By Molly Miller

Missouri News Network

Disability rights activists are raising concerns that a House-passed bill may limit their ability to access affordable housing.

Jeff Johnson, president of People First of Boone County, a community center in Columbia, expressed concerns about housing and employment for those with disabilities. Johnson helped organize the annual Disability Rights Legislative Day at the Missouri Capitol on Wednesday.

House Bill 2385, sponsored by Rep. Ben Keathley, R-Chesterfield, passed the House last week by a vote of 103-33. The bill would make it legal for landlords to deny prospective tenants who use federal assistance to help pay their rent.

Participants for the legislative day hailed from all over the state and came to speak with legislators, hold a rally and share their experiences.

Johnson spoke at the rally and highlighted the importance of visibility for those with disabilities. The slogan of the legislative day, “We are Here,” appeared on shirts and signs.

According to The Arc, a nonprofit serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “Approximately 4.8 million non-institutionalized people with disabilities who rely on federal monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have incomes averaging only about $9,156 per year.”

By allowing landlords to refuse potential tenants on the basis of federal assistance like Social Security or Section 8, disability rights advocates are concerned about access to affordable housing.

Kay Hawk attended the events with her daughter Megan Hawk. They found a space two floors up to watch the rally to allow Megan to have a more sensory-friendly experience. The Hawks came to the Capitol as part of a group from The Arc of the Ozarks.

Kay Hawk’s topic priorities include streamlining the process for qualifying for a waiver and the wastefulness that occurs in Medicaid.

In Missouri, people with disabilities can qualify for four types of waivers administered through the Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. The waivers allow for Missouri to use Medicaid funds to help individuals with developmental disabilities utilize home or community-based services instead of their care coming from an institution.

Megan Hawk recently had a small part break on her wheelchair. When her mother tried to find an option for repair, no one would fix the chair as it wasn’t originally bought through Medicaid. The family ultimately bought a completely new chair through Medicaid as a result.

“I have concerns for her future,” Kay Hawk said.