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National Disability Institute's Washington Insider is a monthly newsletter highlighting key federal policy news that impacts the financial futures and economic empowerment of all people with disabilities. The Washington Insider tracks legislative and policy initiatives gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, specifically in the areas of taxation, asset building and economic development.

 

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 October 2012 | Vol. 4, Issue 9
CONTENTS
ABLE Act Reaches Highest Support Levels to Date
Election 2012: Where the Republican and Democratic Parties Stand on NDI's Issues
Update on Mandatory Direct Express Master Card for Federal Benefits
NDI Participates in Governor Markell's Advocacy Briefing at the NGA
September Employment Profile
 

ABLE Act Reaches Highest Support Levels to Date

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2011 has reached the highest support in the US Congress to date, amassing 232 cosponsors in the House and 38 in the Senate: those numbers amount to 53 percent of the House and 38 percent of the Senate. Congress will be in recess until after the November election, after which there will be in a "lame duck" session, meaning that the next Congress has been elected but its term has not yet begun. The most pressing issue facing the lame duck session, of course, is sequestration, so whether a tax package is taken up and whether the ABLE Act becomes part of that package remain to be seen. If the ABLE Act is not enacted in this Congress, advocates will start the process over in January with a new Congress.

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Election 2012: Where the Republican and Democratic Parties Stand on NDI's Issues

As the 2012 election season enters its home stretch, the candidates are taking their final tours in key battleground states on the campaign trail. NDI took a look at where each party stands on three public policy issues that are at the core of its mission: disability, poverty reduction, and Medicaid. Although both the Republican and Democratic platforms are fairly thin on these issues, both the Republicans and Democrats have nonetheless put forth their positions as part of their party platforms. Here's what each party says it would do if elected into office:

  Republicans

Democrats

Disability
  • Update the statutory authority for the Ability One program.
  • Reaffirm support for IDEAs goal of minimizing the separation of children with disabilities from their peers.
  • Urge preventive efforts in early childhood, especially assistance in gaining pre-reading skills, to help many students move beyond the need for IDEA’s protections.
  • Endorse Employment First…to replace dependency with jobs in the mainstream of the American workforce.
  • Facilitate the access of Americans with disabilities to the middle class, employment opportunities and the ability to lead full, productive, satisfying lives.
  • Utilize the Affordable Care Act to open access to health insurance to Americans with disabilities who were previously excluded because of pre-existing conditions.
  • Ensure that Americans with disabilities can exercise their right to vote and have access to the polls.
  • Oppose all efforts to weaken the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Enforce laws that prevent discrimination.
Poverty Reduction
  • Limit waivers for work requirements for welfare benefits.
  • Reform the federal government’s entire system of public assistance to ensure that it promotes work.
  • Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.
  • Fight for equal pay for equal work, a strong labor movement and access to education for every child.
  • Help lift people with disabilities out of poverty.
  • Continue the improvements in refundable tax credits for low-income families to encourage work and education while lifting families out of poverty.
  • Enhance access and equity in employment, education and business opportunities.
  • Expand the Promise Neighborhoods Program to prepare more students for college.
Medicaid
  • Reform the Medicaid system to make it more flexible, innovative and accountable.
  • Propose alternatives to hospitalization for chronic health problems and rewards for participating in disease prevention activities.
  • Limit mandates on coverage.
  • Explore the idea that patients with long-term care needs might fare better in a separately-designed program.
  • Block grant Medicaid to the states and provide the states with the flexibility to design programs to meet their needs of low-income populations.
  • Achieve Medicaid reforms through: refundable tax credits, allowing non-disabled adults and children to be moved into private health insurance.
  • Provide Medicaid funding for in-home care for the aged and disabled who don’t want to be placed in institutions.
  • Strengthen Medicaid and oppose efforts to block grant the program.
  • Oppose Medicaid changes that may lead to no or significantly less health care for millions of Americans with disabilities, workers with disabilities and families raising children with disabilities
  • Expand access to Medicaid.
  • Help Medicaid to support home- and community-based services to keep people in their communities.

Learn more about each party’s policy platforms:
 Republican Party
Democratic Party

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Update on Mandatory Direct Express Master Card for Federal Benefits

NDI continues to monitor the Direct Express Master Card program, which in March 2013 will become the sole means to receive federal benefits for more than 2.5 million people who receive payments from Social Security, SSDI, VA, SSI, the Railroad Retirement Board, Department of Labor (Black Lung), or OPM benefit checks.

In September, NDI Executive Director Michael Morris met with Walt Henderson, Director of the EFT Strategy Division at the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Management Service. Henderson explained that there has been substantial beneficiary education and surveying in order to ensure that card holders know about the program and are utilizing it effectively. Direct Express is part of a larger campaign by Treasury called Go Direct to get the unbanked to open a bank account and save. At this point, 83 percent of Treasury transactions are direct deposit; SSI recipients make up 55 percent of Direct Express cardholders. Cardholder education has centered on the distribution of brochures, which Henderson explained, has changed behavior in terms of avoiding transaction fees. The Direct Express program recommends that recipients get cash back from retailers by using their Direct Express cards or visit one of the 60,000 surcharge-free ATM’s that are part of the Direct Express network. 

While all beneficiaries are required to make the switch to either direct deposit or prepaid debit cards by March 2013, reports are surfacing that some seniors and beneficiaries with disabilities are being scammed into giving their identity and bank information to identity thieves who are promising lottery prizes in exchange for a person’s information. More than 19,000 reports of attempted changes to beneficiaries’ direct deposit information had been received by the SSA’s Inspector General’s office as of August 30th.

In a CNN article on the topic, the inspector general said the Social Security Administration needs to better verify a beneficiary's identity when making changes to his or her account. Among its recommendations: that the administration block attempts to change direct deposit information for people who say they have been victims of fraud and that it alert beneficiaries of changes immediately through automated e-mails, text messages or letters sent to old and new addresses. It also suggested developing unique routing numbers for prepaid cards, since "these cards are particularly tempting tools for benefit thieves."

Morris recommended several improvements to the Direct Express program, including: expansion of the surcharge-free ATM network and beneficiary education on the use of a prepaid card and how to avoid additional fees. Morris also recommended that there be additional alignment between the Departments of Labor and Treasury; Henderson agreed that there could be Direct Express brochures available at every One-Step Career Center in the country. 

An additional question remains unanswered: why are surcharge fees taken from beneficiary checks? Although Henderson pointed out that ATM surcharge fees are lower than check-cashing fees charged to those who received paper checks in the past, it is unclear why Treasury’s agreement with Comerica puts the responsibility for transaction fees on beneficiaries, who are already struggling to meet their basic needs.

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NDI Participates in Governor Markell's Advocacy Briefing at the NGA

On September 27th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who is also the current chairman of the National Governor’s Association, convened an advocacy community briefing to solicit best practices and insight on employing citizens with disabilities. Governor Markell, at the beginning of his term, declared that his focus as NGA chairman would be on developing ways that states can help people with disabilities to find jobs.
The purpose of the briefing was to hear from Governor Markell about his initiative as NGA chair and for the governor to hear from representatives of the advocacy community about current efforts to employ individuals with disabilities. The roundtable attendees offered recommendations on the following issues:

  • What governors need to know about employing people with disabilities and supporting businesses who hire people with disabilities;
  • Best practices in business or government that advocates want to highlight to governors.

Allison Wohl, NDI’s Director of Public Policy, represented NDI at the meeting. In her remarks to the governor, Wohl emphasized that while critical to quality of life, the employment of people with disabilities is a means to an end; it is not an end in and of itself and employment outcomes must be linked to strategies that advance economic stability and mobility including:

  • Financial education
  • Financial coaching
  • Access to affordable financial services
  • Matched savings plans
  • Use of work incentives and favorable tax provisions (EITC).

Our focus, Wohl stressed, must be on an overall economic empowerment strategy that includes working, saving and asset building.

NDI offered recommendations to Governor Markell on best practices for governors on both employing people with disabilities and supporting businesses who hire people with disabilities. Wohl suggested that state governments have leverage in incentivizing private employers to hire people with disabilities through the government procurement of goods and services. Every governor could make his or her state a model employer, by creating a Governoryers to hire people with disabilities through the in and of itselfduals with disabilities. The roundtable attendees offered recommendations on how the government procurement of products and services into affirmative obligations of government contractors to hire persons with disabilities. By adopting the Employment First policy framework to redirect the flow of public dollars, state governors can advance inclusive competitive employment outcomes for contractors.

The bottom line to governors: states should not ask the private sector to embark on a program like this if they are not willing to do it themselves.

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September Employment Profile

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
Statistic
With Disability
Without Disability
 
Sep 2011
Sep 2012
Sep 2011
Sep 2012
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
21.1
21.1
69.7
69.3
Employment-Population Ratio
17.7
18.2
63.8
64.2
Unemployment Rate
16.1
13.5
8.5
7.3

As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

While unemployment rates have essentially remained unchanged from last month, one key metric stands out: the unemployment rate among people with disabilities has decreased 2.6 percentage points between September 2011 and 2012. While this number might seem unremarkable in a stronger economic climate, it could send an encouraging signal about efforts to hire people with disabilities as a larger economic strategy. Additionally, the national unemployment rate has dipped to 7.3 percent; this is the first time that unemployment has been beneath 8 percent since President Obama took office.

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