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February 2016 | Vol. 8, Issue 2
CONTENTS
ABLE Implementation Moves Forward
President Obama Releases 2017 Proposed Budget
Notice of Proposed Rule Making Issued on Section 188
Social Security Administration Seeks Comments Regarding Ticket to Work Program
Department of Labor Issues First-of-Its-Kind Decision against Ohio Sheltered Workshop
January Employment Profile


 

ABLE Implementation Moves Forward

Exciting developments at a federal and state level continue to set the stage for movement of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act from possibilities to actual program implementation. With the elimination of the state residency requirement (a provision of the original law, which stipulated that a qualified beneficiary could only enroll in a program belonging to his/her state of residency or a contacting state), a number of states have significantly accelerated their efforts to prepare their program for accepting enrollees. While no exact dates have yet been announced for the launch of any one program, NDI is confident that the first states will begin to open their programs to participants in the next few months. These states include, but are not limited to: Nebraska, Ohio, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.

In addition to monitoring and providing technical assistance to states to promote the development of their ABLE programs, NDI is continuing to meet with various federal regulatory agencies to ensure proper and appropriate ABLE guidance is provided to states and other relevant stakeholders. In addition to meeting with the United States Department of Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), NDI most recently met with the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS is responsible for, among other things, oversight of state Medicaid plans and Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver plans.

During the meeting, NDI articulated the importance of CMS reaffirming that ABLE account funds will not be taken into consideration when determining eligibility for Medicaid supports and services, and that the funds in the account are to be used to supplement, not supplant, publically-funded supports. CMS will issue their guidance related to ABLE in the upcoming months. NDI will work with a number of other national disability-related advocacy organizations to develop a formal document of recommendations to submit to CMS to better inform them of the disability community perspective.

The ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC), founded and managed by NDI, will launch its website on March 1, 2016. The ANRC website is designed to provide multiple stakeholders, including individuals with disabilities and their families, and state ABLE program administrators and financial institutions, with objective and accurate ABLE-related information. Aspects of the website will include general information about the ABLE Act and its subsequent rules and regulations; state specific information related to implementation and program characteristics; archived webinars and informational videos. 

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President Obama Releases 2017 Proposed Budget

This past month, President Obama released his 2017 proposed budget. A president’s proposed budget sets and articulates that administration’s priorities in terms of policies, programs and projects to both Congress and the public at large. Once a president’s budget is submitted to Congress, it serves as a starting point for negotiations among Members of Congress during their legislative budget process.
Some areas of the President’s proposed budget that deal with the economic mobility and financial self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities included:

  • Continued funding of the Disability Innovation Fund (DIF), which is used to support activities that promote employment among individuals with disabilities.
  • The creation of the Interagency Council on Workforce Attachment (ICWA). If approved, the ICWA would work to increase coordination of disability-related activities among federal agencies and departments.
  • Funding to support demonstration projects related to the assistance of individuals at risk for applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
  • Funding to support the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), including additional funding to support job training aimed at disadvantaged populations with barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities.
  • Strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless low- to moderate-income workers and expanding the eligibility to individuals ages 21-24.

These are just a few elements of the President’s proposed budget that align with NDI’s goal of increasing economic opportunity and financial independence for individuals with disabilities. It is encouraging to note the numerous proposals to increase employment opportunities and advance economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

As Congress moves forward in its consideration of the President’s proposed 2017 budget, NDI will continue to work in conjunction with other disability--related organizations to educate Members of Congress as to the benefits of the proposals mentioned above.
For a more compressive list of disability-related aspects in the proposed budget, read the White House release on “Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities.”  

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Notice of Proposed Rule Making Issued on Section 188

On Jan. 26, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) regarding Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA, signed into law in July 2014, replaced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and acts as the country’s most significant vehicle for providing public funding aimed at promoting job readiness and increasing participation among youth and adults in the American workforce, including those youth and adults with disabilities.

Section 188 of WIOA protects equal access to the programs provided by WIOA to ensure that all eligible individuals (regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or other factors) can benefit from the supports aimed at yielding positive employment outcomes.  The updates to the regulation governing Section 188, found in the NPRM, work to better align the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity regulation with current law and articulate those provisions as they relate to the current workforce development system.

While employment in and of itself does not necessarily constitute economic advancement and financial self-sufficiency, it is among the most prominent avenues to achieving those goals. It is imperative that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from the state and federally-funded supports designed to increase the opportunity to be included in the American workforce and economic mainstream. DOL will be accepting public comment concerning the Section 188 NPRM until March 28, 2016. NDI, in conjunction with other disability-related organizations, will be developing and submitting comments, which will be available through our website.

To learn more, read the LEAD Center’s summary on the Section 188 NPRM or visit the Federal Register website for instructions on how to submit comments.

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Social Security Administration Seeks Comments Regarding Ticket to Work Program

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) regarding the Ticket to Work Program. The Ticket to Work Program, administered by SSA, was established through the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) of 1999. The TWWIIA recognized the significant challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, who are also Social Security beneficiaries, when pursuing employment. Through the Ticket to Work Program, SSA aims to increase long-term employment outcomes and financial independence for individuals with disabilities, while still maintaining many of their vital supports provided through Medicaid or Medicare.
With this request for comments, SSA for the first time seeks suggestions on how to inform and educate beneficiaries about making informed financial decisions, accessing financial services and products, and implementing saving and asset building strategies. NDI has met multiple times with SSA about possible ways the Ticket to Work program could better assist beneficiaries to learn about and understand options to increase earnings and achieve greater financial independence with the increased use of work incentives, favorable tax provisions like the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in the future, the opening of an ABLE account.

SSA asks “whether financial education, financial services, and asset building are necessary to foster work outcomes that are likely to lead to exit from the disability rolls?” This is an important opportunity to explain to SSA the connection and importance of building financial capability skills and changing financial behavior for Social Security beneficiaries to become more productive, independent, and a part of the economic mainstream.

To help current and future beneficiaries realize the full benefits of the Ticket to Work Program, the SSA is requesting specific recommendations and input on the following areas:

  • How could we [SSA] structure and present information to increase participation in and effectiveness of the program?
  • What employment support models are likely to be most effective in achieving the intent and goals of the program?
  • What incentives could we [SSA] offer Employment Networks (ENs) for collaborating effectively with employers, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, public workforce systems, WIPAs and other entities assisting our disability beneficiaries?
  • How could the program encourage youth with disabilities to pursue apprenticeships, career development programs, post-secondary education and other work-related opportunities in a manner similar to their peers without disabilities?
  • How could ENs become integral to transition planning with youth who have disabilities, their families and local schools?
  • Would offering beneficiaries financial education and planning services be appropriate for the program? If so, how could we [SSA] accomplish this through changes to the program regulations?
  • What service barriers or administrative complexities do ENs face that inhibit their ability to serve our beneficiaries?
  • What are some barriers that ENs face? How might we [SSA] adjust our rules to help ENs succeed at providing the services and support beneficiaries need to find and maintain employment?

NDI, in collaboration with other disability-related organizations, will be developing and submitting comments regarding the Ticket to Work ANPRM. These comments are due no later than April 11, 2016 and will also be posted to the NDI website.

Visit the Federal Register website to view the full list of questions related to the ANPRM or to receive instructions on submitting comments.

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Department of Labor Issues First-of-Its-Kind Decision against Ohio Sheltered Workshop

Earlier this month, an administrative law judge representing the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) found a sheltered workshop, operated by Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities in the State of Ohio, in violation of federal laws pertaining to wage and hour. The DOL found that the sheltered workshop was inappropriately paying several of its employees with disabilities sub-minimum wage absent the appropriate parameters to do so.

While the law does allow some employers to compensate workers with disabilities below minimum wage based on their level of productivity, as compared to an average worker without a disability performing similar tasks, there are purposeful specifications that must be met in order to do so. Additionally, if individuals being paid sub-minimum wage believe that they are receiving sub-minimum wages despite performing at levels above their current rate of compensation, they can choose to petition DOL for a review. While the law allows for this review by DOL, this particular method has never been utilized until now.

As a result of the petition, and subsequent review, three individuals with disabilities were found to be receiving inappropriately low wages and deserving of back pay in addition to liquidated damages totaling more than $50,000.

While DOL’s decision in this matter sets a positive precedent for workers with disabilities, the fact that the workshop was in the habit of paying workers with disabilities sub-minimum wages without adequate justification is worrisome. False assumptions such as these pose significant barriers to the desire of thousands of individual with disabilities to achieve a meaningful place in the American workforce, hindering their economic stability and mobility.

NDI applauds the disability-related advocacy organizations that supported the complainants in their efforts, and will continue our work to modernize this outdated practice.

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January Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for January 2016 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 10.8 percent. This is a 1.1 percent decrease from January 2015. However, the latest employment statistics find that only 19.5 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 67.9 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
 
Jan.
2015
Jan.
2016
Jan.
2015
Jan.
2016
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.6
19.5
68.2
67.9
Employment-Population Ratio
17.3
17.4
64.2
64.5
Unemployment Rate
11.9
10.8
5.9
5.1
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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