House and Senate FY 2016 Budget Conferees hold first meeting

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 House and Senate Budget Committee’s Conferees met for the first time on April 20. The Conferees are working to iron out the differences between their chambers’ FY 2016 Budget Resolutions. Since the differences are considered to be relatively small, they are expected to reach consensus and pass a concurrent budget resolution. Unfortunately, both budget resolutions contained drastic cuts to both the entitlement (Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security) and discretionary programs (e.g. housing, education, employment, protection and advocacy) that are critical for people with disabilities. In addition, they both contain reconciliation instructions which direct Congressional Committees to develop legislation to carry out the cuts to certain entitlement and other programs. However, any reconciliation legislation would then be subject to additional votes and ultimately presidential approval. For more information, see The Arc’s summaries of the FY 2016 House and Senate budget resolutions:
http://insider.thearc.org/2015/03/30/house-and-senate-pass-fiscal-year-2016-budget-resolutions-proposals-include-major-cuts-to-programs-including-medicaid/

The Senate Conferees are:

Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
David Perdue (R-GA)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Mark Warner (D-VA)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Angus King (I-Maine)

The House conferees are:

Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA)
Todd Rokita (R-IN)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Diane Black (R-TN)
John Moolenaar (R-MI)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
John Yarmuth (D-KY)
Gwen Moore (D-WI)

Two Bills to Strengthen Social Security Trust Fund Introduced in House

Last week, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced two bills that seek to preserve Social Security for future beneficiaries, including people with disabilities. The Fair Adjustments and Income Revenues (FAIR) for Social Security Act (H.R. 1984) would ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund is able to pay full benefits at least through 2057. This bill would do so by eliminating the cap that currently allows the wealthiest Americans to contribute a significantly lower percentage of their annual income to the trust fund. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Social Security Protection and Truth in Budgeting Act (H.R. 1983) would ensure Social Security trust funds are not used for non-Social Security purposes. Additionally, it would separate Social Security trust funds from the federal budget so they could not be used to artificially lower the deficit. The bill was referred to the House Budget Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. The Arc applauds the introduction of these two bills.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act News

Last week, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Department of Education announced plans to hold two public meetings to seek comments about the proposed regulatory changes contained in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register on April 16, 2015. The hearings will provide an opportunity for the public to provide comment related to the NPRM which amends the Code of Federal Regulations Parts 361 (State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program), 363 (State Supported Employment Services Program), and 397 (Limitations on Use of Subminimum Wage. The first meeting will be held on April 30, 2015 from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Education. The second will be held May 20, 2015 from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. at the Department of Rehabilitation in Sacramento, CA. Speakers will likely have five minutes to provide comment in person, however written comments can be submitted using www.regulations.gov through June 15, 2015.

Additionally, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Department of Labor announced the next meeting of the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. It will take place via webinar on Monday, May 11, 2015 from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. and Tuesday, May 12, 2015 from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. (EDT). If you wish to participate in the webinar, you must register here by May 4th. If you desire to address the committee during the public comment period on May 11 from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. (EDT), you must send your name, the organization you represent (if applicable) and additional materials to IntegratedCompetitiveEmployment@dol.gov or call David Berthiaume at (202)693-7887 by May 4th.

New Report Released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report titled “The Right Supports at the Right Time: How Money Follows the Person (MFP) Programs Are Supporting Diverse Populations in the Community.” This report examines how six MFP grantees are serving populations with diverse needs in the community and the factors that have contributed to their performance on key outcome measures. The report is available here.

Bipartisan ESEA Reauthorization Bill Passed by Senate Committee; Includes Many Improvements for Students with Disabilities

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on April 16. The bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) of 2015, was introduced by the Committee Chairman and Ranking Members, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), to overhaul the last ESEA reauthorization (also known as No Child Left Behind).   During the markup, the Committee considered 57 amendments and approved 29 of them.

The ECAA reduces the federal role in school accountability, but allows the Department of Education to put some conditions on the states.   It would prohibit the Education Department from endorsing or prescribing curriculum, including the Common Core State Standards. The ECAA also would allow, but not require, states to use teacher evaluation systems. The Arc is pleased that the ECAA voted out of committee includes a number of provisions that will benefit students with disabilities, including:

  • Allowing only up to 1% of all students – those who have the most significant cognitive disabilities – to take an Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS).
  • Ensuring that students in every state who take the AA-AAS are not precluded from attempting to complete the requirements for a regular diploma;
  • Maintaining annual assessments of all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school for reading and math;
  • Including all students with disabilities in state and district-level assessments;
  • Strengthening parental involvement in the decision about whether their child will take an alternate assessment;
  • Providing support to states and school districts to ensure that teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to instruct diverse learners;
  • Including the “parent right to know” provision, requiring that parents be informed that they may request information regarding qualifications of the student’s classroom teacher; and
  • Asking school districts to describe their plans for limiting the use of restraint and seclusion.

The approved bill will now go to the Senate floor for additional debate and amendments before a vote by the full Senate.

Congress Adjusts Medicare Reimbursement

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a permanent fix to the reimbursement rates for Medicare providers, sending the measure to be signed by President Obama. If Congress had not acted, Medicare health care providers faced a 21% cut to their reimbursement. In addition to permanently fixing the reimbursement problem, the legislation extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, and extends the therapy cap exceptions process.  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) offered an amendment to eliminate the therapy caps. The amendment failed by two votes to reach the 60 vote threshold needed to be included in the legislation.  The bill also permanently extends the Qualified Individual (QI) program under the Medicare program, which helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries pay for premiums and permanently extends the Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) program, which helps families on Medicaid maintain their coverage for one year as they transition from welfare to work.

Notice of Proposed Rule Making

Last week, the anticipated Notices of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), as related to implementation of the changes to the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program contained in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, were posted in the Federal Register. Two different NPRMs apply to the VR program, the first related to program changes in several areas, can be accessed here. The second, related to State Supported Employment Services Program, and Limitations on the Use of Subminimum Wage can be found here. Public comments are due June 15, 2015. Comments can be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by US Postal Service to: Janet LaBreck, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW., Room 5086 Potomac Center Plaza (PCP), Washington, DC 20202-2800.

Department of Labor Announces Disability Employment Initiative Grants For Individuals with Disabilities Seeking Employment

Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced $15 million in Disability Employment Initiative grants to assist youth and adults with disabilities seeking employment. The Disability Employment Initiative is a joint program of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration and the Office of Disability Employment Policy. DOL anticipates awarding eight grants — ranging from $1.5 to $2.5 million — to be spent in a 42 month period. Funding will be provided to at least one project for each of the following three target populations: adults with disabilities (ages 18 and older); youth with disabilities (ages 14-24); and individuals with significant disabilities (ages 14 and older). Workforce agencies interested in applying for this funding should visit http://www.grants.gov. The deadline to apply is June 11, 2015.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Providers Cannot Sue to Enforce Payment Levels

On March 31, in Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Center, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause cannot be used by private providers of Medicaid-funded community services for people with developmental disabilities to sue the state of Idaho for setting payment rates too low. The providers of habilitation services had sued Idaho for violating a provision of the Medicaid program that requires states to set rates that ensure adequate access to services.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the providers’ right to sue Idaho under the Supremacy Clause.

The issue of provision of adequate rate-setting is a major one for Medicaid beneficiaries, including people with I/DD. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decided that the Supremacy Clause does not confer a private right of action, and that Medicaid providers cannot sue to enforce the Medicaid provisions requiring states to “assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care” while “safeguard[ing] against unnecessary utilization of … care and services”. Some court observers believe that this decision could further narrow the rights of beneficiaries to use other means to protect individual rights. It remains to be seen how this decision will be interpreted in the lower courts and in future Supreme Court decisions.

Updated Report Released on Restraint and Seclusion Laws

An updated report on state laws and regulations related to the prevention of restraints and seclusion in schools has just been published. Jessica Butler, who coordinates Congressional affairs for the Autism National Committee, has been tracking the issue since 2009.   The report includes a highlighted map showing states that have meaningful protections for children. As of this report, only 22 states have such protections for all students, and only 34 provide such protections for students with disabilities.   In February, Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act (HR 927) to provide minimum federal standards on restraint, seclusion, and aversive interventions.  Get involved in the campaign to prevent restraint and seclusion at http://stophurtingkids.com/.