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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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March 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 3
CONTENTS
Congressional Budgets Call for Deep Cuts to Social Safety Net
Call to Action: Restore Funding to the Social Safety Net
ABLE Act Implementation Moving Forward
Majority of States Poised to Pass ABLE Legislation
Credit-Reporting Agencies Agree to Reform Medical Debt Policies
Obama Administration Invests $100 Million to Connect People with Disabilities to Five Million Jobs
New Bill Provides Much-Needed Information on Educational Options for Students with Disabilities
ABLE Act: Myth vs. Facts
February Employment Profile


 

Congressional Budgets Call for Deep Cuts to Social Safety Net

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed their respective fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget proposals last week.

As many political pundits have said, and we are in complete agreement with, “budgets are moral documents.” This document must reflect our country’s commitment to its people. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate’s proposals fail to live up to this standard.

This year, both chambers’ FY16 budget framework includes deep cuts to social welfare programs providing much-needed assistance and support to children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, working families and some of our country’s most at-risk populations. Perhaps most concerning are potential cuts to vital programs like the Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

The supports and services garnered through these vital programs serve as the economic safety net for countless children and adults with disabilities, giving them the opportunity to live independent, productive lives in the community. 

Understanding the dire consequences such proposals would have on those we represent, National Disability Institute (NDI) stands in stern opposition to policies undercutting the critically important programs of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and SNAP.

Going forward, NDI will do everything in our power to see that funding is restored to fundamental programs like Medicaid, SNAP and other federal benefits programs that people with disabilities and their families have historically relied on to survive and participate in the mainstream of community life.

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Call to Action: Restore Funding to the Social Safety Net

This past week, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed budgets that unfairly target our country’s most financially vulnerable. As a result, NDI is calling on individuals with disabilities, their family, friends and disability advocates to call, write, email and/or speak with their federal representatives and demand they maintain funding for the social safety net during the budget reconciliation process. To help in this effort, please consider using the draft text/script below to engage with your federally elected officials:

(Introduction: greeting, your name, etc.), I am (mode of communication) today to respectfully request you not support any budget proposal this year that includes draconian cuts to programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid, Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

As a (person with a disability, family member of a PWD, friend of a PWD, professional in the disability field) these programs allow (me, my family member with a disability, people with disabilities) the ability to access the essential supports and services (I, my family, we, they) need(s) to pursue the American Dream. 

(INSERT HERE: Specific example on how the service or support is used in your life would be helpful, but not necessary.)

I urge you to keep me, the nearly 58 million Americans with disabilities and their families in mind when making decisions that affect programs and support services the disability community has historically relied on to make ends meet. 

Thank you so much for your commitment to public service, and I look forward to your response.

Signature

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ABLE Act Implementation Moving Forward

We, at NDI, continue to work closely with the U.S. Department of the Treasury as it develops federal recommendations and guidelines on the ABLE Act. In an effort to better inform the Treasury Department, this past month, in concert with fellow members of the ABLE National Resource Center, NDI provided the Treasury Department with initial ABLE Act recommendations on Friday, March 20th. 

Within these initial recommendations were five main areas of focus:

  1. proof/criteria for eligibility and re-determination;
  2. documentation and definition of qualified disability expenses;
  3. ABLE account funds not being counted in eligible determination for means tested benefits and programs; and
  4. state program and administrative responsibilities.

We have secured a follow-up, face-to-face meeting with Treasury Department representatives to discuss the aforementioned recommendations.

Looking to the future, NDI remains optimistic that the Treasury Department will meet its legal obligation to publish formal ABLE Act regulations and/or guidance early this summer.

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Majority of States Poised to Pass ABLE Legislation

Despite the lack of formal guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, state legislatures across the country are introducing ABLE legislation in their respective states. Support for the creation of ABLE accounts is overwhelming, highlighted by the fact that the federal law does not “obligate” states to create ABLE Accounts, but merely “allow” for the creation of such accounts. To date, 30 states have ABLE legislation pending consideration, nine states are currently drafting legislation and six states have already approved ABLE legislation. To date, Virginia is the only state to have ABLE Act legislation signed into law.

Momentum is definitely building within the disability community. In fact, we expect another state legislative push as a result of a recent IRS notice encouraging states to move forward with implementation. Moreover, the notice assures states not in compliance with future federal ABLE regulations and guidelines will be provided ample time and assistance to become compliant.

This is certainly a very exciting time for millions of Americans with disabilities. NDI will continue to keep close watch on all the latest developments and update you in future editions of The Washington Insider.    

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Credit-Reporting Agencies Agree to Reform Medical Debt Policies

At a time when nearly 43 million Americans with and without disabilities have delinquent debt reflected on their credit report, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (“the big three”) announced they would change credit-reporting guidelines on unpaid medical debt.

As part of an agreement with the New York Attorney General’s Office, the three credit-reporting agencies will give individuals a 180-day grace period prior to delinquent medical debt appearing on one’s credit report. This window will allow insurance payments to be taken into account and help mitigate debt-reporting errors. In addition, the settlement stipulates that all medical debt is to be removed from a consumer’s credit report after such debt has been paid, whether by insurance or individual. Further, consumers will have the right to challenge credit report inaccuracies by initiating a formal dispute with Experian, Equifax and/or TransUnion.

This is welcome news for many in the disability community as our report, “The Financial Capability of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation 2012 National Financial Capability Study” found that unpaid medical debt disproportionately affects people with disabilities. In fact, 44 percent of people with disabilities reported unpaid/delinquent medical debt, as opposed to 25 percent among people without disabilities.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue the American Dream and credit and credit-building plays a large factor in one’s ability to achieve their dreams. NDI will continue to do everything to see this vision becomes a reality.

To learn more about the new credit-reporting rules and settlement, please visit the New York Attorney General’s Office website.

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Obama Administration Invests $100 Million to Connect People with Disabilities to Five Million Jobs

On March 9th, President Obama announced the launch of the TechHire Initiative, a new campaign to get Americans trained to compete for 21st Century jobs.

Currently, there are nearly five million open jobs, more than at any point since 2001. Of those, more than 500,000 jobs are in the information technology (IT) field ‐ many of which did not even exist a decade ago.

As part of the TechHire Initiative, the Obama Administration will launch a new $100 million H-1B grant competition to support unique approaches to successfully train and employ Americans who have traditionally faced barriers to employment. These include people with disabilities, at-risk youth and individuals with limited English proficiency, among other targeted populations.

As the nation’s first nonprofit committed exclusively to improving the financial health and future for all people with disabilities, NDI applauds the Administration’s latest effort and continued commitment to empowering the 58 million Americans living with a disability. Going forward, we will continue to work closely with the Administration, Congress and federal agencies, as well as all levels of government, to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

To learn more about the TechHire initiative, please visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/technology/techhire.

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New Bill Provides Much-Needed Information on Educational Options for Students with Disabilities

Last month, Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced S. 528, the Empowering Parents and Students Through Information Act. The bill, if enacted, would ensure America’s six million students with disabilities and their families have access to the necessary information to make informed decisions on their child’s education and future opportunities for pursuing college and career goals.  

Following formal introduction of the bill, Senator Casey said, “Deciding which educational track to place a child with a disability on is one of the most consequential decisions a parent can make. As parents make these decisions, it’s critical that they have all the information necessary to make the best choice for their child. Those with disabilities have a lot of ability. We owe it to these children to do everything possible to ensure they can achieve their dreams and live full lives.”

As the nation’s first nonprofit committed to improving the financial health and future for all people with disabilities, we recognize the transformative effect education has on one’s future, including improved employment outcomes and increased economic self-sufficiency. We commend Senators Casey and Murray for their leadership on this issue, and call on the U.S. Senate to act swiftly on S. 258.

For more information on the Empowering Parents and Students Through Information Act, please read Senator Casey’s recent press release.

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ABLE Act: Myth vs. Facts

Three months have passed since President Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act into law. Since that time, numerous people, groups and “experts” have flooded the Internet with information to help explain the features and benefits of ABLE accounts to individuals with disabilities and their families. Unfortunately, not all the information is accurate.

As a result, NDI has compiled a list of ABLE Act myths and the associated facts to provide you with accurate information.

1. Myth: An individual has to be on Social Security benefits to qualify for an ABLE account.

FACT: The final version of the ABLE Act limits eligibility to individuals with significant disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. If you meet these criteria, and are also receiving benefits already under SSI and/or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. If you are not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI, but still meet the age of onset disability requirement, you would still be eligible to open an ABLE account if you meet SSI criteria regarding significant functional limitations. The regulations, to be written by the Treasury Department later this year, will have to provide further explanation on the standard of proof and medical documentation requirements.

2. Myth: An individual must be under the age of 26 in order to have an ABLE account.

FACT: An individual does not need to be under the age of 26 to be eligible for an ABLE account. An individual could be over the age of 26, but must have a documented disability that indicates an age of onset before 26.

3. Myth: The only individual who can deposit money into the ABLE account is the account holder.

FACT: Any individual, including a family member, friend or the person with a disability, may contribute to an ABLE account for the benefit of the qualified beneficiary.

4. Myth: An unlimited amount of money can be deposited into an ABLE account.

FACT: Total annual contributions by all participating individuals, including family, friends and the person with a disability, is $14,000, adjusted annually for inflation. Under current tax law, $14,000 is the maximum amount individuals can make as a gift to someone else and not pay taxes (gift tax exclusion). The total limit, over time, that could be made to an ABLE account will be determined by each state and their limit for education-related 529 savings accounts. Many states have set this limit at more than $300,000 per plan. However, for individuals with disabilities who are recipients of SSI and Medicaid, the ABLE Act sets some further limitations (see below).

5. Myth: Once an ABLE account exceeds $2,000, an account holder will lose eligibility for SSI benefits and Medicaid.

FACT: The first $100,000 in ABLE accounts would be exempted from the SSI $2,000 individual resource limit. If and when an ABLE account exceeds $100,000, the beneficiary would be suspended from eligibility for SSI benefits and no longer receive that monthly income. However, the beneficiary would continue to be eligible for Medicaid.

6. Myth: Individuals with a Special Needs Trust, or who participate in a Pooled Income Trust, have no need for or benefit from establishing an ABLE account.

FACT: While financial planning tools can be different from one beneficiary to another, ABLE accounts do offer options that may not be as accessible with other types of trusts and savings accounts. An ABLE account may provide more choice and control for the beneficiary and family than other types of trusts and accounts. Cost of establishing an account will be considerably less than either a Special Needs Trust (SNT) or Pooled Income Trust. With an ABLE account, individuals will have the ability to control their funds and, if circumstances change, still have other options available to them. Determining the best option will depend upon individual circumstances. For many families, the ABLE account will be a significant and viable option in addition to, rather than instead of, a Trust program.

7. Myth: If a state does not have an ABLE program, there is no opportunity for participating in the program.

FACT: Each state is responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program. If a state chooses not to establish its own program, such a state may choose to contract with another state to offer eligible individuals with significant disabilities the opportunity to open an ABLE account.

8. Myth: In all circumstances, the account must pay back Medicaid any remaining balance upon termination of the account and/or death of the beneficiary.

FACT: Provided that the funds in the account are not rolled over or used to establish another ABLE account for a qualified family member of the current beneficiary, any funds remaining in the account upon termination or the beneficiary’s death will be used to reimburse state Medicaid payments. The amount of any Medicaid payback will be calculated based on amounts paid by Medicaid after the creation of the ABLE account, excluding amounts paid by the beneficiary as premiums to a Medicaid buy-in program. If the ABLE account beneficiary did not use Medicaid funds for any supports and services, then there would be no obligation to pay Medicaid any dollars.

Now that you can separate fact from fiction, help others by sharing the above information with family, friends, colleagues and/or individuals you assist. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

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February Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for February 2015 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 11.2 percent. While this a 3.1 percent reduction from February 2014, only 19.8 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.2 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
 
Feb.
2014
Feb.
2015
Feb.
2014
Feb.
2015
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.1
19.8
68.5
68.2
Employment-Population Ratio
16.4
17.6
63.9
64.4
Unemployment Rate
14.3
11.2
6.8
5.6
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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National Disability Institute

 

NATIONAL DISABILITY INSTITUTE: Celebrating 10 Years of Real Economic Impact for People with Disabilities
1667 K Street, NW
Suite 640
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: (202) 296-2040
Fax: (202) 296-2047

 

www.realeconomicimpact.org
info@ndi-inc.org