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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 August 2012 | Vol. 4, Issue 7
ABLE Act Update
Financial Literacy Model for Older Adults
Delware HHS Secretary Testifies at Senate HELP Olmstead Progress Hearing
CMS Olmstead Guidance to Help States Navigate Long-Term Services and Supports
Senate HELP Committee Releases Report on Disability Employment
NDI Survey on Direct Express MasterCard for Federal Benefits
June Employment Numbers

ABLE Act Update

The ABLE Act has amassed 172 cosponsors in the House and 22 in the Senate. Lead organizations have a goal to surpass 200 cosponsors in the House and 35 cosponsors in the Senate by July 31 (August Recess)! 

The current legislative strategy involves working with ABLE Act Champions and their staffs in both the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees to determine whether it might be possible to add the bill to a larger tax package that Congress will be working on later this year after the November election.

It is not too late to contact your legislators and encourage them to sign-on as cosponsors to the ABLE Act! Find out if your members of Congress have cosponsored this important legislation:

House Sponsors   |   Senate Sponsors

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Financial Literacy Model for Older Adults

A recent “Request for Information Regarding Senior Financial Exploitation” issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offers a compelling model for the disability community to replicate. The CFPB requested comments in furtherance of its mandate to facilitate financial literacy among older adults relating to fraudulent financial practices and choices. The comments, which are due by August 20, are not intended to reflect individual complaints by borrowers or to seek specific personal identifying information but should respond to a series of questions in several categories posed by the Bureau concerning consumer financial products and services for older Americans.

The Office for Older Americans within the CFPB will monitor certification or designation of financial advisors who serve seniors and when it learns of “unfair, deceptive, or abusive” practices, it will alert the SEC and state regulators. The Office also will make legislative and regulatory recommendations to Congress on best practices for educating and disseminating information to seniors on personal financial managements and related practices. While there is some overlap between the community of older Americans and people with disabilities, the specific needs of individuals with significant disabilities indicate a preference for a separate monitoring system.

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Delaware HHS Secretary Testifies at Senate HELP Olmstead Progress Hearing

Photo of Rita Landgraf on a screen giving her testimonyOn the 13th anniversary of the Supreme Court landmark decision Olmstead v. L.C and E.W, which reaffirmed the community integration mandate of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to evaluate the progress that states are making in achieving the law’s goals. Olmstead clarified that under the ADA states must ensure that individuals with disabilities be allowed to live in their communities rather than in institutions if such a living situation is appropriate for that person’s needs.

Among the witnesses at the hearing was Rita Landgraf, the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, who stated that it is not enough for states “to be in mere compliance with the [ADA] and the Olmstead ruling,” but that state leaders “must … embed inclusions and the benefits of diversity as a core value.” Secretary Langdraf’s testimony went a long way in raising the importance of economic empowerment and financial coaching. National Disability Institute continues to support the state of Delaware in its efforts to build financial empowerment for all its citizens including people with disabilities.

Landgraf noted that Delaware was shifting its resources and delivery strategy to a “community-first focus” and away from its prior experience in which “[f]ar too many individuals were placed in institutions and remained there for extended period.” This change, she explained, “begins with a simple, but powerful expectation: Individuals with disabilities can live in their own home, have meaningful employment and be ordinary Delawareans.  They may require some level of support, but those supports need to be provided that effectively foster independence and fully engage participation in society.” The change, she explained, was spurred in part by a settlement agreement reached last year with the Department of Justice following a three year investigation of the state psychiatric center.

While acknowledging the fiscal challenges of complying with the agreement, Landgraf noted that Delaware was eager to become a leader in mental health services. To do so will require “smarter budgeting, smarter spending, and smarter management,” she said. But she explained, it also will require a focus on advancing “economic self-sufficiency” for individuals within the disability community. “The Olmstead Community Integration Mandate compels us to attack poverty and financial instability through financial coaching as part of an individual’s Medicaid support plan.”

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CMS Olmstead Guidance to Help States Navigate Long-Term Services and Supports

As States work to implement the Olmstead decision, the federal government, primarily through the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, has provided a variety of resources and sources of guidance to assist states in using Medicaid funding and services to develop support systems to ensure ADA compliance. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in HHS recently issued a report outlining a number of new policies, resources, and actions taken by HUD to help States leverage the many housing opportunities and resources to balance their long-term services and support systems.

The resources include guidance to HUD’s Fair House/Equal Opportunity (FHEO) staff on providing assistance to persons with disability who are transition from institutions and persons at serious risk of institutionalization; an explanation of how funding through HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development programs can be used in response to Olmstead; background on, and a Notice of Funding Availability for 811 Project Rental Assistance and Partnerships with State Medicaid Agencies. The newly authorized changes to this section of the law include stronger incentives to leverage other sources of capital for these units, and a new “project-based rental assistance” approach to help State and local governments create integrated supportive housing units within affordable rental housing developments.

The HUD resources also address Public Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers, which include a notice for Public Housing Agencies on ways the Housing Choice Voucher program can be used to assist families who have a family member with disabilities; background material on special purpose vouchers called non-elderly disabled (NED) vouchers, which are specifically set aside for persons with disabilities and another notice about ensuring that previous special purpose housing choice vouchers must be reestablished as NED vouchers.

Other resources the memo outlines include the Real Choice Systems Change Grants to assist states, public housing and housing finance agencies to work collaboratively toward developing accessible affordable housing, and a joint HUD-HHS effort on Housing Capacity Building for Community Living.

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Senate HELP Committee Releases Report on Disability Employment

As disability advocates commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act on July26, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), released an important report discussing the state of employment for adults with disabilities, and offered a number of policy recommendations to increase participation of individuals with disabilities in the labor force. The report followed a series of hearings exploring what committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) called, “the persistently low employment rate of people with disabilities”

Calling on Congress “to build on the bipartisan successes of the ADA,” Harkin stated “it is now time again to show the same kind of leadership and open wide the doors to better jobs and careers as well as create an accessible pathway out of deep poverty and into the mainstream of the American middle class for the more than 20 million working-age American adults with disabilities.”

The 39- page report noted that individuals with disabilities “experience a
disproportionate level of poverty because of their low employment participation and earnings rates, their underemployment and the low levels of federal disability cash benefits.”  The report noted that the poverty rate for working-age adults with disabilities in the U.S. in 2010 was 27.3 percent while for those without disabilities it was 12.8 percent, while federal benefits are generally insufficient to alleviate poverty among individuals with disabilities.

But the report also cited several additional factors that exacerbate higher poverty rates for people with disabilities when compared with persons without disabilities: Individuals with disabilities experience poverty at a more intense level and remain in poverty for longer periods. Moreover, being a person with a disability greatly increases the likelihood of being jobless or underemployed.

“Despite their educational foundation, despite their desire to work, and despite their abilities and skills, far too many people with disabilities in the United States are suffering because they have not, in most cases, achieved success in the labor market. Our support programs and the level of benefits often trap people with disabilities in a system that discourages and often punishes their efforts to work, ensnarling them in life-long poverty."

Harkin called on Congress to “break this cycle by enabling more Americans with disabilities to gain the education, training, services, and employment opportunities they need to become and stay employed, earn a living and be full participants in our society.” To achieve this he announced plans to introduce several pieces of legislation that would improve outcomes in competitive, integrated employment for youth and young adults who are transitioning from school to higher education and work, increase contracting opportunities for disability-owned businesses, create incentives for states to develop and test innovative initiatives that can lay the foundation for modernizing the largest programs providing income support, health care, and long-term services and supports to citizens with disabilities, and encourage savings and wage support that will help people with disabilities leave poverty and enter the middle class.

“As the first generation of Americans who have grown up under the ADA approach adulthood and wounded warriors return from Iraq and Afghanistan, our country has a unique opportunity to address the issue of disability employment,” Harkin said. “In recent years, public- and private-sector employers have gotten more serious about growing the disability workforce, prompting both President Obama and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to set specific goals for welcoming people with disabilities into the labor force.”

The HELP Committee report comes a day after the announcement by the incoming head of the National Governor’s Association, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, that during his year as chairman of the organization he will make the issue of expanding employment for Americans with disabilities the organization’s year-long focus.

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NDI Survey on Direct Express Master Card for Federal Benefits

National Disability Institute (NDI) is conducting a survey to evaluate consumer reaction to the “Direct Express MasterCard,” which in March 2013 will become the sole means to receive federal benefits for more than 2.5 million people who receive payments from Social Security, SSDI, VA, SSI, the Railroad Retirement Board, Department of Labor (Black Lung), or OPM benefit checks.

NDI is seeking answer to several questions about the cards, including potential problems using them, the ability of consumers to track funds with both the new and old systems, and consumers’ knowledge of fees and other costs related to card use. NDI will collect feedback and send suggestions to Congress on system improvements. To participate in the survey, you can go directly to NDI’s Federal Benefits and Debit Cards Survey or you can email your comments to NDI at Please pass this information on to any interested parties as well through your communications and social media channels.

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June Disability Employment Numbers

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
With Disability
Without Disability
June 2011
June 2012
June 2011
June 2012
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
Employment-Population Ratio
Unemployment Rate

The Department of Labor reported that the rate of unemployment for Americans with disabilities climbed in June to 13.3 percent, slightly higher than May’s 12.9 percent figure (compared with 16.9 percent in June of 2011). The unemployment rate for workers without disabilities held steady at 8.2 percent, down slightly from June 2011. The percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 20.5 percent, compared with people with no disability in the labor force at 70 percent. 

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