Last week, the Social Security Board of Trustees released “The 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds.” The 2015 report finds that Social Security has large and growing reserves. In 2014 Social Security took in roughly $25 billion more (in total income and interest) than it paid out. Social Security’s reserves were $2.79 trillion at the beginning of 2015, and are projected to grow to $2.86 trillion at the beginning of 2020. The long-term projections of the 2015 Trustees Report improved slightly from the 2014 Trustees Report, with exhaustion of the combined Trust Funds occurring one year later, in 2034. The 2015 Trustees Report also continues to project that the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund by itself will be able to pay full benefits until the end of 2016, at which point if no action is taken the DI trust fund will be able to pay about 81 percent of scheduled benefits.
Last week, the White House held a commemoration in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Obama delivered a speech and noted that while there was certainly reason to celebrate, it is “also a chance to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain.” The President described efforts his administration has undertaken to remove these obstacles, including signing an executive order mandating the U.S. government include more people with disabilities in its workforce and to establish the first special advisor for international disability rights at the State Department. The celebration was attended by several prominent legislators, agency heads, and leaders in the disability community, including former Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Dole (R-KY) , former Congressman Tony Coelho (D-CA), Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Minority Whip, and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. View the President’s speech here, read a transcript here, and see the White House ADA anniversary fact sheet here. In addition, a number of federal agencies hosted their own events:
- The Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Access Board celebrated the event with speeches by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, Senator Bob Dole, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Steny Hoyer. During the celebration, the EEOC and DOJ signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen ADA and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act enforcement efforts by the agencies. Read more about the event here.
- The Department of Labor held a series of events including a conversation between Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and disability employment champions Senator Tom Harkin and Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Watch the video here and see the Department’s ADA webpage here.
- The Department of Education hosted an event that included a speech by Secretary Arne Duncan, a panel discussion, and outdoor demonstrations of accessible programs and resources. Learn more here.
Click here to see a comprehensive listing of all ADA commemorative events throughout the summer.
On July 29, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final decision memorandum related to coverage of speech generating devices. These devices fall within the Medicare durable medical equipment (DME) benefit category. The memorandum was issued to address significant advances in technology since 2001, when the previous benefit coverage determination was issued. Fortunately, CMS determined that devices that generate speech will still be considered DME even though they can perform other functions (such as email and text messages), as long as they are “used solely by the patient with the severe speech impairment and are used primarily for the generation of speech.” Unfortunately, however, the memorandum excludes coverage for computers, tablets, and similar devices used in conjunction with speech generating applications as they “are not primarily used for a medical purpose and are useful in the absence of an illness or injury and therefore, do not meet the definition of DME.” Disability advocates had sought coverage of computers, tablets, and similar devices because they are less expensive and easier to use than many speech generating devices. Read the memorandum here.
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has introduced the Eleanor Smith Inclusive Home Design Act (H.R. 3260). The bill would require all newly constructed, federally assisted, single-family houses and town houses to meet minimum standards of visitability for persons with disabilities. Visitability is a set of construction standards through which housing offers a few specific accessibility features making it possible for people with disabilities to visit friends, family, and neighbors. The Arc strongly supports the adoption of visitability standards to promote communities that are welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced S. 2005, a bill to cut benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who have attempted to work, but lost their job through no fault of their own and as a result, qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI). The Arc has joined with over 70 national organizations to strongly oppose such cuts. SSDI and UI are separate insurance programs established for different purposes, paid for by workers and their employers. Receipt of concurrent SSDI and UI benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families and would single out SSDI beneficiaries, treating them differently from other workers under the UI program. It would also create new disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries by punishing beneficiaries who try to work with benefit cuts if they lose a job through no fault of their own. For these reasons, The Arc strongly opposes S. 2005 and any similar proposals.
Both the House and the Senate remain in recess this month. Members are due to return September 7, 2015. With that in mind, the next edition of Capitol Insider will be posted in early September.
In the meantime, we encourage you to follow @TheArcUS on Twitter, visit The Arc Capitol Insider Blog, as well as The Arc’s Facebook page for up to date information related to federal policy.
Other ways to get involved:
- Check out our Advocacy Toolkit to learn about the issues and how you can get involved.
- Attend a public event hosted by your Member of Congress. Reach out to your Member’s in-state office to find out when you might catch them in person, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter in case they post updates on events.
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As The Arc celebrates Social Security’s 80th anniversary this August, we kick off the month by marking the 59th anniversary of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Signed into law on August 1, 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, SSDI insures nearly all American workers and their families in the event of life-changing disabilities. Without SSDI, millions of people with significant disabilities – including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – would face financial dire straits and often unthinkable choices. Learn more about SSDI and the action that we need Congress to take to maintain this lifeline on The Arc’s blog and in a new edition of National Policy Matters, Social Security and SSI for People with I/DD and Their Families. This edition of National Policy Matters explores how Social Security, SSI and related health insurance under Medicare and Medicaid operate, the vital support they provide, and current policy proposals that may impact people with I/DD and their families.
Last week, Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and 22 original cosponsors introduced the One Social Security Act (H.R. 3150). The bill would avert a 19% across-the-board cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits at the end of 2016 by merging the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds into a single Trust Fund. This new financial structure would better reflect Social Security’s already unified nature: a single payroll tax currently pays for an interrelated system of Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability benefits, and changes to one part of this system often impact all parts of the system. The Arc supports the One Social Security Act. More information about the bill is available online.
The bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act (S. 1719) was introduced in the Senate on July 8, by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). A companion bill (H.R. 3099) was introduced in the House the following week by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Kathy Castor (D-FL). The Arc supports the RAISE Family Caregivers Act as it would implement the bipartisan recommendation of the federal Commission on Long-Term Care, that Congress require the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers. The bill would create an advisory body to bring together relevant federal agencies and others from the private and public sectors to advise and make recommendations. The advisory body would identify specific actions that government, communities, providers, employers, and others can take to recognize and support family caregivers, and be updated annually
As noted in a statement by Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer for Public Policy, The Arc applauds the Senate, which last week “…listened to the voices of people with disabilities and seniors, and removed a harmful proposal from legislation to reauthorize our nation’s highways, bridges, and public transportation system. The proposal would have partially funded the bill with cuts to Social Security, SSDI, and SSI. Social Security must not become a piggybank to pay for unrelated programs, no matter how important, and beneficiaries cannot afford any cuts to these modest but vital benefits. The Arc will remain vigilant and ready to fight back if any similar proposals arise as Congress continues to debate reauthorization of surface transportation legislation.”