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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 January 2013 | Vol. 5, Issue 1
ABLE Act Update - 113th Congress
Fiscal Cliff—the Next Round: Entitlements
Chained CPI's Impact Citizens with Disabilities
CRS Analysis of US Income Inequality
Direct Express Deadline Approaching
December Employment Profiles

ABLE Act Update - 113th Congress

As you are likely aware, the US House of Representatives passed the US Senate’s narrow version of the fiscal cliff deal on January first. This version of the bill only addresses existing tax provisions and spending “sequester” cuts, which left little room for new programs like the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act to be included in the final fiscal package deal.

The 113th Congress has been sworn in, and advocates are already working with the bill’s Congressional Champions to ensure the ABLE Act is quickly reintroduced and enacted into law in the new Congress. 

The ABLE Act is well-positioned for advancement in the 113th Congress because of your advocacy efforts.  Congressional meetings, letters to the editor, and calls and emails to Congressional offices made an enormous difference in amassing the most Congressional support for the ABLE Act to date. Unfortunately, this bill was up against massive hurdles (i.e., fiscal cliff deadline and political gridlock) that made it difficult for any new legislation to move before the end of the year.

Advocates are already working hard to guarantee the ABLE Act is enacted into law in the 113th Congress. Find out if your representatives cosponsored the ABLE Act in the 112th Congress:

Senate ABLE Act Cosponsors
House ABLE Act Cosponsors

If not, call, write or Tweet your Congressmen and Senators and urge them to cosponsor the ABLE Act of 2013.

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Fiscal Cliff—the Next Round: Entitlements

Congress narrowly averted a fiscal cliff crisis in early January by agreeing on a short-term deal, but the next round is being debated in order to avoid a March first sequester.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a Yahoo op-ed: “I have news for [President Obama]:  the moment that he and virtually every other elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes.  That debate is over.”

If there is truly no room for additional revenue debate, then any additional savings must come from entitlement cuts. In his analysis of the impact that such cuts would have on low-income individuals and families, Bob Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in his brief, “Next Round on the Deficit : Big Dangers Ahead for the Economy, the Budget, and Low-Income People”  that Republican leaders appear more than willing to specify deep cuts in two other parts of the budget — core entitlements for low-income Americans, like Medicaid and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and the annual caps on funding for non-defense discretionary programs. The Ryan budget featured trillions of dollars of cuts in these two areas. These battles, Greenstein predicts, will be “brutal”, as attacks “that disparage or demonize programs for low-income and vulnerable Americans may escalate in the weeks ahead in an effort to help lay the groundwork for this strategy.”

Additionally, there are looming concerns that in a larger debt ceiling deal, Medicaid and Social Security cuts may be on the table. In a Disability Scoop article on the topic, the Arc’s Marty Ford voices her concern that “the next three months will make a huge difference in the way our federal government addresses people with disabilities for years to come.” Indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts to programs that are vital to citizens with disabilities could be catastrophic to low-income Americans and those with disabilities.

Says Greenstein: “for no one will the stakes — and the risks — be higher than for the tens of millions of our least fortunate citizens, those who lack the luxury of well-connected lobbyists and the access that big campaign contributions bring to help protect them on Capitol Hill in the dangerous weeks ahead.”

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Chained CPI's Impact Citizens with Disabilities

Over the course of the fiscal cliff negotiations, a concept has been floated that would reduce the annual inflation adjustments in federal entitlement programs. This concept, called Chained Consumer Price Index (Chained CPI), would reduce spending on safety net programs like SSI and SSDI, and lower payments in small increments that could add up to savings of up to $100 billion over a decade by moving away from using Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) as a basis for benefit increases.

AAPD explains that currently, annual COLAs are based on Consumer Price Indexes that measure changes in prices of a number of spending categories (food, housing, health care and others).  The chained CPI produces a lower inflation measure than the current CPI, because the chained CPI assumes that when prices of a commodity or service go up; consumers will switch to a less expensive product.

The problem with this assumption is that implementation of the Chained CPI would amount to a benefit cut for those who rely on these programs for survival because its effect is cumulative.  People with disabilities, who tend to rely on these benefits for long periods of time, would be impacted most severely. Already in poverty, we can assume that these citizens are already selecting inexpensive products, yet the cuts compound over time.

An article in The Washington Post proposed that Chained CPI would lead to a larger across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits. Those changes could make the proposal politically unpalatable for some, which is why some budget watchdog groups have argued that the only fair way to implement such a change would be to couple it with an increase in Social Security benefits and to exempt Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for impoverished elderly, disabled and blind people.

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CRS Analysis of US Income Inequality

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released an analysis of U.S. Income Distribution and Mobility, tracking trends within the US and comparing those trends with those of other countries. The report explores a renewed interest from the public policy community in the idea of whether policy interventions produce economic outcomes. The report reads:

With varying perceptions about a trade-off between economic growth and income equality, members of the U.S. public policy community have long debated how best to improve the economic well-being of the population. This disagreement appears to underlie longstanding congressional deliberations about several policy issues, such as the progressivity of income tax rates, tax treatment of capital gains and inheritance, provision of social insurance (e.g., Social Security) as well as social welfare benefits (e.g., food stamps), and raising the federal minimum wage. It also has extended to consideration of initiatives (e.g., grants for early childhood education and college tuition tax expenditures) that arguably promote equality in the opportunity to move up the income ladder, which an increasingly unequal distribution of income may suggest a lack of and which may itself curb the potential productive capacity of the economy.

In other words, the debate around what drives income inequality is often split along party lines, with Republicans promoting less government intervention and less market regulation and Democrats advocating for the opposite.

The CRS report takes a look at both measures of income and intergenerational mobility for answers as to whether income distribution is skewed toward the upper income brackets, making it more difficult for subsequent generations to do better than previous generations.  Using data and cross-country comparisons, the report concludes that income dispersion has indeed become more unequal over time, as high income households in the U.S. have benefitted disproportionately from economic growth and as a result of these trends, is has become increasingly difficult for Americans in lower economic strata to climb out of poverty than in previous generations.

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Direct Express Deadline Approaching

As of March 1, 2013, the Direct Express Master Card program will become the only way for unbanked federal beneficiaries (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 to receive benefits.

NDI met recently with other organizations in the Aging, Disability and Veteran communities to explore collaborative strategies for addressing issues with the Direct Express debit card.
If you are an individual with a disability or a Social Security beneficiary who has been or will be impacted negatively by use of the Direct Express card, we want to hear from you. Please contact Andrew Joseph at NDI ( with your story.

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December Employment Profile

U.S. Disability Employment Profile
With Disability
Without Disability
Dec 2011
Dec 2012
Dec 2011
Dec 2012
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

While Labor Participation Rate and Employment-Population Ratio remain largely unchanged (each down .2 percentage points, respectively, from last month) the unemployment rate for citizens with disabilities dipped to 11.7 percent in December, down from 12.7 percent reported in the previous month.  December marks the fourth consecutive month of declining unemployment rates for people with disabilities. Additionally, this rate has fallen to 11.7 percent in 2012 from a rate of 16.11 percent in December 2011; this is a 5 percentage point decrease in the disability unemployment rate for the past year.

The Labor Department began tracking employment among people with disabilities in October 2008. There is not yet enough data compiled to establish seasonal trends among this population, so statistics for this group are not seasonally adjusted.

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. Now, reports are released monthly.

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