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September 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 8
CONTENTS
The Clock is Ticking: SSDI’s Future in Limbo
ABLE Act Update
A Legislative Fix to the “SSDI Solvency Riddle”
Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities Releases Interim Report
AIR Study Examines Sagging Disability Employment Numbers
August Employment Profile


 

The Clock is Ticking: SSDI’s Future in Limbo

The August recess is over, and the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are back in session. While much focus is on the impending government shutdown, another deadline is silently, yet quickly, approaching: the projected Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) shortfall in 2016.

We are still more than a year out from the deadline, but with the current political climate on Capitol Hill, not to mention the November 2016 elections, the fate of 11 million SSDI recipients ‒ nine million workers with disabilities and two million of their family members and dependents ‒ falls squarely on the shoulders of federal lawmakers. Should Congress fail to act, SSDI recipients would see a 19 percent reduction in their benefits in late 2016.

The anticipated SSDI shortfall is not a new development. In fact, Social Security actuaries first projected it in 1995 ‒ the last time Congress “reallocated” payroll tax revenue between the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) (retirement) fund and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds. In previous instances, Congress, under Democratic and Republican leadership, had routinely reallocated monies between both trust funds. However, the 114th Congress (Republican controlled) has said a reallocation will not occur, and there needs to be a reexamination of SSDI and the individuals on the rolls.

National Disability Institute (NDI) stands diametrically opposed to this proposal. SSDI is an earned, modest benefit, with strict eligibility guidelines and restrictions in place. In 2015, the average benefit was $1,022 ‒ less than $13,000 annually. That is why NDI signed on to a letter, coauthored by leading national disability organizations, calling on Congress to pass H.R. 3150, the One Social Security Act. This common sense piece of legislation will prevent a 19 percent across-the-board cut to SSDI beneficiaries from occurring by combining the OASI Trust Fund with the DI Trust Fund. If combined, the unified Social Security Trust Fund would be solvent until 2034. This would extend the current projected solvency of the DI Trust Fund by 17 years, while decreasing OASI solvency by a mere 12 months.

As the only viable solution to an all too important issue, NDI is joining forces with like-minded organizations and a network of supporters in the disability advocacy community to educate policymakers and stakeholders on the need for and impact of the One Social Security Act.

At a time when millions of Americans with and without disabilities are struggling to put food on the table and pay bills, it is unfair to ask more from our most at-risk Americans. We cannot do it alone, which is why we need your help. Contact your federally elected officials to encourage them to reallocate OASI and DI funds ‒ as they have done on numerous occasions in the past 50 years ‒ by supporting the One Social Security Act. Use the influencer script below to drive the message home.

(Introduction: greeting, your name, etc.), I am (mode of communication) today to ask for your assistance and commitment to ensuring nearly nine million Americans and two million of their family members and dependents maintain access to the full scope of benefits they have earned and rely on to make ends meet.

As you are no doubt aware, first projected in 1995, Social Security actuaries forecasted an SSDI shortfall in late 2016 ‒ not long after Congress last reallocated funds from the general Social Security OASI Trust Fund and DI Trust Fund.

Prior to the convening of the 114th Congress, reallocation was not a partisan issue. However, much has changed in the current hyper political climate. Both House and Senate Leadership have expressed a desire to reform the SSDI program and reevaluate eligibility requirements for the millions of Americans on SSDI’s rolls.

I am strongly opposed to such a move. SSDI already has strict guidelines and eligibility requirements. Moreover, SSDI is an earned, modest benefit. In fact, in 2015, the average benefit was a little more than $1,022 ‒ less than $13,000 annually.

To further restrict access and curb benefits is an unconscionable move. That is why I am requesting you, as my elected official, support H.R. 3150, the One Social Security Act. This common sense piece of legislation will prevent a 19 percent across-the-board cut to SSDI by combining the OASI Trust Fund with the DI Trust Fund. If combined, the unified Social Security Trust Fund would be solvent until 2034. This would extend the current projected solvency of the DI Trust Fund by 17 years, while decreasing OASI solvency by only 12 months.

I, along with a nationwide community of like-minded individuals, call on you to address and remedy this manufactured Social Security crisis. While we certainly believe there is an appropriate time and opportunity for further debate on securing the long-term sustainability of our country’s benefit programs, such a conversation and politically charged debate should not come at the expense of Americans with disabilities.

Please do what is right. Support the One Social Security Act and show our nation’s most at-risk that their government has their best interests in mind. I eagerly await your response. Thank you!

(Closing: signature, contact information/mailing address)

To determine your Member of Congress, please visit the House of Representatives’ “Find Your Representative” webpage.

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ABLE Act Update

At the state level, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act continues to gain traction and legislative momentum. Most recently, the California General Assembly passed AB 449, a piece of legislation to establish ABLE accounts and make them available to eligible Californians with disabilities. The bill is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature ‒ the Governor is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days. On the East Coast, Pennsylvania is also moving forward with ABLE legislation (Senate Bill 879). The Pennsylvania Senate approved Senate Bill 879 by a vote of 49-0 on September 18. The bill is awaiting further consideration by the state House.

To date, the ABLE Act has become law in 31 states, not including states where ABLE legislation has been introduced and/or is still pending.

With regard to the latest ABLE developments at the national level, NDI recently submitted comments on the ABLE Act Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The purpose of the ABLE NPRM is to give further clarity and guidance over the implementation and development of individual state ABLE programs. We wish to express our appreciation to the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for their prompt release of the NPRM and the opportunity to provide comment.  

Some areas of support include:

  • The broad definition of “Qualified Disability Expenses.”
  • Allowing for a change of residency while maintaining one’s original account in the state of origin.
  • Allowing flexibility in certain circumstances with respect to the period of time an individual would need to re-certify.
  • Allowing for a “program-to-program” transfer of resources in an ABLE account.

Some areas of concern or need for clarification include:

  • The need for more uniformity in documentation.
  • The number of programs a single state may be allowed to contract with to provide access to an ABLE account (we want multi-states).
  • Allowing an individual to appoint a family member, who is also a qualified beneficiary, as a successor to the funds in the ABLE account upon their death (prior to the Medicaid payback).

NDI looks forward to continuing our positive working relationship with Treasury and IRS, as they continue to work on the creation and establishment of ABLE accounts. In addition, NDI has submitted a formal request to speak at October 14th’s ABLE NPRM hearing.

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A Legislative Fix to the “SSDI Solvency Riddle”

NDI is working tirelessly with a whole host of national disability organizations to strongly encourage Congress to remedy the unresolved SSDI solvency issue in a timely, yet responsible, manner. As mentioned in the previous article, we support the One Social Security Act, which has 84 co-sponsors currently in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, another legislative fix is in the works.

Senator Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) are expected to file legislation, in both Chambers of Congress, to allow a temporary reallocation of the resources funding the two trust funds. This approach is similar to an Obama Administration proposal that promises full solvency of both trust funds through 2034. We anticipate the Wyden-Levin legislation to be filed in the coming weeks.

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Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities Releases Interim Report

On September 15th, the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities (ACICIEID) released an interim report to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Created through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), ACICIEID includes 18 disability employment experts, both federal officials and private citizens, charged with providing the Secretary and Congress an assessment report on the current state of affairs related to the employment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  

The interim report is divided into several subject areas and contains information on the prevalence of segregated, subminimum wage work environments for individuals with I/DD, and provides preliminary recommendations on increasing the number of individuals obtaining integrated, competitive employment.

Areas of concentration include:

  • transition to careers;
  • complexity and needs in delivering competitive integrated employment;
  • marketplace dynamics;
  • building state and local capacity;
  • Section 14c Program; and
  • AbilityOne Program.

The ACICIEID will continue its work for the next year, at which time the Committee will release a final report. In the meantime, NDI will attend ACICIEID’s quarterly public meetings and provide much needed input to ensure individuals with I/DD have greater and more meaningful employment opportunities.

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AIR Study Examines Sagging Disability Employment Numbers

Earlier this month, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) released its newest brief, “One Size Does Not Fit All: A New Look at the Labor Force Participation of People with Disabilities.”

There are more than 53 million Americans with disabilities ‒ 19 percent of the U.S. population. Many are fully capable of working, but are not or have completely given up looking for work. According to AIR, since 2001, the proportion of working age people with disabilities in the labor force fell from 25 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2014.

AIR’s new paper explores this troubling trend by breaking down workforce participation of individuals with disabilities by state and according to disability type. As report author Michelle Yin points out, “One major issue we have identified is that federal policy tends to treat people with disabilities as a homogeneous group… But they are not. Once we disaggregated the data by state and specific type of disability, a different picture emerged.” The study identifies four main disability types: cognitive, ambulatory, vision or hearing, and self care ‒ defined as physical or mental health disabilities that have lasted more than six months, making it difficult for people to handle basic needs.

Using 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data, the brief found:

  • Alaska, Minnesota and Wyoming have high labor force participation across all disability types.
  • West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee have low labor force participation rates across all disability types.
  • Many states have wide variances among groups.
  • Although the national employment rate for working age people with disabilities was 25 percent in 2013, that number varied widely by disability type.

Based on these findings, the study concludes that federal policy toward persons with disabilities should account for their specific circumstances and type of disability, as opposed to a “one size fits all approach.”

NDI shares the sentiments and conclusions drawn from the latest AIR study. For more than a decade, our organization has worked diligently to advance best practices and strategies that recognizes the need for a more targeted approach when meeting the vast and unique financials needs of people across the spectrum of disability. Employment is a critical building block in obtaining financial independence and greater self-reliance. And, as the AIR brief highlights, our country and policies must do more to support Americans with disabilities by improving employment outcomes. Please be assured NDI will continue to advocate at the federal level to create an America where people with and without disabilities have equal employment opportunities and success.

For more information, and to read the entire study, please visit AIR’s website.  

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August Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for August 2015 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 10.2 percent. While this is a 2.6 percent reduction from August 2014, and a .2 percent reduction from the previous month, only 19.5 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.5 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
 
Aug.
2014
Aug.
2015
Aug.
2014
Aug.
2015
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
19.8
19.5
68.8
68.5
Employment-Population Ratio
17.2
17.5
64.7
65.1
Unemployment Rate
12.8
10.2
5.8
4.7
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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National Disability Institute

 

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