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June 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 6
CONTENTS
IRS Issues Proposed ABLE Act Regulations
LEGISLATIVE ALERT: Senate Appropriations Committee Proposes ETA and ODEP Merger at U.S. Department of Labor
Social Security Administration Highlights Negative Effects of Proposed Budget Cuts
NDI Participates in DOJ Listening Session on Economic Self-Sufficiency and Financial Literacy
New Legislation Incentivizes States to Increase Opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment
New Study Finds a Major Lack in Affordable Housing Options
June Employment Profile


 

IRS Issues Proposed ABLE Act Regulations

On Friday June 19th, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the highly anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The NPRM outlines the proposed rules and regulations by which states will establish and manage ABLE programs. These proposed rules and regulations are open for public comment until September 19th. In addition, a public hearing will be held on October 14th, in Washington, D.C., to allow relevant stakeholders and the public to comment further.

The ABLE Act allows states to establish ABLE accounts for eligible individuals with disabilities with “marked and functional limitations.” States have to enact ABLE authorizing legislation or contract with another state who has established an ABLE program.

The proposed regulations do require a recertification process confirming that the designated beneficiary continues to satisfy eligibility requirements either by being a recipient of Social Security benefits or by a letter that documents the significant functional limitation(s). Additionally, the proposed rules do allow a beneficiary to continue to maintain his or her ABLE account in one state even after the designated beneficiary moves to another state. Guidance in the proposed regulations allows for broad, flexible interpretation of what qualifies as a disability-related expense covered by ABLE account funds. Qualified expenses do include basic living expenses and other expenses that seek to improve health, independence and quality of life. Further, disability-related expenses need not be for the sole use of the beneficiary.

Reactions to the new rules have been mixed, with generally positive comments from the disability community and significant concerns voiced by the 529 College Savings Plan administrators regarding the degree of responsibility assigned to the States for oversight of recertification of eligibility and the review of qualified disability expenses.

For a detailed policy analysis on the proposed ABLE Act regulations, please visit our “Newsroom.”

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LEGISLATIVE ALERT: Senate Appropriations Committee Proposes ETA and ODEP Merger at U.S. Department of Labor

On Thursday, June 25th, the Senate Appropriations Committee released their version of the Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016) Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. As written, S.1695 includes significant reductions in funding below President Obama’s FY2016 Budget Request.

The bill proposes the transfer of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to the Employment and Training Administration inside the United States Department of Labor. In addition, the bill would reduce ODEP funding to $23.75 million, $15 million of which would be kept to support Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) grants to improve employment outcomes for job seekers with disabilities and $8.75 million for staff salaries and expenses. The justification offered by the Committee is to increase coordination of activities and resources consistent with the consolidated approach of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Next steps are a vote on the Senate Floor followed by the convening of Senate and House Committee Leadership to reconcile differences between each Chamber’s version of the FY2016 Appropriations bill.   

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Social Security Administration Highlights Negative Effects of Proposed Budget Cuts

National Disability Institute (NDI) joined like-minded organizations to hear updates from Social Security Administration (SSA) officials on the FY2016 Budget Proposal and ongoing Capitol Hill negotiations.

For the first time since 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed a Budget Resolution. Unfortunately, for scores of working families, people with disabilities, seniors and the working poor, the FY2016 Budget will only cause further economic insecurity and financial worry. Under the Budget framework, Congress calls for $4.2 trillion in cuts, over the next decade, to federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While President Obama has vowed to veto any appropriations bills that adhere to such dramatic funding cuts, the Administration’s warning has done little to slow the advancement of policy proposals calling on our nation’s most at-risk to shoulder much of the economic burden imposed by Sequestration.

Especially troubling is the proposed FY2016 budget level for SSA. After three years of budget constraints (FY2011-FY2013), as a result of Sequestration, lawmakers agreed to a bipartisan agreement to increase funding levels in FY2014 and FY2015, giving SSA the ability to better serve the tens of millions of American seniors and people with disabilities that financially depend on the Social Security program. These gains, however, are under threat and, if the current levels are enacted, the budget would have a tremendously negative effect on SSA’s frontline staff and the beneficiaries they assist. In fact, under Sequestration, SSA lost more than 11,000 employees, cut field office hours and/or eliminated field offices completely, and witnessed a substantial increase in the overall backlog and wait time for disability claims decisions.

A similar situation in FY2016 and future years is totally unacceptable. As a result, NDI is working with SSA, the Obama Administration, Congress and other stakeholders to ensure adequate funding for SSA and other federal agencies and programs that provide a level of financial security to millions of Americans with disabilities.

To learn how you can help us in this effort, or for more information about the  FY2016 Budget Proposal, please read our recent article, “Budget Guts Social Safety Net.

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NDI Participates in DOJ Listening Session on Economic Self-Sufficiency and Financial Literacy

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division invited representatives of the disability advocacy community, including NDI, to a June 10th listening session. The meeting was an opportunity to share insights and concerns with senior members of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division related to the rights of Americans with disabilities. NDI staff testified on the importance of improving economic self-sufficiency and financial literacy for individuals with disabilities, including how DOJ can play a more significant role in improving the economic advancement of youth and adults with significant disabilities. NDI and other disability groups in attendance expressed their appreciation of the leadership and persistence of the Civil Rights Division to extend the reach of the Olmstead community integration mandate to break down barriers to integrated employment for youth and adults with significant disabilities.

The Justice Department has put the states on notice to shift public resources from segregated employment and subminimum wages to supports skills development and participation in inclusive workforces across market sections.

NDI encouraged Justice officials to focus on the purpose statement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): to advance “economic self-sufficiency.” It is our belief that youth and adults with disabilities should have access to public programs that support better informed financial decision-making and capability to manage debt, set savings goals and provide opportunity to build customized pathways to a better economic future.

NDI was encouraged by DOJ’s response and commitment to continued support of the rights of individuals with disabilities that includes economic empowerment. We look forward to working with the Justice Department on future high profiles cases and education activities that help reduce the promise of ADA for full participation in the economic mainstream. 

 

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New Legislation Incentivizes States to Increase Opportunities for Competitive Integrated Employment

On June 18th, Senator Chuck Grassley (R - Iowa), Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced S. 1604, the Transition to Independence Act, a bill to create a Medicaid buy-in demonstration that would incentivize participating states to increase opportunities for competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities receiving home and community-based supports (HCBS). The legislation establishes certain “benchmarks” which, if met, would give states additional federal funds for the support of competitive integrated employment.

Competitive integrated employment is a prominent vehicle by which an individual can achieve economic self-sufficiency. S.1604 will make strong strides toward combating segregated subminimum wage and offer increased opportunities for individuals with disabilities to earn real wages. Furthermore, the legislation is consistent with recent national trends supporting the employment of individuals with disabilities and offers important financial assistance to states taking significant steps towards that end.

We hope to see additional support for this important piece of legislation in the coming weeks and months, and encourage advocates to educate their federal policymakers about the bill’s benefits.   

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New Study Finds a Major Lack in Affordable Housing Options

On June 9th, the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Housing Task Force released the study, Priced Out in 2014, a new report highlighting the inability of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries to pay for an adequate, modestly priced one-bedroom apartment.

Among the report’s highlights, it found that the average SSI payment was $750 in 2014, or $8,995 annually in benefits for a single individual receiving SSI payments, and the national monthly rent average for a modest one-bedroom apartment was $780. This means it is nearly impossible for SSI beneficiaries, the overwhelming majority of whom are living with disabilities, to secure suitable housing options. As a result, millions of Americans with disabilities will be forced into the unenviable and unconscionable situation of living in a shelter, public institution, nursing home, overcrowded board and care homes, at home with aging family members or, worst case scenario, on the streets.

NDI believes our country can and MUST do better. We have consistently and emphatically called on our nation’s policymakers to expand and increase public benefits for the millions of Americans, with and without disabilities, who have historically relied on the Social Safety Net to survive financially.

It is our hope this eye-opening report will further bolster the need for increased funding and support for the 58 million Americans with disabilities. Please be assured NDI will do everything in its power to ensure this comes to fruition.

To read the full report, or to access associated fact sheets and much more, please visit TAC’s website.    

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May 2015 Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for May 2015 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 10.1 percent. While this is a 2.6 percent reduction from May 2014, only 19.8 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.8 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
 
May
2014
May
2015
May
2014
May
2015
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.5
19.8
68.7
68.8
Employment-Population Ratio
17.0
17.8
64.7
65.3
Unemployment Rate
12.7
10.1
5.8
5.
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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