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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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August 2013 | Vol. 5, Issue 7
CONTENTS
Senate HELP Committee: Workforce Investment Act of 2013
Bills Introduced to Advance Economic Self-Sufficiency for Low-Income Populations
President Obama Creates New Advisory Council Focused on the Financial Capability of Young Americans
Tom Perez Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor
HELP Committee Report on Olmstead & Community Living
National Disability Poll Summary
Summary of CFPB Policy Forum
Impact of ADA Amendments on ADA's 23rd Anniversary
July Employment Profile
 

Senate HELP Committee: Workforce Investment Act of 2013

On July 31st, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held an Executive Session or “markup” of the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356). Only one amendment was passed, offered by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) that makes reforms to Job Corps.

Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) applauded the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee vote to pass reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  The bill passed through the committee by an 18-3 vote, and will now be considered by the full Senate.
The original WIA legislation was first passed by Congress in 1998 and has been overdue for re-authorization since 2003.  The reauthorization bill passed by the committee today contains changes to the legislation that reflect input from business, education, and labor groups, and experience with existing programs.

“The reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act is long overdue, and this bipartisan bill will help workers, including young adults with disabilities, get access to the job placement, training services, and supports they need,” said Senator Harkin, who is Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee. “Despite passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act 23 years ago, too many people with disabilities continue to be tracked into segregated employment settings. The updates in this bill will provide people with disabilities more opportunities to get ‘real-world’ work experience, along with improved transition services, so that they have a better chance of securing competitive, integrated employment.”

Title V of WIA reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act, including vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs. Section 511 is a sticking point for many disability advocates, who are at odds over the intent of the provision vs. the long-term impacts that it could have on workers with disabilities. Section 511 allows Vocational Rehab to put people with significant disabilities in subminimum-wage jobs if they meet certain age-related requirements and while receiving job training services to prepare them for competitive employment.

“I believe it is critically important that every young person with a disability have an opportunity to experience competitive, integrated employment as they transition from school to adult life,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the bill’s chief sponsors.

Many advocates say the bill does little more than provide a checklist for vocational rehabilitation agencies that could ultimately put more individuals at risk for low-wage employment.

The current debate comes two years after a similar effort to update the Workforce Investment Act fell apart. Senate aides say that they believe that this bill could be conferenced with the House before the end of this year.

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Bills Introduced to Advance Economic Self-Sufficiency for Low-Income Populations

Multiple Census reports documenting growing poverty and income and asset inequality nationwide have led to new movement on Capitol Hill to offer solutions that would impact individuals with disabilities and their families.  Legislative proposals introduced in the House and Senate would expand availability of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), modify eligibility and the amount of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and establish a matched savings option as a new tax benefit.

S. 1368, introduced on July 25, 2013, by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Udall (D-NM), JayRockefeller (D-WV), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) seeks to expand funding to $30 million annually for the VITA grant program to provide matching funds for the development and expansion of qualified return preparation programs assisting low income tax payers and members of underserved populations, including individuals with disabilities.  The grants to be awarded on a competitive basis must demonstrate low income taxpayer outreach and education around available income supports and refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  S. 1368, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act would also establish a National Center to Promote Quality, Excellence, and Evaluation in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.  The Center would support outreach and training to replicate best practices from VITA sites and expand marketing efforts nationwide to target low income taxpayers to increase awareness and encourage use of VITA as a free service with special attention to underserved populations including individuals with disabilities.  During 2012, VITA programs filed 1.6 Federal income tax returns and helped low income tax payers claim $2.2 billion in tax refunds.  However, one in five taxpayers who were eligible to claim the EITC failed to do so.  S. 1368 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

S. 836, introduced on April 25, 2013, by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and cosponsored by 29 other Senators, seeks to expand coverage of the Earned Income Tax Credit.  There is a companion House Bill, H.R. 2116 which was introduced by Representative Richard Neal (D-MA) and cosponsored by 40 other House Members.  S. 836 and H.R. 2116 would expand coverage of EITC for an individual who is low income and has no qualifying children who has attained the age of 21 and is not a full-time student.  Current law limits eligibility for EITC to individuals 25 years old and older.  The legislation would also expand the amount of the refund for families eligible and single individuals.  The bill is titled Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2013.  S. 836 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.  H.R. 2116 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

On August 1, 2013, Representative José Serrano (D-NY) introduced the Financial Security Credit Act of 2013 (H.R. 2917) to offer low- and moderate-income earners new incentives to save at tax time.  The bill offers eligible individuals and families to save their tax refunds by making deposits into any of a number of savings options.  If the savings is maintained for eight months, the individual and/or family will be eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to $500, which will directly be deposited into their account.  Qualified savings accounts would include 529 college savings accounts, qualified retirement accounts like 401(k) and IRAs, as well as certificates of deposit and savings bonds.  The proposal builds on the successful SaveUSA program model, which was initiated in New York City and has been replicated in other cities nationwide.  The match offered is a further incentive to low income individuals and families to focus on longer term economic stability and security.

These three bills offer complementary proposals to increase economic stability and mobility.  Working age adults with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty and least likely of vulnerable populations to have any savings.

On July 24, 2013, President Obama made the follwoing statement in a major speech on economic policy:

“ We still live in an upside-down system where those at the top get generous tax incentives to save, while tens of millions of hardworking Americans get none at all.  As we reform our tax code, we should find new ways to make it easier for workers to put money away…”

The disability community needs to support these proposals and be a part of the tax reform debate.

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President Obama Creates New Advisory Council Focused on the Financial Capability of Young Americans

President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, with a goal of strengthening the financial capability of the nation's youth.  According to the release issued by the Treasury Department, the Council’s focus will be to help young people acquire skills and knowledge they need to pursue successful careers and contribute to the nation's economy, by training them to make smart decisions about going to college, using financial products, and even saving for retirement.

The new Council succeeds the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, which delivered its final report earlier this year. The Council includes Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, along with leaders and innovators from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors who will be named in the coming months.  Suggestions or questions for the new Council can be sent to pacfcya@treasury.gov.

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Tom Perez Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor

After a lengthy delay by Senate Republicans, Thomas Perez, the former assistant attorney general for civil rights was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor by a 54-46 vote. Prior to taking over the top civil rights job at the U.S. Department of Justice, Perez was an aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a Justice Department lawyer in the civil rights division, and formerly served as the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor.  In his first weeks in his new job, Perez, celebrated the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the Department of Labor blog, calling it a “watershed, transformative law,” but asserted that it still requires much more work “to make the full promise of the ADA a reality.”  Perez noted that he has “spent the last four years as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, where one of my top priorities and responsibilities was ADA enforcement,” and suggested that “there is a seamless connection between that work and my responsibilities as the new secretary of labor.”

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HELP Committee Report on Olmstead & Community Living

According to a new report based on a year-long investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, states are failing to meet their obligations to transition individuals with disabilities out of institutions and into community settings, in violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C., which held that unnecessarily segregating individuals with disabilities in institutions is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The report stated that nationally, there “has been a fundamental rebalancing of spending on individuals with disabilities in institutions as compared to spending on home and community based services in the years since the Olmstead decision,” citing a drop from 79 percent to 50 percent in state funding between 1995 and 2010 for in the share of Medicaid spending on institutions, including nursing homes, mental hospitals, and institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But the report noted that these numbers “fail to paint a complete picture. In reality, only 12 states spent more than 50 percent of Medicaid LTSS dollars on HCBS by 2010. Further, the population of individuals with disabilities under 65 in nursing homes actually increased between 2008 and 2012.

The committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), noted that the report “reveals that 14 years later, many states are still not making a commitment to provide all individuals with disabilities the choice to live in their own homes and communities.  This is amazing given that study after study has shown that home and community-based care is not only what people want, but is more cost-effective.”

The report recommended that Congress amend the ADA to clarify and strengthen the law’s integration mandate; amend the Medicaid statute to end the institutional bias in the Medicaid program; called on states to take advantage of new federal programs designed to encourage them to transition more individuals into community-based settings and shift away from waivers; and called on DOJ to expand its Olmstead enforcement efforts.

The report, Separate and Unequal: States Fail to Fulfill the Community Living Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” is the result of requests for information sent by the committee to all 50 states on the progress made to transition individuals out of institutions. 

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National Disability Poll Summary

The Youth Transitions Collaborative released an important new poll “Power in Numbers: A Profile of American Voters with Disabilities. The poll, funded by the HSC Foundation, was the first scientific study regarding the potential impact people with disabilities have on the American political landscape. It also examined the role of young people with disabilities, finding evidence of an emerging generation who may become more engaged in the political process.
The survey was developed by the Collaborative’s Advocacy Working Group, which includes the American Association of People with Disabilities, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, The HSC Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, National Council on Independent Living, and United Cerebral Palsy. 

Speaking at a press conference at the release of the poll results, Will Swenson, a representative from United Cerebral Palsy, outlined the goals of the survey. “Right now, we are a sideshow of a sideshow, we have very little relative impact on the process and the system. No one even discussed disability issues in the presidential elections, no one is afraid of us,” he said, noting that the community of people with disabilities has the potential to be unified into “a force to be reckoned with.”
 
Key findings of the poll include:

  • The disabled community votes in high numbers.
  • The community strongly considers a candidate’s record on supporting people with disabilities in their voting decisions.
  • The community will actually vote against candidates they otherwise support if that candidate supports cuts to existing government services for people with disabilities.
  • The community is politically diverse, with party affiliation tracking closely to the general population
  • People with disabilities are not single-issues voters.
  • People ages 18 to 30 within the disability community act even more strongly on these issues.

For full results, download “Power in Numbers: A Profile of American Voters with Disabilities”.

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Summary of CFPB Policy Forum

With opening remarks by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a recent forum on the first anniversary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau addressed issues ranging from how and why it was created, to some of its initial accomplishments. Warren, who provided much of the initial impetus for CFPB prior to becoming a senator, asserted in her remarks, “Today CFPB is here to stay. There are now consumers who are counting on it to make a difference.” 

Kicking off the subsequent panel discussion, moderator and Washington Post associate editor Robert Kaiser highlighted that CFPB is funded through the Federal Reserve, and its budget is set by a predetermined formula. “No one within a mile of this room can change the budget, and that’s the best part,” Kaiser said, noting that it was a Republican, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who voted against CFPB, who initially came up with the idea for the funding stream as part of a failed bipartisan agreement.

A question during the Q & A portion of the event asking whether CFPB is doing anything in particular to help people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities, navigate the potential abuse from big banks and credit card companies, was met with silence by the panelists. Subsequently, CFED legislative director Jeremie Greer suggested that many nonprofit organizations such as The Financial Clinic provide one-on-one help to everyone, including people with disabilities.

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Impact of ADA Amendments on ADA's 23rd Anniversary

A report released by The National Council on Disability (NCD) on the 23rd  anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), finds significant improvement in how courts are interpreting that law, specifically relating to the 2008 amendments to that law (ADAAA). 

The NCD’s report offers 23 findings and three recommendations based on an analysis of court decisions made under the ADAAA. The report concludes that “it is clear that the ADAAA has made a significant positive difference for plaintiffs in ADA lawsuits thus far.”

The report noted that many cases are still dismissed on procedural grounds before the alleged discriminatory conduct of the employer is ever addressed, which is what the report’s recommendations attempt to address.

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July Employment Profile

Disability.gov reported that the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the unemployment rate last month edged down from 7.6 percent to 7.4 percent. Disability employment statistics for July show an unemployment rate among people with disabilities that increased to 14.7 percent. The percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 20.3 percent, and the percentage of people with no disability in the labor force was 69.7 percent. A year ago the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 13.6 percent.

Data on people with disabilities covers those over the age of 16 who do not live in institutions. The first employment report specific to this population was made available in February 2009 and are now released monthly.

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
Statistic
With Disability
Without Disability
 
Jul
2012
Jul
2013
Jul
2012
Jul
2013
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
20.7
20.3
70.0
69.7
Employment-Population Ratio
17.9
17.3
64.1
64.5
Unemployment Rate
13.6
14.7
8.4
7.4
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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