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September/October 2014 | Vol. 6, Issue 7
CONTENTS
NDI Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month
2014 Election Checklist
Senate Finance Committee Seeks to Pass ABLE Act
Senate HELP Committee Hold Congressional Hearing on Poverty and Disability
NDI to Launch a New Project to Build Bridges to Financial Security for People with Disabilities
Eight Actions to Support Youth and Adults with Disabilities in WIOA Implementation
Census Bureau Releases 2013 Income and Poverty Report
September Employment Profile


 

NDI Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month

This October, National Disability Institute (NDI) joins countless nonprofits, organizations, all levels of government, and individuals with disabilities, their family and friends raising awareness about disability employment issues and recognizing the significant contributions of American workers with disabilities.

From its humble beginnings nearly seventy years ago, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) has grown exponentially over the course of the last decade and a half as a result of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and its promotion of this important initiative.

Here at NDI, we stand committed to ensuring Americans with disabilities have the opportunity to pursue meaningful, competitive and integrated employment options. Through the work of our LEAD Center ‒ known formally as the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities ‒ we are working tirelessly to advance individual and systems level change to improve employment and economic self-sufficiency outcomes for all people across the spectrum of disability.

Since our founding in 2005, NDI has been leading the charge to increase the financial capacity and capability of the entire disability community. As such, we understand and recognize the importance work has on an individual’s financial health.

In that spirit, we add our name to the chorus of organizations and people supporting NDEAM and this year’s theme of “Expect. Employ. Empower.”

During NDEAM, please be sure to check NDI’s Facebook, Twitter (@RealEconImpact), blog and website often, as we will be providing numerous updates, resources and tools. Additionally, you may find it helpful to check out ODEP’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month webpage. Finally, to join in the conversation online, use and search for the hashtag: #NDEAM.   

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2014 Election Checklist

We are less than three weeks away from the November elections, mere days from determining the future direction of both the federal and state government’s approach to the blending and braiding of public and private resources to support improved employment and economic status for millions of Americans with disabilities.

This year, NDI is offering an Election Checklist to help inform you, coworkers, family members, friends and the general public about the policy direction and priorities of candidates seeking your vote.

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Senate Finance Committee Seeks to Pass ABLE Act

On September 19th, Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee reaffirmed their commitment and goal to have the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R.647 / S.313) signed into law by President Obama prior to the adjournment of the 113th Congress.

The bipartisan coalition, consisting of Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), issued the following joint statement:

“Under the leadership of Senators Casey and Burr, the Senate has generated positive momentum on the ABLE Act. Thanks to constructive and bipartisan dialogue, the bill sponsors, collaborating with Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Hatch, have reached a policy agreement that will serve as the foundation for final passage. We are committed to working with our House colleagues to ensure this legislation will be passed in a bipartisan, bicameral manner and sent to the President’s desk in the lame duck session.”

Prior to the Senate Finance Committee’s announcement, the ABLE Act was reported favorably by the House Ways and Means Committee. To date, the ABLE Act enjoys strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Currently, the bill has 380 House cosponsors and has another 74 cosponsors in the Senate.

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Senate HELP Committee Hold Congressional Hearing on Poverty and Disability

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) co-chaired a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on September 18th entitled “Overcoming Persistent Barriers to Economic Self-Sufficiency for People with Disabilities.” The Congressional hearing was built on interviews conducted this summer to over 400 individuals across the spectrum of disabilities nationwide.

At the beginning of the hearing, Senator Harkin stated that the “rate of poverty for people with disabilities is going up and we are not seeing change.” In that spirit, the purpose of the hearing was to hear firsthand from people with disabilities about the challenges they are facing and from national experts about possible policy recommendations to enable people with disabilities to work, save, and build assets.

All the witnesses expressed strong support for passage of the ABLE Act and raising the asset limits for continuing eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Other suggestions included reform to Social Security work incentives that would better help students with disabilities earn and save while in school and better alignment of the new Workforce innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) and policies in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help youth in transition.

One of the witnesses, Geoffrey Lauer, Executive Director, Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, explained the challenges facing many people with disabilities who feel trapped in poverty based on remaining eligible for public benefits.

Federal public assistance programs are essential in creating a safety net to prevent many from falling into extreme poverty. However, the fact remains that many income and work support programs maintain eligibility requirements that serve as blockades to individual and family economic self-sufficiency. One of the most egregious of these eligibility requirements is low programmatic asset limits, which have the effect of “trapping” individuals with disabilities in poverty. These limits have not only been ravaged by inflation, but are also set very low. For example, since 1989, the current limits for SSI, set by the federal government, remains at $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple or a child with a disability living with their parents. Had such limits been tied to inflation, they would be more than $8,500 for individuals and $12,800 for both couples and families having children with disabilities today.

These low limits plague programs, like SSI, even with well-intentioned federal and state efforts to accommodate employment such as Social Security’s “Plan to Achieve Self Support” (PASS). In fact, such programs require a level of sophistication to appropriately access, update, and respond, so many fear critical errors in planning and implementing employment. Such errors often result in loss of benefits or having to return overpayments, in addition to a belief that employment is not worth the risk of the loss of benefits.

That is why Lauer offered four recommendations for Congress to consider:

  1. Congress should significantly increase the outdated SSI asset limits and index them to inflation. SSI asset limits have not increased for more than 25 years, effectively shrinking the amount of money that recipients can hold in savings. Bringing the limits to at least $10,000 for individuals, $15,000 for couples and families with disabled children, and then indexing these limits to inflation, would alleviate needless economic insecurity among individuals with disabilities and their families.
  2. Congress should address the “fiscal cliff” for individuals utilizing Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and, in addition, allow an extension of medical benefits for individuals working toward self-sufficiency.
  3. Congress should remove asset limits for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This would create a uniform national standard and remove complexity and variability across states. It would also enable families to receive benefits when they fall upon hard times, as well as enable recipients to build savings and plan for the future.
  4. Congress should increase support for disability resource facilitation, navigator, and aging and disability resource center programs.

The Congressional hearing concluded with agreement that there are no simple or single solutions, and that changes need to occur across federal funding systems including Medicaid, Vocational Rehabilitation, Education, and Workforce Development.

The hearing represented the last for Senator Harkin, and the end to his forty-year career as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and their families. Also of note, Senator Harkin’s staff utilized the recently published NDI report, “Financial Capability of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation 2012 National Financial Capability Study,” as background material for the hearing.

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NDI to Launch a New Project to Build Bridges to Financial Security for People with Disabilities

In the coming months, NDI will conduct a first-of-its-kind, multi-site demonstration project to provide financial education and financial counseling services to people with disabilities transitioning into the workforce.

The "Bridges to Financial Security" project is funded through a contract from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and managed by CFPB’s Office of Financial Empowerment. The project will support the Bureau’s mission to empower consumers to lead better financial lives and its charge to provide information, guidance, and technical assistance regarding the offering of consumer financial products or services to traditionally underserved consumers and communities. This initiative will provide financial capability-building services to individuals with disabilities transitioning into the workforce, empowering them to make sound financial decisions and plan for the future at this critical time in their lives.

As the first national nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to building a better economic future for all people with disabilities, NDI is excited to move forward with a project that will help thousands of individuals with disabilities in communities across the country take more positive steps toward brighter financial futures and expand access to the economic mainstream.

More details will be made available as this groundbreaking demonstration project launches in communities nationwide. 

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Eight Actions to Support Youth and Adults with Disabilities in WIOA Implementation

President Obama signed the Workforce innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA maintains a primary focus on assisting job seekers and workers with and without disabilities to succeed in the labor market and match employers with skilled workers who may benefit from education, skills training, employment and support services. The cornerstone of the public workforce investment system remains the American Job Centers (AJC) or One-Stop Career Centers at a community or local level. At a state level, WIOA requires unified strategic planning across the core programs of: Title I Adult programs and services, Dislocated Worker and Youth programs, Adult Education and Literacy programs, Wagner-Peyser Employment Services and Title I of the Rehabilitation Act programs.

To better inform and help disability service providers, our LEAD Center has developed eight action items to support youth and adults with disabilities, before, during and after WIOA implementation, along with a timetable of key implementation dates.

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Census Bureau Releases 2013 Income and Poverty Report

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau issued the report, “Income and Poverty Report in the United States: 2013,” presenting the most recent data on income and poverty in the United States.

Based on information collected in the 2013 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC), the report found that in 2013, out of the total 194,833 individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 surveyed, 15,098 individuals had disabilities (7.7 percent). And, of the 15,098 individuals with disabilities, 4,352 lived below the poverty threshold. This equates to 28.8 percent of all individuals with disabilities living in poverty. 

Since 2012, the percentage of individuals with disabilities living in poverty has increased by nearly half of a percent.

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September Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for September show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.3 percent. This is as a result of only 20.1 percent of people with disabilities actively in the labor force, as compared to the 68.5 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
 
Sep
2013
Sep
2014
Sep
2013
Sep
2014
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
20.9
20.1
68.8
68.5
Employment-Population Ratio
18.2
17.6
64.1
64.8
Unemployment Rate
13.1
12.3
6.8
5.5
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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