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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/April 2013 | Vol. 5, Issue 3
CONTENTS
ABLE Act Update
HELP Committee Looks At Retirement Plans
President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability Report
OPM Final Rule on Excepted Service for Americans with Significant Disabilities Takes Effect
NCD Issues Analysis and Recommendations for the Implementation of Managed Care in Medicaid and Medicare Programs for People with Disabilities
March Social Security Advisory Board Forum Focuses on SSDI
February Employment Profile
 

ABLE Act Update

The ABLE Act of 2013 now has 103 cosponsors in the House and 28 in the Senate, following the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) advocacy day on March 14th. The bill needs to continue adding cosponsors to gain the focus of House leadership.

Please check to see if your member of Congress was a cosponsor in the 112th Congress by clicking on the links below and, if they have not agreed to be a cosponsor in the 113th session, urging them to sign on again:

Links to 2013 cosponsors:

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HELP Committee Looks At Retirement Plans

A recent hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) continued the committee’s focus on focused on Americans’ retirement savings and retirement security, and looked at a variety of methods to encourage employers to offer retirement plans such as 401(k), and how the use of those plans might be expanded. As committee chair Senator Tom Harkin explained, “Americans are terrified about whether they will have enough money to live on when they stop working.”

University of Massachusetts Public Policy Professor Christian Weller noted that the recent financial crisis brought “the issue of inadequate retirement savings into sharp relief. Many U.S. households had insufficient savings to maintain their standard of living in retirement well before 2007, but the loss of wealth during the crisis meant that 60 percent of households were not fully prepared for retirement in 2009.” Weller discussed the possibility of borrowing from 401(k) accounts, noting that it is “in theory” one tool to get people to save more in their retirement accounts. But he also suggested there are “downsides” to such a policy.

Matt Fellowes, the founder and CEO of HelloWallet, a software company that provides “independent guidance to workers” about their benefits, testified that a growing number of defined contribution participants are using their plans for non-retirement needs, and that more knowledge is needed about what a worker’s plans are being used for.  He notes that he uses a ladder as a metaphor. “While many workers strive to reach the top rung of retirement savings, they're missing the lower rungs they need in order to get there,” he explained. 

Another witness, Alison Borland, the vice president of retirement services and strategies at Aon Hewitt, LLC, suggested that his company’s research “shows that only 29 percent of American workers are projected to meet 100 percent of their needs in retirement.” Many factors contribute to this savings shortfall, Borland explained, as more people rely solely on a DC plan for their employer-provided retirement income, the risk to individuals and society is growing.  “Leakage” from these funds occurs primarily in three ways: withdrawals taken during active employment; loans are taken out and not repaid in full; and retirement savings are cashed out upon a job termination or change. This leakage, Borland noted, “can be particularly damaging to specific segments of the population such as minorities, those who change jobs frequently and lower income workers.”

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President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability Report

The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, created to assist the American people in understanding financial matters and making informed financial decisions, recently released its final report, which included four broad recommendations. Established by President Obama’s Executive Order in January, 2010, the Council sought to address the challenge of a “financial capability landscape … filled with numerous financial education choices, products and resources,” yet lacking “standards, measures of efficacy, and interventions with proven effectiveness.”

To address this, the Council focused on what it said were the three places financial education should be delivered to reach Americans throughout their life: school, home and community, and workplace.  Its four recommendations include:

  1. A need to make financial education a lifelong pursuit that begins in the home with parents educating their children, and continue throughout all years of schooling. To do this should involve a series of tools, including MoneyAsYouGrow.org and MoneyAsYouLearn.org, which should be incorporated into teaching of the Common Core State Standards for English and Mathematics and other K-12 curricula.
  2. The federal government and all employers need to provide financial capability education and well-framed financial choices to employees. This can be accomplished in part through the sharing of best practices and use of tools such as the Council resource “Financial Capability at Work: A Strategic Framework to Guide Employers.”
  3. In the community, financial capability can be advanced through coordinated efforts of local governments, schools, post-secondary institutions, financial service providers, local business leaders and non-profits.
  4. Understanding what actually works to strengthen financial education will require research. To ensure the availability of quality options and adequate protection will require appropriate regulation. The federal government should establish an online clearinghouse for research in the field of financial education and behavioral economics that is informed by rigorous research standards, like those used by the Doing What Works Clearinghouse in the Department of Education.

The Advisory Council report concluded that strengthening the financial capability of the U.S. population not only would help prevent future economic crises, but also help restore upward economic mobility, rescue the growing income and wealth gap, spark entrepreneurship and job growth, and inform and strengthen civic dialogue.

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OPM Final Rule on Excepted Service for Americans with Significant Disabilities Takes Effect

Effective March 25, 2013, OPM’s final regulation pertaining to the appointment of persons with intellectual disabilities, severe physical disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities takes effect. The regulation removes an unnecessary burden for these individuals when applying for Federal jobs and modernizes the terminology used to describe people with disabilities.

The regulation simplifies hiring authority for the federal government so that citizens with certain disabilities no longer have to meet one of the current requirements under a special authority for hiring them into federal jobs.

The policy change “will speed the hiring process for agencies by removing an unnecessary burden on applicants with disabilities, according to a Washington Post report.  The newspaper explained that under the revised policies, agencies will be able to hire after determining that the person is “likely to succeed” in performing the duties of the position.  That decision can be based on any relevant work, educational or other experience. Otherwise known as Schedule A hiring, the government has authority apart from normal competitive hiring rules that apply to “targeted” disabilities, which account for about a tenth of all federal employees and include individuals with some of the most severe disabilities.

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NCD Issues Analysis and Recommendations for the Implementation of Managed Care in Medicaid and Medicare Programs for People with Disabilities

The National Council on Disabilities (NCD) recently released a report, “Medicaid Managed Care for People with Disabilities: Policy and Implementation Considerations for State and Federal Policymakers,” to assist with the implementation of managed care reforms without harming Americans with disabilities.  A growing number of states are offering Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) through managed care agencies.

The report’s key findings suggest that:

  • At the time of publication, more than half of U.S. states are planning to increase the number of Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled in managed care plans;
  • In 2014, the Affordable Care Act will expand Medicaid’s reach to millions of low-income uninsured Americans, including many with disabilities, and states are widely expected to rely on managed care organizations to serve the newly eligible population; and
  • Transitioning Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities into managed care involves a number of challenges. To be successful, services must be tailored to meet the personalized needs of people with disabilities.

The report suggests that more than two-thirds of the 70 million Medicaid beneficiaries receive at least a portion of their services through managed care plans. Until recently, the vast majority of these enrollees have been people without disabilities, however, now more than half the states enroll adults with disabilities as well as children with specialized medical needs. In addition, the number of States utilizing Medicaid managed care for long-term services and supports doubled, from 8 in 2004 to 16 in 2012. This trend will undoubtedly increase as the Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid eligibility next year.

The full report can be found on the NCD web site.

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March Social Security Advisory Board Forum Focuses on SSDI

The Social Security Advisory Board hosted its March forum, which focused on the imminent insolvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund, which has until 2016 before it must reduce beneficiary payments by one-fifth. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Trustees have warned that the trust fund will become insolvent if policymakers take no action to solve the complex issues that would result in such a reduction.

The purpose of the forum was to look at whether the number of applications for disability will continue to rise and to consider ways to improve the system for applicants who deserve a timely and through decision and for individuals with disabilities who want to remain in or return to the workforce. The discussion focused on how individuals, employers, private insurers, and federal and state governments can effect positive change.

Forum discussions included: The Urgency of Reforming SSDI, Models to Promote Labor Force Attachment, Interventions to Achieve Better Case Outcomes, and Reform Proposals: Toward Fiscal and Structural Balance.

Former SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue issued a call for an incremental approach to solving the SSDI crisis and outlined a number of proposed solutions for Social Security reform.  He noted that “one key theme for efforts to promote return to work should be charging the Agency to focus attention and resources on those who we know are most likely to work...Both the Agency and Congress tend to be culturally attracted to a one-size-fits-all approach, but if you’re serious about return to work, you have to be serious about segmenting the claimants and focusing the scarce resources on those who realistically might work.”

David Stapleton, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Studying Disability Policy at Mathematica Policy Research, participated in the Reform Proposals panel. In his 2012 Issue Brief titled “A Roadmap to a 21st Century Disability Policy”, Stapleton identified two fundamental flaws in the structure of disability policy that have contributed to the failing of the current system.

First, to receive any assistance through SSDI and SSI—the primary gateways to benefits—applicants must demonstrate an almost complete inability to work. This requirement fails to recognize that many people whose impairment limit their work capacity can still make significant contributions to their own financial support.

Second, as the Government Accountability Office (2005) documents, the patchwork of state and federal disability support programs creates pervasive inefficiencies, including overlaps and gaps in services, misaligned incentives, and conflicting objectives.

A follow-up conference, sponsored by the Secretary’s Innovation Group, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Center on Children and Families will take place on April 12th and 19th on Capitol Hill. The conference will, among other issues, attempt to provide some answers to the question of the cause of federal disability enrollment growth.

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February Employment Profile

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
Statistic
With Disability
Without Disability
 
Feb 2012
Feb 2013
Feb 2013
Feb 2013
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.9
20.7
69.2
68.8
Employment-Population Ratio
16.8
18.1
63.4
63.4
Unemployment Rate
15.8
12.3
8.4
7.9
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

The most recent Department of Labor jobs report includes a significant drop in the unemployment rate of Americans with disabilities—from 15. 8 in February 2012 to 12.3 in February of 2013, a remarkable decrease of 3.5 percentage points.

In addition, the employment to population statistic, perhaps the best measure of the overall labor market conditions, appears to be trending in a positive direction. The employment to population ratio measures the proportion of the country's working-age population (ages 15 to 64) who is employed. The percentage of the population of Americans with disabilities who were working in February was 18.1 percent, up from 16.8 percent a year ago.
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.

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