Joint Employment in Consumer-Directed Programs

Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) held a briefing to address joint employment in consumer-directed programs as outlined in the Federal Register in October 2013. Officials reviewed an Administrator’s Interpretation from last month that defines companionship services, clarifies the duties test, and limits the use of the companionship services exemption and the live-in domestic service employee overtime exemption to individuals or their representatives only. Most workers in consumer-directed programs will have a third-party joint employer and therefore must be paid in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements. However, the exemption may be applied in situations in which the consumer is the sole employer. Third party employers may no longer claim exemptions under this rule. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently released guidance on state options for Medicaid reimbursement for overtime and travel costs that may result from the Final Rule. For more information, please visit www.homecare.gov for a fact sheet and other information related to minimum wage and overtime pay for direct care workers.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Update

Last week, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) met with members of the disability advocacy community to ask for continued support in urging the Senate’s passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The treaty has been placed on the agenda of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting for mark-up on Tuesday, July 22. Supporters are hopeful that the treaty will pass out of committee and go to the Senate floor for a vote the week of July 28.

The Treaty was adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 13, 2006 and was signed by President Obama on June 30, 2009. The Senate took the treaty up for consideration in December of 2012 but fell five votes short of the 67 needed for ratification. To learn more, please see The Arc’s fact sheet and blog entry, as well as a video message from Sen. Harkin. To contact your Senator about this critical issue, please visit The Arc’s Action Center or Tweet using #ISupportCRPD.

FY 2015 Spending Bills Face Likely Continuing Resolution

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced that, despite having strongly pushed for regular order in the appropriations process, she is now seeking to move an omnibus package of bills for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2014.  One or more short-term continuing resolutions (CRs) may be necessary if Congress cannot pass all 12 individual spending bills or a combination of bills before October 1.  CRs typically provide level funding from the previous year, though they are not required to do so.  Read this story from January to see how disability-related programs fared in the FY 2014 spending bill.

Bipartisan Legislation to Update Critical Workforce Programs on Its Way to the President

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 415-6.

WIOA is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee last July. The bill was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX).

WIOA, which now heads to the President for signature, reauthorizes and updates existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for people with disabilities. WIOA focuses VR outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities through emphasis on coordination between VR and other agencies including school systems, extending the initial time period for VR supported employment services (from 18 to 24 months), and modification of eligibility determination to promote access to VR by people with the most significant disabilities.

Over the last few years, reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act has been a top priority for The Arc’s public policy agenda. The Arc advocated for many improvements to the system now incorporated under WIOA. These improvements are consistent with its past and current position statements on Employment. Additionally, The Arc joined with other national disability groups to express strong support for WIOA.

Senate Highway Trust Fund Bill Moves Forward Without Amendment to Cut Social Security Disability Insurance

The Senate Finance Committee marked up the Preserving American’s Transit and Highways (PATH) Act last week without adopting harmful amendments that threatened to cut SSDI benefits. In early July, the Senate Finance Committee took up legislation to address a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with the PATH Act. Senator John Thune (R-SD), along with Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), introduced two amendments to partially pay for the bill by cutting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) also co-sponsored one of the amendments. The Arc and other members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities strongly opposed the amendments, noting that SSDI and UI are separate programs established for different purposes; receipt of concurrent benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families, single out SSDI beneficiaries and treat them differently from other workers under the UI program, create disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries, and cut Social Security to pay for an unrelated program. Fortunately, the Senate Finance Committee marked up the PATH Act last week without adopting these harmful amendments. With different bills to shore up the Highway Trust Fund moving to the Senate and House floors, The Arc will closely monitor and oppose the potential for these amendments to be reintroduced.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Clarifies Medicaid Coverage of Autism-Related Services

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released an information bulletin outlining options for Medicaid to provide children with coverage of autism-related services. The bulletin discusses the opportunities and associated requirements for covering services under a variety of authorities including the Medicaid EPSDT mandate.  The bulletin does not require states to cover the services but clarifies how states can cover the services if they choose.  View the information bulletin.

Administration for Community Living Releases Guidance on Person-Centered Planning and Self-Direction

Last week, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) released guidance which outlined standards for person-centered planning and self-direction. ACL has indicated that these principles will be embedded into all of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)-funded home and community based services (HCBS) as well as within other non-HHS-funded HCBS and long term services and support programs. All HHS entities that provide HCBS funding are expected to incorporate the principles into their regulations, guidance, and/or the technical assistance provided to states.  Additional information is available in a recent ACL Blog post from Sharon Lewis, Principal Deputy Administrator of ACL and Senior Advisor on Disability Policy, HHS.

The Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation Seeking To Update Critical Workforce Programs

On June 25, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 95 to 3. Amendments proposed by Senator Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Lee (R-UT) failed to be adopted.  The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for approval, would reauthorize and update existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. Specifically, WIOA focuses vocational rehabilitation outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities.

WIOA represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. The proposal was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). The Arc supports this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.

Cuts to SSDI Proposed to Pay for Highway Trust Fund

Last week, the Senate Finance Committee took up legislation to address a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, the Preserving American’s Transit and Highways Act (PATH Act). Senator John Thune (R-SD), along with Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), introduced two amendments to partially pay for the bill by cutting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) also co-sponsored one of the amendments. These amendments are similar to proposals introduced in the Senate last January as part of its consideration of extending emergency UI benefits. The Finance Committee recessed last Thursday without completing its markup, and is expected to return next week to resume consideration of the bill. Senator Thune stated during last week’s Committee markup that he may continue to offer his amendments. The Arc strongly opposes cuts to SSDI benefits, including cuts to concurrent SSDI and UI benefits.  As noted in a January 2014 letter from The Arc and other members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, SSDI and UI are separate programs established for different purposes; receipt of concurrent benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families, single out SSDI beneficiaries and treat them differently from other workers under the UI program, create disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries, and cut Social Security to pay for an unrelated program. The Arc strongly opposes these amendments and is urging the Senate Finance Committee to reject these harmful SSDI benefit cuts.