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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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May 2014 | Vol. 6, Issue 4
CONTENTS
Congressional Budget Office Releases Analysis of ABLE Act
Bipartisan WIA Reauthorization Bill Will Improve Training and Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities
NDI Presents at National Conference on Modernizing SSI Policy
FLEC Holds Public Meeting
Senate Bill Seeks to Expand the Family Self-Sufficiency Program
Social Security Administration Launches “The Faces and Facts of Disability” Campaign
2014 New America Foundation Conference Highlights U.S. Economic Inequality Gap
April Employment Profile


 
Congressional Budget Office Releases Analysis of ABLE Act

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) provided an initial cost analysis of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2013 (S.313/H.R.647) on May 9, 2014.

According to the CBO, the bill, if enacted, would increase federal spending by $17.5 billion over the next decade while at the same time reducing federal revenue by $1.7 billion. All total, CBO and JCT estimate enacting the bill would increase federal deficits by $19.2 billion over the next ten years.

While this is certainly not a score supporters had envisioned, CBO does concede its score is an estimate and that more positive outcomes are well within the realm of economic possibilities. As a result, the bill’s architects will make “technical” fixes and submit the ABLE Act again for another CBO/JCT analysis in the coming weeks.

National Disability Institute (NDI) and Washington Insider will be following developments closely and will keep you up to date via email, online and social media. Connect with National Disability Institute online at realeconomicimpact.org, on Facebook: RealEconImpact or Twitter: @RealEconImpact for the latest news on this important legislation.

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Bipartisan WIA Reauthorization Bill Will Improve Training and Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

On May 21, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), announced an agreement to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, a law that had sunset in 2003.

Now, 11 years later, this legislative compromise will make critically needed investments in our nation’s employment services, workforce development, vocational rehabilitation and adult education programs.

Among the legislation’s provisions is language prioritizing competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. In addition, the amendment places strong emphasis on ensuring young people with disabilities have the necessary skills and training to make a successful transition to enhanced employment opportunities. The bill also applies a uniform set of accountability metrics for every federal workforce program and requires states to produce a strategic plan describing how they will provide services in a comprehensive manner; thereby, providing more people with disabilities greater, more competitive employment opportunities in the community.

All states will be required to develop a strategic comprehensive plan every four years that describes their overall strategy to help meet the need for skilled workers in emerging growth areas for business and industry. The focus will be on careers and career pathways for youth and working age adults with and without disabilities.

Also, as part of the agreement, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies will be required to set aside 15 percent of federal program funds to help young people transition from secondary school to postsecondary education programs and employment.

In order to better align the Independent Living program that serves individuals with significant disabilities living in the community with other similar efforts, the amendments transition the administration of the Independent Living program from the Department of Education to the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living. The transition moves the program to an agency with a lifespan and community focus, and will better allow the program to fulfill its goal to support “independent living…and the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society.”

“This bipartisan agreement is a great step in the right direction,” said NDI Executive Director Michael Morris. “We at NDI are hopeful this legislation will be acted on swiftly by both Chambers of Congress, and we will continue to do everything in our power to see that that comes to fruition.”

Formally known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the legislative text will be tacked on as an amendment, in the nature of a substitute, to a similarly related House bill: the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803). Although it has not yet come to the Senate Floor for a vote, it is expected to be considered in the coming weeks by both Chambers of Congress.

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NDI Presents at National Conference on Modernizing SSI Policy

NDI Executive Director Michael Morris presented on “Legislative and Policy Barriers and Future Solutions” as part of a national conference on “ Fixing a Broken System: What the Experts Say on Modernizing SSI and Improving Public Policy for Americans with Disabilities.” The conference was sponsored by the Mathematica Center for Studying Disability Policy and the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination (CPSD).

Morris challenged participants to think beyond short-term goals regarding employment and focus on long-term economic stability and security. “We have not paid enough attention to the problems of poverty faced by so many working-age adults with disabilities,” said Morris. “All major funders must address building the knowledge and skills of persons with disabilities to make informed financial decisions about managing money, credit, and debt. Policy must align with individual aspirations to work, saving, and asset building.”

Download Michael Morris’ presentation to view his recommendations.

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FLEC Holds Public Meeting

On May 29th the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) met at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. FLEC is made up of the heads of 21 federal agencies responsible for the development of a national strategy on financial education to advance the financial capability of individuals and families nationwide. The commission has developed a national financial education website, MyMoney.gov, along with a hotline, 1-888-MYMONEY.

During the meeting, a panel of distinguished presenters shared their perspective on effective retirement savings strategies and the challenges most workers face in participating in defined benefit and other retirement savings options – at a time when the majority of people lack a trusted source for advice. Lisa Mensah, Director of the Initiative on Financial Security at the Aspen Institute, encouraged attendees to think about the goal of saving for life, beginning at birth and continuing over an individual’s life span. J. Mark Iwry, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Secretary for Retirement and Health Policy, spoke about retirement savings and the particularly acute problem women and minority populations are having in terms of their levels of participation in the workforce, lower wages, and lack of awareness, understanding and confidence to take the initiative and make informed decisions about the array of retirement savings choices.

To respond to these challenges, President Obama announced in his State of the Union address the need to create a new type of retirement account that could be opened with as little as $25 and would include a user friendly option of an automatic deduction from an individual’s paycheck. The account would be backed by the Treasury, and allowed to grow up to $15,000 and then transferred to a private sector retirement savings option. This incubator concept would help low- and moderate-income workers to start a savings strategy through employers who are willing to sponsor a plan without any matching requirement. The proposal requires legislative approval by Congress.

The third panel member, Yvonne Yancy, Commissioner of Human Resources, City of Atlanta, described a multi-method strategy to assist the city’s public employees make informed financial decisions.

“The research says keep it simple and automatic,” according to Mensah, adding public and private sector employers can do more to help their workforce learn about and make informed savings decisions.

A second panel shared findings from research on starting and preparing early for financial success. Louisa Quittman, Director of Financial Education, U.S. Department of Treasury, reported on current endeavors to improve financial education and bank access among high school youth, highlighting a study that found increased banking participation among students at schools with a financial institution or associated branch on premises. She also discussed a second study in New York City focused on economically vulnerable populations where free one-on-one counseling led to increased access and use of traditional banks, a decrease in debt and an increase in credit. However, financial fragility limited the frequency of participation and required substantial efforts to bring the target audience back to meet with counselors. She concluded that more research must be done to understand what interventions will be most effective.

Learn more about the work of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission.

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Senate Bill Seeks to Expand the Family Self-Sufficiency Program

On May 1, NDI staff participated in a Congressional briefing on S. 454, the Family Self-Sufficiency Act, a bill that would make a legislative “fix” authorizing individuals residing in project-based Section 8 complexes to be treated, for eligibility purposes, as those families choosing to live in traditional Section 8 housing.

Since 1990, the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program has promoted the over-arching goal of upward mobility through increased employment opportunities and savings among families that receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Unfortunately, however, eligibility is not extended to individuals and families served by the Public Housing Program. S 454 would permanently extend eligibility to both groups, opening access to FSS for nearly 5 million people living in public housing.

With a 24-year track record of success, FSS allows participants the opportunity to save and grow the money they would have spent on rent as a result of greater employment options, so that they can bolster their financial health and capability while at the same time attaining meaningful employment. In fact, from 2006 to 2009, FSS participants saw their average salary increase from $19,000 to $33,000 and, by FSS graduation, those completing the program had nearly $5,500 in assets.

Under current federal guidelines, individuals living in subsidized housing must pay 30 percent of their wages toward rent. While this has kept housing options affordable, this provision has been a disincentive to work – as higher wages equate to greater rent obligations.

At a time when almost two-thirds of the 1.1 million families living in public housing have a member of the household that is elderly or disabled, bills like the Family Self-Sufficiency Act are critical to improving the financial situations of and building brighter economic futures for all people with and without disabilities.

As the nation’s first nonprofit dedicated exclusively to envisioning a world where people with disabilities have equal opportunity to achieve financial stability and independence as people without disabilities, NDI calls on Congress to act swiftly on this important measure. In the meantime, NDI will continue to monitor the bill’s progress closely in the weeks and months to come.

Introduced on March 5, 2013, the Family Self-Sufficiency Act is sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Senator Roy Blount (R-Mo.) and is awaiting further consideration by the Senate Banking Committee.  A House companion has yet to be formally introduced.

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Social Security Administration Launches “The Faces and Facts of Disability” Campaign

The Social Security Administration (SSA), in an effort to educate the public about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and resolve long-standing misconceptions, launched  “The Faces and Facts of Disability” campaign on May 12, 2014.

NDI is proud to participate in  “The Faces and Facts of Disability Campaign” and highlight the positive, real world impact of SSDI and stories from current beneficiaries.

The campaign runs through June 3rd and participation is open to the general public. To participate and for more information, please visit SSA’s “The Faces and Facts of Disability” webpage

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2014 New America Foundation Conference Highlights U.S. Economic Inequality Gap

The New America Foundation’s Annual Conference, held May 15-16, 2014, saw various stakeholders and thought leaders representing big and small business, philanthropy and media come together to discuss new policy ideas to make America stronger and remedy pervasive social and economic problems.

As part of this year’s agenda, one such discussion focused entirely on the growing economic and income gap between our country’s very rich and at-risk populations. Moderated by CNN Crossfire Host Van Jones and Willett Advisors Chairman Steve Rattner, the hour-long symposium provided a forum in which empirical data and trends were analyzed, problems diagnosed and solutions identified and debated.

Over the past 40 years, America has witnessed a steady increase in income inequality between the top 20 percent of wage earners and the bottom 20 percent – and an even larger gap between the top 1 percent as compared to the other 99 percent, according to Rattner. As a result, the U.S. now leads all nations in the rate and prevalence of income inequality between its social classes, at a time when policymakers and leaders talk about “expanded opportunities” and the ideal that “anyone can get ahead in America.” As Rattner explained, “this was true during the 19th Century but, overtime, this has entirely eroded.”

Both Rattner and Jones believe, to shrink the inequality gap, we must reform our nation’s top-down tax policy, increase educational opportunities for all, invest in research and development and enact more targeted economic policies. While they concede that the economic gap will never be eliminated, both agree that far too many working families, people with disabilities, seniors and those born with or into other mitigating circumstances struggle to simply live paycheck to paycheck. To combat this problem, both believe the federal government should have a more hands on role to ensure all individuals and families have the same economic advancement opportunities as the nation’s top wage earners.

Watch the Rattner-Jones discussion and view other agenda items from New America’s 2014 Conference.

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April Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for April show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.5 percent. 19.1 percent of people with disabilities are in the labor force, while 68.3 percent of people with no disability were part of the labor force.

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.

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
Statistic
With Disability
Without Disability
 
Apr
2013
Apr
2014
Apr
2013
Apr
2014
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
20.7
19.1
68.8
68.3
Employment-Population Ratio
18.0
16.7
64.0
64.5
Unemployment Rate
12.9
12.5
6.9
5.6
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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