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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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January 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 1
CONTENTS
114th Congress Convenes
NDI Board Approves 2015 Public Policy Agenda
President Obama Signs ABLE Act Into Law
House Rules Put SSDI Program At Risk
Advocacy Alert: Prevent Cuts to SSDI
NDI Participates in Congressional Briefing on Disability Pay Gap
December Employment Profile


 

114th Congress Convenes

On January 6, 2014, newly elected and incumbent members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives convened in Washington, D.C. for the first session of the 114th Congress.

Americans with and without disabilities are calling on Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve some of our country’s most pressing issues. We, at NDI, believe such efforts must focus on remedying the growing financial instability faced by countless Americans, the elimination of subminimum wages for workers with disabilities, and a commitment to enact policies that ensure all people have the opportunity and necessary tools and resources to live the American Dream. We hope that the new Congress will bring with them a commitment to economic mobility and security for people with and without disabilities.

With your help we can engage our elected officials. Call, email or write your representatives and ask for a response to these questions.

2015 is already shaping up to be a busy legislative year. Keep up to date on all the latest developments with the Washington Insider.

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NDI Board Approves 2015 Public Policy Agenda

NDI stands ready to help Congress better understand the economic challenges facing our nation’s over 50 million individuals with disabilities and their families.

To overcome these challenges, NDI’s Board recently approved the following recommendations to improve tax and social policy and cross-agency collaboration.

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President Obama Signs ABLE Act Into Law

President Barack Obama signed into law the Achieving Better Life Expectancy (ABLE) Act on December 19, 2014. 

First introduced in 2006, and subsequent sessions of Congress, the ABLE Act will allow people with disabilities (with an age of onset up to 26 years old) and their families the opportunity to create a tax-exempt savings account that can be used for maintaining health, independence and quality of life.

For more information on the ABLE Act, please read NDI’s most recent press release or visit our ABLE webpage.

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House Rules Put SSDI Program At Risk

Following the official opening of Congress, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate were required to establish parliamentary rules so that each Chamber could then propose, debate and pass pieces of legislation.

This year, House Rules, under Republican Leadership, included an unrelated provision preventing the transfer of funds from the Social Security retirement program to the disability program (SSDI) - a move Congress has made 12 times in the previous seven decades to keep the program from insolvency. Should Congress fail to act, based on the Social Security Administration (SSA) actuaries’ projections, SSDI will run out of money by the end of 2016 resulting in a 20 percent reduction in benefits for nearly 11 million Americans with disabilities.

At a time when countless people with disabilities are struggling to make ends meet, NDI stands strongly opposed to the House’s procedural move.

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Advocacy Alert: Prevent Cuts to SSDI

Americans with disabilities shouldn’t have their very livelihood at risk. That is why we are calling on individuals with disabilities, their families, friends and disability advocates to call, write, email and/or speak with their Congressional representatives and tell them to not put SSDI’s future in doubt. In that spirit, please consider using the draft text/script below to engage with your Member of Congress.

(Introduction: greeting, your name, etc.) , I am (mode of communication) today to ask for your assistance and commitment to ensuring nearly 11 million Americans with disabilities maintain access to the full scope of benefits they have earned and rely on to make ends meet.

As you are aware, following the inaugural convening of the 114th Congress, the House of Representatives adopted a rules package which barred the transfer of funds from the general Social Security retirement fund to the disability insurance program (SSDI) - a move employed 12 separate instances by Congress during the last seven decades. Unfortunately, this could not have come at a worse time, as the Social Security Administration projects SSDI insolvency by the end of 2016 without Congressional action, resulting in payment reductions by 20 percent to SSDI beneficiaries.  

However, there is an immediate and easy fix: reversing the House Rules. As such, I, along with a nationwide community of like-minded individuals, call on you to address and remedy this manufactured Social Security crisis. While we certainly believe there is an appropriate time and opportunity for further debate on securing the long-term sustainability of our country’s benefit programs, such a conversation and politically charged debate should not come at the expense of people with disabilities’ livelihood.

Please do what is right. Immediately change House Rules and show some of our nation’s most at risk that their government has their best interests in mind. I eagerly await your response. Thank you!

(Closing: signature, contact information/mailing address)

To determine your Member of Congress, please visit the House of Representatives’ “Find Your Representative” webpage.

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NDI Participates in Congressional Briefing on Disability Pay Gap

At a time when people with disabilities earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by people without disabilities, NDI Deputy Director Elizabeth Jennings joined a panel of leading experts to examine the pay gap between workers with and without disabilities.

Held on January 22nd, “Closing the Pay Gap for Workers with Disabilities,” took place on Capitol Hill. The day’s program included commentary from Michelle Yin, Senior Researcher, Workforce and Lifelong Learning Program, American Institutes for Research (AIR); Michael Gamel-McCormick, Associate Executive Director for Research and Policy, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD); Dwayne Norris, Vice President and Director, Workforce and Lifelong Learning Program, AIR; and John Westbrook, Manager, Disability Research to Practice Program, SEDL. Jill Houghton, Executive Director, United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN), served as moderator and was joined by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a leading disability advocate in Congress.

Jennings’ presentation focused on the many misconceptions people with disabilities, their families and society as a whole have toward working and living with a disability. For far too long, Jennings argued, the very definition of “disability” imposed by the federal government creates a disincentive to work. She pointed to the fact that asset limits remain artificially low ‐ making it impossible for beneficiaries to save for an emergency or plan for the future ‐ and the long held fear that working will result in the loss of benefits and support services people with disabilities rely on to fully participate in American society.

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, participants, including Jennings, highlighted a number of proposals, actions and next steps to make the pay for workers with and without disabilities more parallel. Recommendations included the decoupling of means tested benefits from other support services; an increase, leading to the elimination of asset limits, as a condition for certain federal/state benefits eligibility; not including 401Ks and other retirement benefits as assets; and a change in societal attitudes and perceptions toward workers with disabilities.

The Congressional briefing coincided with AIR’s release of the report, “An Uneven Playing Field: The Lack of Equal Pay for People with Disabilities.” Read the full report.   

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December Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for December 2014 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 11.2 percent. While this a .7 percent reduction since December 2013, only 20.3 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to the 68.1 percent of people with no disability who are part of the labor force. 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
 
Dec
2013
Dec
2014
Dec
2013
Dec
2014
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
18.7
20.3
68.3
68.1
Employment-Population Ratio
16.5
18.0
64.0
64.6
Unemployment Rate
11.9
11.2
6.3
5.1
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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