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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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April 2016 | Vol. 8, Issue 4
CONTENTS
ABLE Update: States Thinking Creatively About How to Best Develop Programs
NDI Chosen to Help Lead New CCD Taskforce on Poverty
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act Introduced
The Financial Literacy and Education Commission Solicits Public Comments
NDI Submits Comments Regarding Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program
Obama Administration Moves to Increase Student Loan Discharges for Borrowers with Permanent Disabilities
March Employment Profile


 

ABLE Update: States Thinking Creatively About How to Best Develop Programs

As the potential benefits of ABLE become increasingly recognized, states continue to pass enabling state legislation. To date, over 40 states have passed ABLE-related legislation allowing them to move forward with the development and design of their programs. It is important to note that, while an overwhelming number of states have passed ABLE legislation, the funds dedicated by each state to develop the programs vary greatly state by state.

Recognizing the financial challenges associated with developing a state run program and taking into consideration the necessity of keeping these accounts as financially accessible to individuals with disabilities and their families as possible, states have had to think creatively about different ways to implement their state ABLE legislation.

One such solution that is being pursued is the “ABLE consortium” concept. So far, nine states, including Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, have elected to band together in an effort to provide their residents with access to ABLE accounts in a cost-effective manner. The participating states are hopeful that by combining resources, they will be better positioned to solicit and obtain a wider range of investment options for their beneficiaries, more effectively market their program(s) and be more innovative in terms of supports to ABLE beneficiaries and their families, while keeping end costs to a minimum.  

It is exciting to see states thinking creatively on how to best develop their programs in cost effective ways for individuals with disabilities and their families. We remain optimistic that the first ABLE program will be up and running in the next couple of months. In order to prepare, we encourage you to watch the “Becoming ABLE Ready” video.

For the most up-to-date information concerning ABLE accounts and programs, please visit the ABLE National Resource Center.

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NDI Chosen to Help Lead New CCD Taskforce on Poverty

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is a coalition of approximately 100 national disability organizations, including National Disability Institute (NDI), that work together to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. Given the recent national focus on poverty, and the importance of poverty to the disability community, CCD recently elected to form an ad hoc taskforce solely focused on federal policies aimed at addressing poverty among individuals with disabilities and their families.

As a result of our longstanding expertise in the area of anti-poverty strategies for individuals with disabilities and their families, NDI has been chosen as one of three organizations to lead the CCD Taskforce on Poverty.

The Taskforce will meet frequently to develop recommendations on how to address the overwhelmingly high prevalence of poverty among individuals with disabilities and their families. The Taskforce will then develop materials to educate policy makers, including Speaker Ryan’s Taskforce on Poverty, Opportunity and Upward Mobility, about responsible reforms that would assist in providing individuals with disabilities a pathway out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.

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Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act Introduced

In late March, Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), introduced H.R. 4835, known as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act. This piece of legislation, supported by NDI, directs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to establish a Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant Program (VITA grant program) for the development, expansion or continuation of volunteer tax preparation programs to assist low-income taxpayers and members of underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities.

Additionally, the bill establishes the National Center to Promote Quality, Excellence and Evaluation in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. The primary functions of the Center are as follows:

  1. promote the adoption of a universally accessible volunteer training platform for the preparation of federal income tax returns;
  2. provide technical assistance to tax return preparation program managers;
  3. identify and disseminate best practices related to tax site management;
  4. support outreach and marketing efforts; and
  5. provide evaluation of programs and activities funded under the VITA Act.

NDI has done a great deal of work around the VITA program in order to assist individuals with disabilities in not only filing their taxes, but ensuring they also benefit from eligibility for certain types of tax credits and deductions. Often individuals with disabilities and their families qualify for special types of tax relief, but do not have the means to hire tax experts to assist in navigating their eligibility. By strengthening the VITA program, individual with disabilities will have a greater ability to access needed tax assistance and the opportunity to build for a better economic future.

For more information on how NDI has played a part in increasing access to and inclusion of people with disabilities in asset development, financial education and free tax preparation programs and services resulting in 2.8 million people with disabilities receive more than $2.7 billion in tax refunds and credits, please visit our Taxes and Tax Preparation web pages.  

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The Financial Literacy and Education Commission Solicits Public Comments

The Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC), established in the Financial Literacy and Education Improvement Act and chaired by the Secretary of Treasury, has recently published its intent to revisit its strategies to improve financial literacy among all Americans. Previously outlined in its 2011 publication, Promoting Financial Success in the United States: National Strategies of Financial Literacy, FLEC is soliciting public input regarding its four primary goals:

  1. Increase awareness of and access to financial education;
  2. Determine and integrate core financial competencies;
  3. Strengthen the provision of financial education; and
  4. Identify and share effective practices.

NDI has invested a significant amount of time and resources into promoting financial literacy and education among the disability community. As opportunities for integrated competitive employment are combined with newfound opportunities to build assets without jeopardizing an individual’s public benefits (ABLE Act), financial literacy among individuals with disabilities is more important than ever before. NDI plans to use this opportunity to educate FLEC about the lack of attention surrounding financial literacy for underserved populations, most notably the disability community.

Comments should be received by May 11, 2016 to be assured consideration. Written comments should be sent via email to OFE@treasury.gov or to the Department of the Treasury, Office of Financial Education, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC  20220.

For more information on FLEC’s mission, visit the Treasury website.

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NDI Submits Comments Regarding Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program

In the February edition of Washington Insider, NDI published an article on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) release of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) regarding potential improvements to the Ticket to Work Program. As noted in the article, the Ticket to Work Program recognizes, and aims to address, the significant challenges faced by individuals with disabilities who are also Social Security beneficiaries, when pursuing employment.

NDI, independently and in collaboration with other disability-related organizations, developed and submitted comments regarding the Ticket to Work ANPRM.

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Obama Administration Moves to Increase Student Loan Discharges for Borrowers with Permanent Disabilities

This past month, President Obama instructed the Department of Education to work more closely with the Social Security Administration (SSA) in order to identify individuals with disabilities who would most likely be eligible for student loan relief as a result of the severity of their disability. This directive, established through the President’s “Student Aid Bill of Rights,” builds on a 2012 directive that allowed potentially eligible individuals to use their Social Security designation to apply for the student debt discharge benefit.

Under the President’s newly established instruction, and as a result of significant underutilization of the student loan relief benefit to individuals with permanent disabilities, the Department of Education will now take a more proactive role in identifying potentially eligible individuals (with assistance from SSA), and it will be obligated to provide those individuals with notification of potential eligibility and application assistance.

By utilizing data from SSA, the Department of Education’s recent study has shown that approximately 387,000 borrowers have been positively identified as most likely eligible for student loan discharge. Additionally, close to half of those individuals’ student loans are in a state of default, meaning that they could be at risk of losing federal tax benefits and having their Social Security benefits reduced.  

With the rising cost of education and the significant financial challenges often associated with having a disability, student loan debt can act to significantly prohibit economic mobility and financial self-sufficiency. NDI supports the President’s efforts to assist individuals with disabilities in their struggle to rise from poverty by alleviating student debt for those who are eligible.

For more information related to student loan forgiveness for individuals with disabilities, visit the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website.

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March 2016 Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for March 2016 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 10.8 percent. This is a .9 percent decrease from March 2015. The latest employment statistics also find that only 19.9 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.6 percent of people with no disability. Data on people with disabilities covers those from the ages of 16 to 64 who do not live in institutions.

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
Statistic
With Disability
Without Disability
 
Mar.
2015
Mar.
2016
Mar.
2015
Mar.
2016
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.8
19.9
68.3
68.6
Employment-Population Ratio
17.5
17.8
64.7
65.2
Unemployment Rate
11.7
10.8
5.3
4.9
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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National Disability Institute

 

NATIONAL DISABILITY INSTITUTE: Celebrating 10 Years of Real Economic Impact for People with Disabilities
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