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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May 2016 | Vol. 8, Issue 5
National Disability Institute Meets with Sponsoring Offices of ABLE Amendment Bills
Senator Coons Files Legislation to Assist Student Loan Discharge of Students with Disabilities
House Committee on Small Business Holds Hearing on Employing People with Disabilities
Federal Government Expands Partnerships to Strengthen Career Pathways
April Employment Profile


National Disability Institute Meets with Sponsoring Offices of ABLE Amendment Bills

This month, National Disability Institute (NDI) met with the offices of six ABLE legislative champions. This bi-partisan group of legislators, comprised of four members of the House and two members of the Senate, are credited with introducing three recently filed ABLE amendment bills. These meetings offered an opportunity for NDI to express its appreciation for the various members’ steadfast dedication to ensuring that ABLE programs meet their full potential and that individuals with disabilities are provided with the best tools in their pursuit to achieve economic mobility.

Ultimately, the goal is to pass these three proposed pieces of legislation, as a package, into law as quickly as possible. In pursuit of that goal, NDI encourages individuals with disabilities, their friends and families and all other ABLE stakeholders to contact their members of Congress, both in the House and Senate, to ask them to support these three bills by co-sponsoring each of them. In the meantime, NDI is working in collaboration with other national disability-related organizations to urge Congress to instruct the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to give an estimated cost for each of the proposed bills. Once this takes place, we will be in a better position to construct a strategy to move the bills forward.

To learn more about the specifics of the three bills, visit the ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) website.

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Senator Coons Files Legislation to Assist Student Loan Discharge of Students with Disabilities

Last month, Senator Christopher Coon (D-DE) introduced Senate Bill 2600, the “Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act.” This piece of legislation, which has garnered co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, addresses how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats amounts of student loan discharges for individuals who have been deemed “totally and permanently disabled.”

In many instances, individuals who qualify for the student loan forgiveness plan, as a result of meeting certain criteria related to the severity of their disability, may face significant challenges related to employment and the ability to save money. Understanding these challenges, the current law allows individuals who meet the definition of “totally and permanently disabled” to have any outstanding federal student loan debt forgiven and discharged, so that it does not continue to exacerbate what may already be a circumstance of significant financial hardship. However, as the law currently stands, once the federal student loan is discharged, the IRS can count the amount that is forgiven as taxable income of the individual with a disability. In turn, this can potentially produce tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tax liability that can yield substantial consequences for the individual with a disability.

Recognizing the possibly detrimental effects of what is meant to be a law that eases financial hardship for individuals with disabilities, Senator Coon’s “Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act” would exempt federal and private student loans, which are forgiven and discharged as a result of meeting the criteria related to disability, from federal income tax. This bill would also extend the same tax exemption to parents that have outstanding student loan debt on behalf of a son or daughter that experiences significant disability or death.

NDI appreciates Senator Coon’s efforts to address this issue and is proud to support this legislation. Additionally, since the filing of this bill, Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) has introduced a House companion.

For more information on the legislation, read the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act Summary.

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House Committee on Small Business Holds Hearing on Employing People with Disabilities

On May 19, the House Committee on Small Business held a hearing to highlight the benefits of employing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The hearing, led by Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH), provided the disability community with an opportunity to showcase some of the diverse talents of individuals with disabilities and their many contributions to the small business community.

The Committee heard testimony from several witnesses, including a self-advocate who owns his own business, the Executive Vice President for Programs and Services at Autism Speaks and two small business owners that employ individuals with I/DD. Members of the Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, seemed enthusiastic about the idea of expanding employment opportunities for individuals with I/DD within the small business community, including entrepreneurial opportunities.

While the hearing was positive, there was no substantive mention of specific recommendations for pieces of legislation to address the significant lack of employment among the disability community. That being said, the provided examples of significant contributions made by individuals with disabilities to the American workforce are invaluable tools to help educate policy makers about individuals with disabilities’ sincere desire to become part of the economic mainstream.

NDI extends its gratitude to Chairman Chabot and the other members of the Small Business Committee for their efforts to bring attention to the issue of employment for individuals with disabilities.

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Federal Government Expands Partnerships to Strengthen Career Pathways

Last month, a joint notice was released announcing the expansion of partnerships among several federal agencies with the aim of strengthening the efforts of career pathways. The collaboration to promote the use of career pathways, originally comprised of the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, was created in 2012 to assist youth and adults, including those with disabilities, in attaining the job skills and relevant credentials to successfully perform in a competitive workforce.

As of April 28, the collaboration of participating federal agencies has grown to include the Administration’s Skills Working Group, which was created by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to bolster the efforts of the President’s “Jobs-Driven Training Initiative.” The Skills Working Group will now contribute the resources of more than 13 federal agencies to strengthen the utilization and success of career pathways.

NDI is encouraged by the additional resources garnered by an expanded collaboration to promote career pathways. We believe this complements the updated definition and framework of career pathways established in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 and promotes WIOA’s spirit of cross collaboration within government to promote positive employment outcomes for all job seekers, including those with disabilities.

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April 2016 Employment Profile

Disability employment statistics for April 2016 show that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 10.7 percent. This is a 0.7 percent increase from April 2015. The latest employment statistics also find that only 20.4 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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