’s longevity and the resources available to businesses.

“The disability community feels that 28 years is enough education for businesses,” she said after the event. “There are technical assistance centers that have volumes of information for businesses free of charge and have had for many years. So to say that businesses just need more time for education is kind of a slap in the face to the disability community.”

A nice touch was presentation of a “Spirit of Enterprise” award to Westerman at the end of the meeting from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He knows his base.

UPDATE: Westerman’s Democratic opponent, Hayden Shamel, commented on Westerman’s actions Monday.UP

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I am saddened yet unsurprised that Congressman Westerman would attack those who advocate for the disabled in our community. His recent actions are yet another example of how extremely important it is for us to elect representatives who will legislate with decency and compassion for the most vulnerable in our state.

What is most disheartening is that the employees of this organization have worked successfully for decades with elected representatives from both sides of the political aisle, yet Bruce has never even visited Spa Area Independent Living Services to get to know the resources they offer to those living with disabilities in our community. Moreover, the financials he cited yesterday while attacking disability advocates were representative of two offices with 20 employees that serve 14 counties in this area, which he would know if he had just taken the time to meet with his constituents.

We can and must do better. The job of an elected representative is to represent all voices, and that’s exactly what I’ll do when I’m elected in November.

UPDATE: Westerman did more explaining and griping about the advocacy agency in  folllowup the next day in the Sentinel-Record. None of his complaining backed off his support for making it harder to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act.