National Disability Institute's Washington Insider

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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December 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 10
NDI and Hip-Hop Duo, 4WheelCity, Join Forces to Cut Disability Poverty Rate in Half By 2025 and Propel More Americans with Disabilities into the “Mainstream”
Congress and Obama Administration Reach Budget Agreement
ABLE Update: Interim Guidance Released by IRS
Celebrating the ABLE Act’s One Year Anniversary
WIOA Update: Unified/Combined State Plans
National Disability Institute Talks Disability Poverty at White House
November Employment Profile


NDI and Hip-Hop Duo, 4WheelCity, Join Forces to Cut Disability Poverty Rate in Half By 2025 and Propel More Americans with Disabilities into the “Mainstream”

This month, National Disability Institute (NDI) unveiled new recommendations to realize the unmet promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “to advance economic self-sufficiency” during a special event at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. featuring disability advocates and recording artists, 4WheelCity.

The recommendations seek to accomplish two overarching goals by 2025: (1) to cut the poverty rate for working-age adults with disabilities in half; and (2) increase access to and the use of traditional financial services and products by 50 percent.

During the event, 4WheelCity debuted their new single, “Mainstream,” a song about the challenges of poverty and disability and the struggle to achieve the American Dream, to a standing-room only crowd. “Mainstream” will be used by NDI to begin, in January 2016, a year-long conversation to engage diverse cultural communities, financial institutions, community nonprofits and government to examine more deeply the challenges of disability, economic instability and limited pathways to financial inclusion.
Once completed by December 2016, NDI will return to Capitol Hill and present on what was heard and learned in the past year and, most importantly, will establish a defined collective impact agenda which will provide a new sense of hope and belief that together financial inclusion and shared prosperity is a goal that can be achieved by all Americans, including individuals with disabilities.

“To reduce the incidence of poverty, achieve financial inclusion and advance economic self-sufficiency for the 22 million working-age adults with disabilities, will require focus, commitment and collective action,” Michael Morris, NDI Executive Director, said. “There is no single agency or organization in the public or private sector that can marshal the resources needed to achieve these important objectives alone. However, starting now, and with the collaboration of 4WheelCity, NDI will work to build a post-ADA@25 collective action agenda, a new frontier where no working-age adults with disabilities are left behind.”

In the quarter century since the signing of ADA into law, our nation has reached new levels of access and inclusion as physical and communication barriers have been reduced and eliminated. Yet, little economic progress has been made for the 22 million working-age adults with disabilities. In fact, nearly one in three persons with disabilities lives in poverty in the United States – nearly double the rate for those without disabilities. Further, recent FDIC data indicates that 46.5 percent of households headed by an individual with a disability are unbanked or underbanked.

This past summer, NDI convened a first of its kind Economic Advancement and Financial Inclusion Summit to focus attention on the enduring challenges of poverty that continue to overwhelm the daily experience of working-age adults with disabilities. From input culled during roundtable discussions at the July 22nd Summit, and with continued feedback from leaders in government and the financial and disability communities, NDI created the ADA@25 Priority Recommendations to Advance Economic Self-Sufficiency.

Following the release of the ADA@25 Priority Recommendations, four thought leaders, representing a diverse cross-section of the disability community, shared their thoughts and insights on the recommendations. Panelists included: Anil Lewis, Executive Director, Jernigan Institute at the National Federation of the Blind; Allison Wohl, Executive Director, Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst (APSE); Shazia Siddiqi, Executive Director, Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN); and Oscar Jimenez-Solomon, Research Scientist, New York State Psychiatric Institute Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence.

“Mainstream” can be purchased for download on iTunes.  

To learn more about the ADA@25 Priority Recommendations to Advance Economic Self-Sufficiency, please visit the NDI website.

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Congress and Obama Administration Reach Budget Agreement

On November 2nd, President Obama signed into law H.R. 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015, the first long-term, enacted federal budget in several Congresses. The piece of legislation addresses and remedies, among other issues, the solvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund. This eagerly awaited solution comes mere months in advance of the projected insolvency of the Trust Fund, which would have resulted in a 20 percent reduction in benefits to SSDI recipients. Currently, the SSDI program provides vital income support to approximately nine million workers with disabilities and two million of their family members.

Detailed in H.R. 1314, the SSDI solvency issue involves a modest temporary reallocation of the payroll tax revenue from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund to the SSDI Trust Fund. Reallocation will, according to the Social Security Chief Actuary, protect the SSDI Trust Fund from insolvency through 2022.

Following enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015, Executive Director Michael Morris issued the subsequent statement:

“Allowing our country’s most economically vulnerable citizens to incur a 20 percent reduction in benefits is shortsighted, misguided and perpetuates a historical institution of poverty for persons with disabilities. NDI applauds the short-term stopgap solution provided by the President and Congress to address this issue. However, we strongly encourage our nation's policymakers to turn their immediate attention to securing a permanent solution that creates pathways out of poverty for scores of Americans with disabilities, which also recognizes and adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act's promise of economic self-sufficiency for all individuals with disabilities.”

In addition to SSDI Trust Fund provisions, H.R. 1314 included a measure to reduce payment incongruities, another authorizing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to establish disability related demonstration projects, and one to repeal SSA’s Single Decision Making pilot program.     

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ABLE Update: Interim Guidance Released by IRS

The U.S. Department of Treasury, in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), released interim guidance regarding the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The interim guidance addresses several concerns expressed during the public comment period for this summer’s ABLE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Concerns addressed in the interim guidance are as follows:

  1. The requirement to establish safeguards to categorize distributions from ABLE accounts;
  2. The need to request a taxpayer identification number (TIN) for each contributor to an ABLE account; and
  3. The disability certification requirement that would make it mandatory for the individual with a disability to submit a signed physician’s statement regarding their eligibility for an ABLE account.

 Key Points:

  • Categorization of distributions not required: There will be no requirement, for income tax purposes, for an ABLE administrator/program to establish safeguards to distinguish between qualified distributions and non-qualified distributions. The designated beneficiary will have to categorize distributions for purposes of determining their federal income tax obligation (primarily if the funds are used for a non-qualified expense).
  • Contributors’ TINs not required: The current requirement that the ABLE administrator/program must collect TINs for every contributor will be eliminated, provided that such ABLE administrator/program has a system in place which can adequately prohibit excess contributions from entering an ABLE account. If such a system fails, the ABLE administrator/program must obtain a contributor’s TIN.
  • Disability diagnosis certification permitted: In the circumstance that an individual is applying for an ABLE program through the Disability Certification process, the beneficiary is not required to submit a signed document by a physician confirming the beneficiary’s diagnosis (along with other sensitive medical information) to the ABLE administrator/program. However, the beneficiary will still be responsible for submitting another document, signed under penalty of perjury, that affirms the applicant possesses the signed physician’s document (including diagnosis). The beneficiary must retain the physician signed document and, upon request, present it to to the ABLE administrator/program or IRS.

NDI is extremely pleased with Treasury's and IRS’ interim guidance and believes these specifications will significantly assist in the development of more readily accessible ABLE programs and accounts to meet the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.

To read the official IRS interim guidance, please visit the IRS website.

For more details, please contact Chris Rodriguez, National Disability Institute Senior Public Policy Advisor, at

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Celebrating the ABLE Act’s One Year Anniversary

On December 19th, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act turns one-year-old. Signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014, the ABLE Act allows millions of qualified people with disabilities (with an age of onset up to 26-years-old) and their families the opportunity to create a tax-exempt savings account to be used for maintaining health, independence and quality of life.

NDI has long championed the ABLE Act as a critical strategy to providing a pathway to a better economic future for all people with disabilities. As the nation’s first nonprofit dedicated exclusively to improving the financial health and future of all people with disabilities, NDI has extensively documented and called attention to the daily reality and extra expenses associated with living with a disability, and the challenges of navigating the complex web of government rules to maintain public benefits eligibility.

The ABLE Act represents an unprecedented and historic building block in NDI’s mission to creating a world where persons with disabilities have the same opportunities to achieve financial stability and independence as persons without disabilities. In fact, ABLE, for the very first time in our nation’s policy on disability, recognizes a life with disabilities has added costs.

While the ABLE Act is a giant step in the right direction, more work lies ahead. NDI will continue to advocate and work for the financial self-sufficiency for all Americans. NDI will work closely with both Chambers of Congress to expand access to ABLE accounts to more individuals with disabilities and, at the same time, work with state legislatures to establish, implement and ensure access to ABLE accounts for their constituents with disabilities.

In recognition of this unprecedented legislation, NDI created a list of 10 items about ABLE accounts that individuals with disabilities and their families should know, as well as a short video on six next steps in ABLE account planning. To learn more about the ABLE Act, please visit NDI’s website. For the latest developments on the status of state ABLE legislation, visit the National Down Syndrome Society’s (NDSS) ABLE State Bills webpage.

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WIOA Update: Unified/Combined State Plans

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) continues its multi-staged rollout, and it is important disability advocates are involved in the development of their state’s Unified State Plan and/or Combined State Plan. Mandated by WIOA, Unified and Combined State Plans proposals are due no later than March 3, 2016 and must include input from underrepresented populations, including individuals with disabilities. These plans will act as a roadmap to ensure cross-agency and cross-program collaboration, particularly with respect to the state’s six core programs. They include:

  • Adult Program (Title I)
  • Dislocated Worker Program (Title I)
  • Youth Program (Title I)
  • Adult Education and Family Literacy Act Program (Title II)
  • Wagner-Peyser Services Program (Title III)
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Program (Title IV)

WIOA intends for core programs to operate concurrently to optimize the potential for various segments of a state’s potential labor force, including those with disabilities, to gain meaningful employment. Prior to this requirement, states were not obligated to provide a framework to ensure a collaborative effort among their programs ‒ often resulting in inefficiencies, duplication of efforts and an inability to best utilize state and federal vocational related funds.

With the submission deadline quickly approaching, states should be well on their way to developing final drafts. It is vital disability advocates and the disability community are included in the development and review of such plans. Some questions you may want to consider while reviewing your state’s plan include:

  • Were disability groups included in the development of the plan, and how so?
  • Are there disability-related statistics, with respect to employment and education, included in the market and economic analysis?
  • If your state is developing a Combined State Plan, what additional programs are being included? Do they also include the disability community?
  • What steps is your state taking to ensure both physical and programmatic accessibility of provided supports?
  • Are there procedures and policies included in the plan that will ensure meaningful collaboration between core programs (e.g., open dialogue between program agencies and departments, plans for braided funding, “no wrong door” policies, cross collection of data and client information)?

If developed in a manner that truly takes into account the needs of individuals with disabilities seeking meaningful participation in the American labor force, WIOA, through the development of these Unified and/or Combined State Plans, will accelerate financial self-sufficiency among Americans with disabilities. That is why NDI strongly encourages all advocates to have a role in the development and review of their state’s plan.


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National Disability Institute Talks Disability Poverty at White House

Earlier this month, NDI leadership, accompanied by Namel Norris and Ricardo Velasquez ‒ the voices behind New York City hip-hop duo 4WheelCity ‒ traveled to the White House to discuss the disability-poverty epidemic in the United States. The group met with Maria Town, Disability Liaison for the Office of Public Engagement, and other staff from the White House Domestic Policy Council, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

Norris and Velasquez became permanently disabled due to gun violence when they were teenagers growing up in a Bronx housing project. As a result, and in addition to their music, they became outspoken disability advocates. Their songs are about living with disability and their personal struggles to achieve more independent lives.

During the hour-long meeting, Executive Director Michael Morris focused on the prevalence of poverty among people with disabilities and how to bring attention and greater awareness on the issue to lawmakers, financial institutions and the disability community at large. Additionally, Morris and ODEP staff discussed with Town the need to educate employers about the unique skills individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace and the importance of competitive, integrated employment.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Town assured Morris, Norris, Velasquez and all those in attendance that the White House was working vigilantly to remedy the disability-poverty pipeline and would continue to work with NDI and other disability organizations to create pathways to greater economic opportunity for the 54 million Americans with disabilities.

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November 2015 Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for November 2015 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.1 percent. This is a 1.3 percent increase from November 2014. Additionally, the latest employment statistics finds that only 19.2 percent of people with disabilities are actively in the labor force, as compared to 68.3 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
With Disability
Without Disability
Percent of Population in the Labor Force
Employment-Population Ratio
Unemployment Rate
As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

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