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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 2016 | Vol. 8, Issue 3
CONTENTS
Amendment to the ABLE Act Introduced in Congress
Speaker Ryan’s Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity and Upward Mobility Releases Mission Statement
EEOC Proposes New Measures to Increase Employment among Individuals with Disabilities
GAO Publishes Study on Efforts of States to Integrate Data Collection Systems under WIOA
February Employment Profile


 

Amendment to the ABLE Act Introduced in Congress

On March 17, 2016, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Pete Sessions (R-TX), introduced a package of bills aimed at enhancing the benefits provided through the Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. This package of bills consists of the following three pieces of proposed legislation:

The ABLE to Work Act expands the goals of the ABLE Act by encouraging work and self-sufficiency. The legislation would allow individuals and their families to save more money in an ABLE account if the beneficiary works and earns an income. Specifically, in addition to the $14,000 annual contribution cap, an ABLE beneficiary who earns income from a job could make additional contributions equal to the Federal Poverty Level, which is currently at $11,770 (potentially increasing allowable annual contributions to $25,770). The bill would also allow ABLE beneficiaries to qualify for the existing Saver's Credit when they contribute savings. 

The ABLE Financial Planning Act would allow families to rollover savings from a 529 college savings plan to an ABLE account. Many families save for a child’s college education by opening a 529 account, sometimes before their child is even born, only to learn later that their child has a severe disability. In such instances, these families have funds trapped in a 529 that they could use to help cover their child’s lifelong disability-related expenses. But if they withdraw these funds for anything other than college expenses, they face taxes on their withdrawals. The ABLE Financial Planning Act would help these families by allowing them to transfer funds from their 529 account without penalty into an ABLE account for their child with a qualified disability. 

The ABLE Age Adjustment Act would raise the age limit for ABLE accounts to age 46. Currently, individuals with a severe disability that occurred prior to the age of 26 are eligible to open an ABLE account. Many debilitating diseases and conditions can strike later in life, including multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease or paralysis due to an accident. Increasing the age limit for ABLE accounts will allow more individuals to save money to help cover the costs of short-, medium- and long-term care.

NDI applauds the bill sponsors for their continued support of the ABLE Act and for their efforts to improve the original statute. We will be working in collaboration with other national disability organizations to further analyze the proposed pieces of legislation and to help relevant stakeholders understand potential outcomes of the bill package.

For more information on ABLE accounts, please visit the recently launched ABLE National Resource Center website.

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Speaker Ryan’s Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity and Upward Mobility Releases Mission Statement

On February 24, 2016, the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility, established by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, released its mission statement and goals for the coming years. This Task Force’s vision is to “strengthen America’s social safety net to better help those in need, improve education and training so more can succeed in today’s economy, help welfare recipients enter, reenter, and remain in the workforce, and empower everyone to live their own American Dream.”

The Task Force’s stated goals are as follows:

  • Reduce poverty by helping people move from welfare to work;
  • Promote opportunity for every American to get ahead and stay ahead by removing government-imposed barriers to success;
  • Increase knowledge and skills of workers and job seekers, so they are equipped to compete and succeed in a rapidly changing economy;
  • Support and protect healthy families and a vibrant civil society;
  • Secure and strengthen social safety net programs by making them financially healthy and sustainable;
  • Better prepare America’s youth to be successful in school and the workplace; and
  • Fight fraud that comes at the expense of the needy.

The Task Force plans to administer a “bottom-up” approach through committee-led task force meetings, supplemented by “idea forums,” which will solicit input from various stakeholders with the goal of further developing the Task Force’s agenda.

NDI is encouraged by Speaker Ryan’s commitment to addressing poverty in America and will be working with his office and the offices of the members of the Task Force to educate them on the overwhelming prevalence of poverty among the disability community. Additionally, NDI is co-chairing the recently-formed Tasked Force of Poverty established through the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD). NDI will be using this group to cultivate educational materials and policy proposals to be submitted to the Speaker’s Task Force in the upcoming months.

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EEOC Proposes New Measures to Increase Employment among Individuals with Disabilities

On February 24, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a Notice of Purposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would strengthen opportunities for individuals with disabilities to attain employment in jobs directly provided by the federal government. The EEOC, a federal commission responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information, aims to increase employment of individuals with disabilities in federal jobs by amending the current rules and regulations that assist in the implementation of Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 501, and its subsequent rules and regulations, articulate government agencies’ non-discrimination obligations and require agencies to submit an annual Affirmative Action Plan, which outlines how they will increase employment, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities within their given agency. 

The EEOC’s NPRM would advance the requirements that agencies need to include in their Plan. Some of the more significant Plan requirements being proposed are as follows:

  • The Plan must designate sufficient staff to process requests for reasonable accommodations related to the application and hiring processes, and to process applications for appointment to vacant positions under hiring authorities that take disability into account, such as the Schedule A hiring authority for individuals with intellectual disabilities, severe physical disabilities or psychiatric disabilities.
  • The Plan must adopt the goal of having a 12 percent representation rate for people with disabilities, both at the GS-11 level and above (including SES) and at the GS-10 level and below.
  • The Plan must adopt the goal of having a 2 percent representation rate for people with targeted/severe disabilities, both at the GS-11 level and above (including SES) and at the GS-10 level and below.
  • The Plan must require the agency to make written reasonable accommodation procedures available to job applicants and employees.
  • The Plan must require the agency to provide personal assistance services, such as assistance with eating, drinking, using the restroom and putting on or taking off outerwear, to employees who need them because of a disability, unless doing so would impose undue hardship.
  • The Plan must require the agency to take specific steps to ensure that current employees have sufficient opportunities for advancement. Such steps may include training for employees with disabilities and creation or maintenance of mentoring programs.

The EEOC’s NRPM is a progressive step toward increasing the employment, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities within the federal government. Through meaningful employment, in a non-segregated environment, individuals with disabilities are given the opportunity to demonstrate their diverse talents to the workforce and to ultimately become part of the economic mainstream.

The EEOC is currently soliciting public comment with regards to the NPRM until April 25, 2016. NDI is working in collaboration with other national disability advocacy organizations to further analyze the content of the NPRM and plans to submit comments.

For further information, please contact Chris Rodriguez, Senior Public Policy Advisor, at crodriguez@ndi-inc.org.

Read a more detailed summary of the NRPM here.

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GAO Publishes Study on Efforts of States to Integrate Data Collection Systems under WIOA

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), passed in July 2014, is the country’s most prominent publicly funded vehicle to expand opportunities for employment among all Americans who have the desire to engage in the workforce, including those with disabilities. In order to facilitate this objective, WIOA mandates cross collaboration among, and within, various state and federal agencies. 

This cross collaboration (the details of which should be included in a state’s Unified or Combined Plan) is expected, if done appropriately, to provide more comprehensive job readiness tools to job seekers, reduce duplication of efforts and more efficiently use public dollars resulting in positive employment outcomes. One significant measure being taken by states to fulfill this cross collaboration mandate is the integration of employment-related state agency databases. 

Integration of these database systems gives the state a more robust and accurate idea of employment statistics within the state, services being provided and results being produced (or not produced). In order to monitor this progress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) performed a study and published a subsequent report, consisting of a sample of states comprised of Illinois, New Hampshire and Texas.  The study addresses:

  1. The changes that selected states plan to make in collecting and reporting performance information for core programs;
  2. Challenges that these states face related to performance reporting and how they might be addressed; and
  3. Whether these states have reported breaches to core program data systems and what practices they have in place to safeguard personal information.

The primary challenges reported by the surveyed states regarding the development of a more integrated state database system included:

  • Limited guidance: Officials in all three states said early implementation was slowed because WIOA regulations are not yet final and certain details about performance reporting are unresolved.
  • Cost and complexity of integrating data systems.
  • Data quality concerns: Missing participant data may continue to affect the quality of information states report to federal agencies.

NDI appreciates the efforts of GAO in studying the selected implementation elements of WIOA. The cross collaboration of various state agencies and the integration of their databases is especially important to job seekers with disabilities, as they often require more comprehensive vocational and job readiness supports that are typically provided through, at times, a very disjointed network of state entities. 

For Americans both with and without disabilities, employment is often the most reliable vehicle on the path to economic empowerment. WIOA has the potential to significantly increase employment opportunities for job seekers with disabilities, and NDI will continue to monitor and report on its implementation.

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February Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for February 2016 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.5 percent. This is a 1.3 percent increase from February 2015. The latest employment statistics also find that only 19.5 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.2 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
 
Feb.
2015
Feb.
2016
Feb.
2015
Feb.
2016
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.8
19.5
68.5
68.2
Employment-Population Ratio
17.6
17.1
64.4
64.9
Unemployment Rate
11.2
12.5
5.6
4.9
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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