Tax Policy – ABLE National Resource Center Hosting Webinar Series

The ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) has declared August as #ABLEtoSave month. During this month, the center will be raising awareness and providing resources relating to ABLE programs. Additionally, they are hosting a series of webinars:

  • Week 1 (July 30 – August 5): Basic Overview of ABLE
  • Week 2 (August 6 -12): Eligibility
    • Wednesday August 9, from 2:00 – 3:00 EDT
  • Week 3 (August 13 – 19): Qualified Disability Expenses
  • Week 4 (August 20 – 26): Financial Literacy
  • Week 5 (August 27 – September 2): Enrollment

To learn more about the #ABLEtoSave campaign and ABLE accounts, visit the ANRC website and be sure to “like” the ANRC on Facebook and Twitter (@theABLENRC).

Tax – Montana and the District of Columbia Open Qualified ABLE Programs

Recently, Montana and the District of Columbia opened qualified ABLE programs, bringing the total number of jurisdictions with ABLE programs to 26. Both plans are open to all eligible individuals nationwide. They have six investment options and a checking account with a debit card. There is a $40 annual account maintenance fee, an annual $15 fee for printing and delivery of statements, and asset-based fees that range from 0.34% to 0.38% for investment options. The minimum initial deposit is $25. More information about state implementation of the ABLE Act can be found here. General information about ABLE programs can be found in the National Policy Matters: ABLE Accounts for People with Disabilities here.

Immigration – Senators Introduce Bill Restricting Legal Immigration

Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act (S.354), which would cut the total number of legal immigrants allowed in the country in half and make substantial changes to the system. The bill eliminates the diversity immigrant visa category and creates a new visa system that awards points to potential immigrants based on such things as education and English-language ability. Other provisions include limiting the number of refugees granted permanent residence to 50,000; banning all members of an immigrant’s household, including U.S. citizens, from receiving public assistance for five years; and prohibiting U.S. citizens from sponsoring their parents’ immigration into the U.S. These provisions could disadvantage immigrants with disabilities, particularly people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Additionally, this could lead to fewer immigrants being able to work as direct support professionals, exacerbating an already severe workforce shortage. Contrary to claims that immigration is harming the economy, 1,470 economists from across the political spectrum sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leadership stating that immigration provides the country with “broad economic benefit.” The Arc opposes the RAISE Act.

Health Care/Medicaid/Long Term Supports and Services — Repeal of The Affordable Care Act Fails in The Senate: A Week In Review

Last Week

This issue of Capitol Insider is devoted to a review of the Senate’s consideration of the effort to repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act.

Health Care; Medicaid; Long Term Supports and Services
Repeal of The Affordable Care Act Fails in The Senate: A Week In Review

Last week was a critically important week for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, indeed, for all people with disabilities. The result was what The Arc and its members had worked hard for over the last nine months. However, the week of Senate legislative action played out like an intense roller-coaster ride and the results were not predictable until the final vote in the early hours of Friday, July 28.

As the week began, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) planned a series of Senate floor votes on the efforts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make fundamental structural changes to the Medicaid program. It was expected that the votes could be close, with 52 Republicans in the Senate and 48 Members of the Democratic caucus (including the two Independents who vote with the Democrats). Republicans would need at least 50 votes in support of any action or legislation to proceed – Vice President Mike Pence would be called upon to break any tie votes. Several Republicans had already expressed serious reservations about various provisions of the bills under consideration.

Monday, July 24:

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) made the surprise announcement that he would be returning to Washington DC, despite his recent brain surgery and cancer diagnosis.

Tuesday, July 25:

The Senate voted on the “Motion to Proceed” on debate of the repeal of the ACA. This is a procedural voted needed to begin debate on the bill. With Vice President Pence casting the vote to break the tie, the motion passed the Senate 51-50. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and all Democratic Caucus Senators voted no.

Following the successful motion to proceed, the Senate voted to replace the House-passed text with it’s own text, a version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act

  • This bill included an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow insurance companies to sell plans that do not comply with current insurance regulations as long as some of their plans do comply. Insurers could drop maternity care, mental-health treatment, and other benefits if they sell at least one health plan that includes them.
  • This bill also included an amendment by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) which would provide $100 billion to help people cover their deductibles and other expenses when they lost Medicaid coverage, and it would let states set up such arrangements without needing special federal approval.

Due to an opinion by the Senate parliamentarian, this bill would have required 60 votes to pass. With 57 “no” votes and 43 “yes” votes, the BCRA did not pass. The no votes were cast by Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Collins (R-ME), Heller (R-NV), Corker (R-TN), Cotton (R-AR), Graham (R-SC), Lee (R-UT), Moran (R-KS), Paul (R-KY), and the whole Democratic caucus.

Wednesday, July 26:

Following the defeat of the BCRA, the Senate held a vote on the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, a “repeal and delay” bill. This bill failed with 55 no votes and 45 yes votes. The no votes were cast by Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Collins (R-ME), Heller (R-NV), Alexander (R-TN), Capito (R-WV), Protman (R-OH), and the whole Democratic caucus.

Thursday, July 27 into Friday, July 28:

At around 10:30 pm Thursday, Majority Leader McConnell introduced the language of what had been called the “skinny repeal.” Officially titled the Healthcare Freedom Act, this bill would have struck down a few provisions of the ACA, including the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the Health Care Freedom Act would cause 16 million people to lose insurance and individual market premiums to go up by 20 percent. The insurance coverage provisions would have also resulted in a loss of $235 billion in the Medicaid program over 10 years.

At about 1:30 am Friday morning, the final vote on the Senate series of repeal efforts was completed with a defeat of the Health Care Freedom Act by a vote of 51-49, with Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), McCain (R-AZ), and the whole Democratic caucus voting against the bill.

What We Narrowly Avoided:

If the Health Care Freedom Act had passed the Senate, a joint House-Senate conference committee would have considered the Health Care Freedom Act and the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) to develop a bill to be considered by both the House and Senate. Through the AHCA, per capita caps and over $830 billion in cuts to Medicaid over a decade would have been part of the consideration by the conference committee. The House also could have simply passed the “skinny repeal” without going to conference. Both of these scenarios were of major concern to many Senators and were a factor in decisions to oppose the bill.

The Arc of the United States released statement on the failure of the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make fundamental structural changes to the Medicaid program which can be seen here.

Next Steps

Several Senators have already announced efforts to work together to produce legislation to address issues left in limbo by the failure of the House and Senate efforts. Some are looking to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the affordability provisions in the ACA remain funded and to address health insurance market place issues. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell indicating that “we have a responsibility to pivot from the current debate on health care and to work in a bipartisan fashion to lower costs, improve quality, and expand coverage, while strengthening the stability of the marketplaces.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has similarly expressed a desire to work in a bipartisan manner to resolve the identified problems of the ACA.

Thank You

As Congress continues to debate health care policy, The Arc and other disability advocates expect to remain fully engaged. In the meantime, sincere thanks and acknowledgement are due to the extraordinary efforts of people with disabilities and their families, friends, supporters, and providers throughout the country who shared their life experiences and made their voices heard on the issues of affordable, accessible health care and the critical importance of home and community based services and health care through Medicaid. This work over the last nine months clearly affected elected officials. It was a powerful combined effort and it helped force the defeat of misguided attempts to repeal the ACA and cut and cap the Medicaid program.

Education – Report Shows Most States are Not Meeting IDEA Obligations

The U.S. Department of Education found that only 22 states deserved the “meets requirements” designation for the 2015-2016 school year. All other states were placed into the “needs assistance” category. The findings come from an annual mandatory assessment of state compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The ratings are based on how well states meet their obligations to serve students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.

Tax Policy – Louisiana Opens Qualified ABLE Program

On June 29, Louisiana became the 23rd state to launch a qualified ABLE Program. This program is currently only open to Louisiana residents. The program has seven investment options. There are no fees associated with the account. The minimum initial deposit is $10. More information about state implementation of the ABLE Act can be found here. General information about ABLE programs can be found in the National Policy Matters: ABLE Accounts for People with Disabilities here

Social Security – Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act Introduced in House and Senate

Last week, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) with 5 cosponsors and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) with one cosponsor have introduced the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act (H.R. 3302S. 1600). The bill would strengthen Social Security’s finances by removing the current cap on annual payroll contributions, set at $127,200 in 2017. It would also provide for more accurate and adequate annual cost of living adjustments for all Social Security Old-Age, Survivors’, and Disability Insurance benefits as well as Supplemental Security Income benefits. In the House, the bill has been referred to the Committees on Ways and Means, Education and the Workforce, and Energy and Commerce; in the Senate, the bill has been referred to the Committee on Finance.

Social Security – SSI Restoration Act Introduced in House

Last week, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 36 cosponsors introduced the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act (H.R. 3307). The bill would update and enhance the SSI program by updating the general earned income disregard to $114 per month, updating the earned income disregard to $377 per month, and updating the resource limits to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for a couple. Congress has not adjusted these limits in many years. In addition, the SSI Restoration Act would repeal SSI’s in-kind support and maintenance provisions as well as penalties for resource transfers, marriage, and state tax credits. The Arc and numerous other national organizations strongly support the SSI Restoration Act. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Education/Appropriations – House Appropriators Reject School Choice Initiatives

The House Appropriations Committee did not fund two Trump Administration education priorities. In the Administration’s FY 2018 Budget, the President requested $1 billion for “portability” of funds to public school of choice and $250 million for research and private school scholarships for low-income families. However, the Appropriations Committee report noted that these programs have not been authorized. This means that Congress would need to enact legislation to allow public education dollars to be used for both public school portability and private school choice efforts.

Budget & Appropriations – House Appropriations Committee Passes L-HHS-Ed Funding Bill

On July 19, the House Appropriations Committee approved the draft FY 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (L-HHS-ED) funding bill by a vote of 28-22. The bill provides an overall funding level of $156 billion, a $5 billion (3.1%) discretionary cut from FY 2017 levels. Most disability-related programs were level funded, with few seeing cuts and a small number receiving increases. See line items for disability related programs here. The Senate has yet to release its L-HHS-Ed funding bill, though the overall allocation is higher ($164 billion) than the House’s bill ($156 billion).