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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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February/March 2014 | Vol. 6, Issue 2
CONTENTS
National Disability Institute Sets 2014 Public Policy Agenda
Two Sides of the Coin: the Obama Administration's FY 2015 Budget Proposal's Effects on People with Disabilities
Bill Introduced to Raise SSI Asset Limits
Workers with Disabilities Included in President Obama’s Executive Order to Raise Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors
Climb the Economic Ladder: New Section 503 Rule Went Into Effect March 24
NFB Advocates for Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act
Financial Literacy and Education Commission Holds Public Meeting
February Employment Profile


 
National Disability Institute Sets 2014 Public Policy Agenda

As National Disability Institute continues to push forward to build a world where people with disabilities have equal opportunity to achieve financial capability and independence as people without disabilities, the drive to advance economic certainty and a better economic future for all Americans remains a priority for our nation. Much progress needs to be made in these areas, as a 2013 report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans spent more than they earned the previous year and another 56 percent lacked the financial capacity to cover emergency expenses or weather the financial storm that comes with losing a job.  

While these statistics are certainly troubling, the reality for individuals living with a disability is even more financially alarming. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans with disabilities live in poverty and have difficulty navigating the web of federal disability programs. In fact, federal government reports continue to highlight the fragmentation of federal disability programs and the lack of alignment of policy goals that define common outcomes. In addition, too many public benefits (Social Security, Medicaid) require as a condition of eligibility that people with disabilities stay poor and prohibit saving and building assets – causing them to fall further and further behind their fellow Americans.

National Disability Institute created its 2014 public policy agenda to address these issues, including recommendations to improve tax and social policy and cross-agency collaboration.

Read National Disability Institute’s 2014 public policy agenda.

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Two Sides of the Coin: the Obama Administration's FY 2015 Budget Proposal's Effects on People with Disabilities

On March 3rd, President Barack Obama released the Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Proposal. Among the draft’s numerous policy recommendations are two provisions that would directly affect the livelihood of people living with disabilities, including a plan to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers; and another that would prohibit individuals from receiving both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.    

EITC remains one of our country’s most successful anti-poverty initiatives, helping pull more than 10 million people out of poverty in 2012 - including many people living with a disability. At a time when nearly 1 in 3 people with disabilities live in poverty, the FY 2015 Budget Proposal’s recommendation to extend EITC would be paramount in helping build a better economic future for the nearly 13.5 million workers with and without disabilities who do not have children – nearly doubling the EITC maximum benefit from $503 to $1,005, if the policy proposal is enacted.

While National Disability Institute applauds the Administration for this much-needed plan to expand EITC, we are concerned about the Administration’s decision to restrict an individual’s concurrent access to SSDI and UI benefits. 

Labeled a “reform,” this policy proposal would do little in the way of curbing ill-perceived beliefs of tax dollar waste, fraud and abuse in both programs. Moreover, it would actually worsen the economic security of the disability community, while at the same putting at risk the entire Social Security program so that other budget alternatives can see funding.

It is important to note that SSDI and UI were designed for entirely different purposes and serve different populations – of the 8.9 million Americans receiving SSDI, only 182,000 were also receiving UI. SSDI is designed as a bridge to full employment, with benefits not intended as a substitute for wages, but as a supplement. That is why SSDI beneficiaries can earn up to $1,070 a month in wages without jeopardizing other benefits, so that they can “test their ability to return to work.”

Further, this policy recommendation would save taxpayers very little. According to the Obama Administration, the change in benefits would save $3.2 billion over the next decade. To put that in perspective, total savings would still be less than one hundredth of a percent in federal spending over the same time period.

Furthermore, SSDI and UI recipients are still experiencing the hangover effects of the Great Recession and are in desperate need of hard-earned benefits to stay afloat financially and to simply make ends meet. In fact, limiting an individual’s access to SSDI and UI would have devastating consequences on their financial futures. All total, on average, SSDI and UI recipients received $3,330 in cumulative benefits – less than the current federal poverty threshold for a family of four. Should this shift in policy be enacted, individuals with disabilities would be further relegated to the economic periphery and have few, if any options, to maintain healthy financial lives and build better economic futures.

The Obama Administration’s FY 2015 Budget Proposal now awaits further consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

For more information on these policy recommendations, please review the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis on expanding EITC and their blog post discussing SSDI and UI.

View the Administration’s FY2015 Budget Proposal.

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Bill Introduced to Raise SSI Asset Limits

Over the course of the last year, two companion pieces of legislation have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to increase the asset limit a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary can possess without losing access to SSI and other federally funded public benefits. Both bills, named the SSI Restoration Act (H.R. 1601/S.2089), would – for the first time in nearly 25 years –  increase the current allowable asset limit from $2,000 to $10,000 in monetary and liquid assets an SSI recipient can keep without risk of losing SSI and other federally funded benefits. In addition, the bill would increase the amount of income a beneficiary can earn and eliminate the restriction on receiving aid (food, housing, financial) from friends and family. The bill would also amend the rule allowing the first $20 of Social Security Retirement or other monthly income to be disregarded when determining SSI eligibility These changes would allow the more than eight million Americans, including many people with disabilities, receiving SSI to begin to save and build better financial futures.

“Millions of vulnerable Americans who struggle just to get by depend on Supplemental Security Income to help take care of their families, but inflation has significantly decreased the ability to qualify for SSI benefits, hurting seniors, the disabled and blind, and more than one million children,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the Senate lead on the bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), S. 2089's lead cosponsor added, “SSI is a critical program that helps millions of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens keep their heads above water. I’m very pleased to join Senator Brown to introduce the SSI Restoration Act, which will help strengthen SSI for families who rely on these essential benefits."

Over in the House, H.R. 1601, introduced by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), has 13 cosponsors and is pending approval by the House Ways and Means Committee.  

In 2013, more than eight million Americans, including many with disabilities, received SSI. Currently, the maximum federal benefit for an individual receiving SSI is $721 per month, below the poverty level for a family of four. Combined with today's asset limits, the result makes it difficult for people with disabilities and other SSI recipients to build a better economic future while still receiving the federal benefits they rely on to make ends meet. 

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Workers with Disabilities Included in President Obama’s Executive Order to Raise Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors

February 12, 2014 marked a historic day in the economic advancement of all people with disabilities when President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors, including workers with disabilities, to $10.10/hour beginning in 2015. He also called on Congress to do the same for all workers by passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 3746/ S.460).

The executive order will take effect on January 1, 2015, and will also extended minimum wage protection to tipped workers. Although people with disabilities who work in sheltered workshops were not included in the executive order, those individuals working under service or concessions contracts and earning wages pursuant to special wage certificates issued under 29 U.S.C. 214(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act will also be covered by the executive order’s minimum wage protections. About 95 percent of workers with disabilities who work for subminimum wages under the provision are employed in segregated sheltered workshops.

Should it be passed by Congress, the Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the federal minimum wage for all workers in stages to $10.10, indexed for inflation, and also raise the federal minimum wage for all tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years.

President Obama has made it a priority for the Administration to bolster and improve the livelihood of all American workers. As a result, the Obama Administration continues to encourage and work with numerous state and local government agencies, organizations and stakeholders to increase employee wages and help more working families. Read more about the Executive Order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors here.

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Climb the Economic Ladder: New Section 503 Rule Went Into Effect March 24

U.S. Department of Labor data indicates a workforce participation rate of 31.6 percent for working age people with disabilities as compared to 76.5 percent of working age individuals without disabilities. Census data indicates that household income for persons aged 18 to 64 with a disability was $25,420, compared with a median income of $59,411 for households who did not report a disability. The poverty rate for individuals with disabilities is more than twice that of people without disabilities. Despite these challenging statistics regarding unemployment, income, and poverty status, this month new federal regulations become final that will offer thousands of individuals with disabilities new opportunities to climb up the economic ladder and design a personal pathway to greater economic security and stability.

On March 24, new final rules for Section 503 issued by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), went into effect. Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination against individuals based on disability by federal contractors and subcontractors. The new rule for the first time establishes a 7 percent utilization goal for federal contractors in the hiring and retention of workers with disabilities. Although not a quota or a ceiling, the Section 503 final rule sets out new affirmative obligations on federal contractors to recruit, hire, and promote qualified individuals with disabilities. Contractors will be required to maintain records that compare the number of individuals with disabilities who apply for jobs with the number of individuals who are actually hired. Records must also be kept on outreach and recruitment efforts, retention, and career advancement. For the first time, contractors can invite job applicants to voluntarily self-identify as an individual with a disability at a pre offer stage of the hiring process as well as post job offer which will help contractors meet their recruitment, hiring and career advancement goals.

What are the possibilities for the future? OFCCP estimates that an additional 600,000 workers with disabilities may be hired by federal contractors to help meet Section 503 obligations. The greatest challenge expressed by federal contractors is the concern with finding talented people with disabilities who might meet their needs.

National Disability Institute is teaming up with Our Ability to help create the pipeline of talent with a new online tool to connect job seekers with disabilities with the jobs available from federal contractors. John Robinson, CEO of Our Ability, a small business created by and for people with disabilities, believes the puzzle can be solved with a pipeline that is responsive to business needs.

To climb the economic ladder, talented individuals with disabilities need to raise the bar of expectations about their value in an inclusive workforce and the importance of saving and building assets as part of long-term goals focused on economic stability and security.

To learn more about the final Section 503 rule, visit www.dol.gov/ofccp/503rule. To learn more about Our Ability Connect, email John Robinson at john.robinson@ourability.com.

The new rule will make the climb up the economic ladder a little bit easier. Federal contractors need to step up. Job seekers with disabilities need to demonstrate the skill sets to meet demand. OFCCP needs to hold federal contractors accountable for this new level of affirmative action.

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NFB Advocates for Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act

Each year, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) holds the Washington Seminar, an event highlighting NFB’s legislative agenda for the more than six million Americans living with visual impairments, their family, friends and allies. Among NFB’s legislative priorities this year is H.R. 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013. Introduced by Representative Gregg Harper (MS-3), H.R. 831 would prohibit the Secretary of Labor from issuing Special Wage Certificates (which permit individuals with disabilities to be paid below federal minimum wage standards) as well as establishing a three-year phase-out period of all existing certificates.

In addition, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act would permanently repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows for the practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages. Critics have long argued repealing 14(c) would eliminate segregated, subminimum wage workshops and assist in the development of integrated environments that encourage people with disabilities to reach their full vocational and socioeconomic potential.

Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) fosters discrimination against people with disabilities. The provision allows the Secretary of Labor to grant Special Wage Certificates to employers, permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Section 14(c) sustains segregated subminimum wage workshops that exploit disabled workers, paying some only pennies an hour for often mundane, repetitive tasks. This discriminatory policy is not necessary for the successful operation of a disability-training program. Countless entities have successfully transitioned their subminimum wage business model to an innovative model of competitive integrated training and employment, pairing the growing needs of mainstream employers with the proven talents of employees with disabilities.

We at NDI believe subminimum wage models fail to provide adequate training or employment to disabled workers. Data shows that less than five percent of the 400,000 workers with disabilities in segregated subminimum wage workshops will transition into competitive integrated work. Moreover, research shows that subminimum wage models cost more and actually lessens productivity. That is why we believe it is poor policy to reward such failed programs with wage exemptions, preferential federal contracts, and public and charitable contributions.

Section 14(c) has proven to be extremely ineffective and offers no incentive for mainstream employers to hire people with disabilities. The Employment First Movement promotes new concepts such as “supported” or “customized” employment that are successful at producing competitive integrated employment outcomes for individuals with significant disabilities previously thought to be unemployable.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act currently has 72 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting further consideration by House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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Financial Literacy and Education Commission Holds Public Meeting

On February 12, 2014, the United States Department of Treasury hosted a public meeting of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission. Established by the Financial Literacy and Education Improvement Act and comprised of more than 20 different federal entities, the Commission is tasked with strengthening individual financial capability and increasing access to financial services for all Americans.

During the meeting, attendees heard from a host of experts, including Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray; Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury Cyrus Amir-Mokri; Governor Jack Markell of Delaware; and several senior Administration officials at the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve working to reinforce personal financial security. Topics ranged from highlighting federal government strategies to build better financial and saving habits in our nation's youth to public and private partnerships helping ensure all Americans are building and improving their financial assets and preparing adequately for retirement. 

Amir-Mokri spoke about The Treasury’s portfolio, which includes financial education, and discussed the Financial Literacy and Education Commission’s plan for 2014, which includes a focus on savings for young Americans. The commission hopes this focus will encourage more banks and credit unions to work with schools and communities to help children save. The commission also wants to expand resources available from federally funded financial service providers to connect low-income clients to financial education and asset building. The commission hopes as well to connect more workers in the federal government and beyond to financial education in the workplace that will help them make informed decisions to manage their current needs, debt and to plan for their retirement. Cordray discussed how hands-on efforts like school banking programs and financial games and other simulations can help students deepen their financial knowledge and make more informed decisions when it comes to higher education.

Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, one of the guest presenters, spoke next about the financial education programs he has implemented in his state, including the Stand by Me program, which offers personal financial coaching, and provides financial products to help individuals and families build their financial stability. More than 1,000 Delawareans have taken advantage of the Stand by Me program over the past two years, which partners with employers, educational institutions, and with key stakeholders such as persons with disabilities, active duty military and veterans, displaced workers, and kids aging out of foster care and key national and local partners, including National Disability Institute. Services are co-located on site.

The Stand By Me program is paid for by a broad coalition of foundations and corporate partners from the local to national level. Markell made a series of recommendations at the national level to advance financial capability including offering financial empowerment block grants to states, funding a demonstration project for states to include financial capability services within state social and human services, and the creation of an intergovernmental commission for financial empowerment that involved governors, mayors and senior federal officials to discuss ways to improve collaboration. The governor also suggested having a requirement that financial empowerment activities be considered for inclusion in federal contracts with states, such as a financial empowerment component for families that are affected by federal public housing, community development, small business development, foster care and Head Start programs. The governor recommended also that the federal government examine its agencies and programs to identify touch points where financial coaching and literacy can complement existing services and strategies.

For more information about the meeting and the commission, please visit the Financial Literacy and Education Commission's website, or see Treasury's Financial Literacy and Education Commission webpage

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February Employment Profile

Disability.gov reported that the unemployment rate remained basically unchanged in February of 2014 at 6.7 percent. Disability employment statistics for February show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities rose a percentage point to 14.3 percent. The data also show that around 19 percent of people with disabilities are in the labor force, while among people with no disability, that figure is nearly 69 percent. A year ago the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.3 percent, and only 7.9 percent for people without a disability.

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
 
Feb
2013
Feb
2014
Feb
2013
Feb
2014
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
20.7
19.1
68.8
68.5
Employment-Population Ratio
18.1
16.4
63.4
63.9
Unemployment Rate
12.3
14.3
7.9
6.8
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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