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Wendy Leonard, Deseret News
Heather Barney, Utah communications director for Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, greets members of the Disabled Rights Action Committee who were leading a peaceful protest at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah's Disabled Rights Action Committee would expel Sen. Orrin Hatch from Congress unless he shows more support for people with disabilities.

They issued a failing report card at a press conference at the Federal Building on Wednesday, urging support from the seven-term Republican senator.

"He has dropped the ball," Lopeti Penimaani, chairman of the local organization, said. "He's not just ignoring us, but he's working against us."

The group was recently shut down by Hatch at a meeting in Washington, D.C., where they believe Hatch was rude to them.

Hatch's Utah spokeswoman, Heather Barney, told the group she's sure Hatch didn't mean any harm and was only trying to help their ideas progress amid a busy schedule.

"He's taken your concerns very seriously over all these years," Barney said. "He's still very interested in helping those with disabilities."

But the group calls Hatch a "one-time champion" of their ideas, saying the senator no longer responds to their requests and/or ideas.

"Lately, he's siding more and more with the tea party and less and less with his constituents," said Disabled Rights Action Committee Executive Director Jerry Costley. Costley is hoping Hatch will co-sponsor or at least support the Disability Integration Act, which would allow individuals to take the money from their medical benefit that would otherwise put them in a nursing home and use it to hire the help they need to continue living in their own homes.

"Life is so much better in our own homes," Costley said. "It's undeniable."

He said that giving people a choice consistently ends up costing less than requiring them to be in a home.

Barbara Toomer, an activist with Utah's Disabled Rights Action Committee, spent several months in a nursing home after hurting a knee in 2012. She said that while her accommodations were nice, she didn't necessarily like keeping their schedule.

"If I want to eat popcorn for dinner, I will eat popcorn for dinner," she said, adding that she was lucky enough to own her home and be able to return there once she was released from an assisted living situation.

Penimaani said most people with disabilities are scared to end up on the street after losing their rented apartments or other residences while spending an unknown amount of time in a nursing home.

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Security at Hatch's Salt Lake office would not let the group enter the building together on Wednesday, but Barney ultimately met with them outside for a short time.

After outlining what he perceives as poor performance and abandonment of people with disabilities on Hatch's part, Costley said, "I don't think he'll be around forever."

But that doesn't change the dedication of the members who attended Wednesday's event.

"We're in it for the long haul," Costley said. "We want dignity as people with disabilities."