Tax Policy – Texas Opens Qualified ABLE Program

Texas recently opened a new ABLE program, bringing the total number of jurisdictions with ABLE programs to 36. The program is currently only open to Texas residents. It has four investment options. Accounts have a $4 monthly maintenance fee and asset-based fees ranging from 0.25% to 0.39% for investment options. The minimum initial deposit is $50, and the minimum amount for subsequent deposits 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.

Education – The Arc Submits Comments on Proposed Delay of IDEA Equity Regulations; Disability Advocates are Encouraged to Submit Their Own Comments

The Arc submitted comments today in opposition to the Department of Education’s proposed two-year delay of regulations to address significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) identification, placement, and discipline. In 2004, the requirement to collect and report data on significant disproportionality, and take certain action if it is found, was added to the IDEA. However, in the 14 years since the law was changed, few states and school districts have reported any such significant disproportionality. This fact was documented in a 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study showing that most states had set thresholds for identifying disproportionate districts so high that no districts ever exceeded them, and, therefore, none were ever identified or the issues resolved. Following the GAO’s recommendation, the Department of Education issued regulations in 2016 that are set to take effect in July of 2018. These regulations provide a standard methodology for determining significant disproportionality, but permit each state to set its own thresholds so long as they are reasonable. See The Arc’s comments here. Disability advocates are encouraged to submit their own comments. See shorter sample comments here which can be submitted by clicking here. Comments are due by midnight on Monday, May 14.

To help understand what disproportionality is, how it harms students with disabilities who are students of color, and what advocates can do to ensure equity in education for all children, the National Disability Rights Network has made this short video.

Education – New Civil Rights Data Show Continuing Disparities for Students with Disabilities

On April 24, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released data it collected during the 2015-2016 school year. These data were collected from 17,300 public school districts and 96,400 public schools and education programs across the country. The report contains data on school and district characteristics, discipline, criminal offenses, harassment and bullying, restraint and seclusion, single-sex interscholastic athletics, early childhood education, pathways to college and career, school finance, and teachers and other personnel. The data show that there continue to be disparities in discipline for students of color and students with disabilities. Notable findings for students with disabilities in grades K-12 include disproportionate rates of arrest and referral to law enforcement, suspension, and restraint and seclusion. While students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are 12% of enrolled students, they are 28% of students arrested or referred to law enforcement, 26% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions, 24% of expelled students, 71% of students restrained, and 66% of students subjected to seclusion. Read OCR’s press release here.

Autism – Autism Prevalence Estimates Increase by Nearly 16%

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing that the estimated prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to rise. The new rate of 1 in 59 is based on data collected in 2014 and reflects a nearly 16% increase from two years ago; CDC data from 2012 showed that an estimated 1 in 68 children had ASD. Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, stated: “The new prevalence rates underscore the need to reauthorize the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support (CARES) Act which expires next year. This law is the primary vehicle for federal funding for surveillance, autism research, screening and diagnostic services, and professional training.” Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), one of the lead sponsors of the Autism CARES Act issued this statement. Read The Arc’s statement on the new prevalence rates.

Housing – HUD Proposes Legislation Raising Rents in Affordable Housing

On April 25, U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson released proposed legislation that would raise rents and allow new work requirements for millions of low-income people who receive basic housing assistance from HUD. Combined, the bill’s proposals would make it harder for millions of renters – including people with disabilities – to access affordable housing in their community. The HUD bill includes a number of proposals put forward by Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) in draft legislation and discussed in a hearing last week by the House Committee on Financial Services. To learn more, read The Arc’s statement on this proposal.

Tax Policy – Webinar Scheduled on Social Security’s Updated ABLE Guidance for April 26

The ABLE National Resource Center will host a webinar titled “Social Security’s Updated ABLE Guidance – A Deeper Dive”. The webinar will cover the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) newly-updated section of the Program Operation Manuals System (POMS) which provides updated guidance to local and regional SSA staff on how to treat ABLE accounts when determining eligibility for Social Security programs. The webinar will take place on April 26 from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Chris Rodriguez, Director of the ABLE National Resource Center, will present and moderate the webinar. Other presenters will be Marlene Ulisky, Social Security Benefits Expert, National Disability Institute; James R. Sheldon, Supervising Attorney, Neighborhood Legal Services; and Rob Percival, Sr. Vice President, Strategic Products, Ascensus College Savings; and an ABLE account owner. Register for the webinar here.

Miscellaneous – Disability Advocates on Capitol Hill This Week

Nearly 1,000 disability advocates from across the country are in Washington, DC this week to advance our grassroots movement, meet with their Members of Congress, and educate them on the needs of people with disabilities. Advocates will be sharing their messages on civil rights and community living, education, federal funding, Medicaid and health care, and Social Security and SSI with their Members of Congress on April 25. Learn more at disabilitypolicyseminar.org.

Income Support – House Committee Advances Farm Bill with Cuts to Food Assistance Program

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee approved the Agriculture and Nutrition Assistance Act of 2018 (H.R.2), also known as the “Farm Bill,” which reauthorizes farm programs and policy as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill proposes deep cuts to food assistance under SNAP: an estimated 2 million people would lose their SNAP food assistance or see their benefits reduced, over 10 years. The Committee vote set the stage for the bill to advance to the House floor; a date for a vote on the bill by the full House has not yet been set. The Senate has not yet announced its plans for the Farm Bill reauthorization. Visit the House Agriculture Committee YouTube channel for archived video of the markup. The Arc opposes this legislation.

Housing – The Arc Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act – a powerful law that fights housing discrimination and opens doors for people with disabilities across the country. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (gender), familial status, and disability. While much progress has been made over the last 50 years, more work remains. And today, our fair housing rights face new threats. Learn more about what you can do to help ensure that the Fair Housing Act’s promise continues to advance.

Education – “Nation’s Report Card” Shows Achievement Gap for Students with Disabilities

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that students’ overall scores remained relatively unchanged for fourth and eighth grade mathematics and fourth grade reading, while eighth grade reading scores rose slightly from 265 to 276. For students with disabilities, scores stayed relatively the same for fourth grade reading and eighth grade mathematics. Scores for fourth grade mathematics declined from 218 to 214, while scores in eighth grade reading rose slightly from 230 to 232. These results do not include students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (1%) who take an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards. See the report here.