Fifth Paul Marchand Intern in Disability Public Policy Selected

Ms. Valerie Williams will be interning in The Arc’s public policy office beginning in September, 2014.  Ms. Williams is an experienced professional in the fields of financial and program management.  She has worked for several contracting firms for the Department of Defense.  In her most recent professional position, she provided senior level support to the Undersea Defensive Warfare Systems Business Financial Manager including preparing written draft justification responses, Congressional Staff briefs, reconciling program funding, and ensuring legal compliance.  She is an active member of the Prince Georges ARC, serving on the Government Affairs committee, and as a board member for both the Prince Georges ARC and The Arc of Maryland.  Other volunteer experience includes work with Junior Achievement, Girl Scouts of America, Children’s National Medical Center, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, mentoring and tutoring programs with independent agencies and churches, the Stroke Association, and AIDS related organizations.  She holds a B.A. in Political Economy of Industrial Societies, International Affairs from the University of California at Berkeley. Valerie is also the parent of a young son with Down syndrome.  See Application information and Internship FAQs for more information about the Paul Marchand internship program.

Autism CARES Act Unanimously Passes Senate

Enactment by President Obama Expected Soon

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed S. 2449, the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014 (Autism CARES) Act. The Arc has long supported this legislation.

The bill reauthorizes the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 for an additional five years. Since its original enactment in 2006, the law has significantly advanced the science and practice in the autism field by increasing the number, scope, pace, and coordination of research, surveillance, public awareness, and professional training efforts. Among its many notable achievements are an increase in the proportion of infants screened for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), an increase in the proportion of children diagnosed by the age of three, and continuing improvements to decrease the time between diagnosis and intervention.

Thanks to this law, health professionals are able to better serve people with ASD and other developmental disabilities. The professional education on screening, diagnosis, and appropriate interventions will greatly help to improve outcomes for millions of Americans.

The Arc is immensely grateful to the lead sponsors, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) for their leadership in advancing this bipartisan legislation. Additionally, advocates are pleased with improvements that have been made to the 2011 law – a name change that uses more respectful language, a designated position in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the law’s implementation, increased representation of self-advocates and family members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), and the requirement of a report on the needs of transitioning youth.

For more information on the Combating Autism Act see, “Report to Congress on Activities Related to Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Developmental Disabilities Under the Combating Autism Act of 2006 and Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 (FY 2010-FY 2012)”.

Senate Passes Autism CARES Act

Late on July 31, the Senate unanimously passed “Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014” or the “Autism CARES Act” (S. 2449), sponsored by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) . The bill reauthorizes the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 for an additional five years. Since its original enactment in 2006, the law has advanced the science and practice in the autism field by increasing the number, scope, pace, and coordination of research, surveillance, public awareness, and professional training efforts.   The new measure will continue these efforts and includes a number of welcome changes: a name change that uses more respectful language, a designated ASD position in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the law’s implementation, increased representation of self-advocates and family members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), and requiring a report on the needs of transitioning youth. For more information on the accomplishments of the Combating Autism Act, visit the HHS website.

Field Office Changes Affect SSN Printouts as of August 1; Benefit Verification Letters Remain Available

On August 1, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began to move forward with its plan to eliminate the issuance of Social Security number (SSN) printouts in its field offices. Individuals requesting a SSN printout will be directed to apply for a replacement SSN card, a process which takes about 2 weeks. However, SSA has indicated that it will ensure service to those with a dire need and that each field office will designate a point of contact to assist local organizations with obtaining SSN verifications, with consent, in emergency situations and in cases of hardship. More information about the dire need exception process is available in SSA’s Emergency Message EM-14009 REV.

Earlier this year, SSA announced plans to eliminate the provision of both SSN printouts and benefit verification letters at its field offices. These documents are often used by people with disabilities and others who need to promptly verify their SSN to secure a job or get a drivers’ license or non-drivers’ ID, or who need to verify their Social Security, SSDI or SSI benefits in order to secure housing, a loan, or public benefits (and for many other purposes). The Arc joined with other national disability organizations to oppose these service cuts.

The Arc is pleased that local Social Security offices will continue to provide benefit verification letters until further notice, as outlined in a SSA press release. The Arc continues to express concern about the reduction in access to SSN printouts.

Legislation Introduced to Extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program

Congress is considering what actions to take regarding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  CHIP was enacted in 1997 and after FY 2015 there will be no new funds for the program.  CHIP has had bipartisan support and has helped expand affordable health insurance coverage to low and moderate income children.  Earlier this summer, Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced S. 2461 to extend the program for four years.  Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.  Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) joined Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) in sending a letter to governors asking for input on extending the program and seeking additional information about enrollment and design of each state program. The Arc has supported the CHIP program and will be closely monitoring Congressional actions.

Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity

The day that President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law, Vice President Joe Biden released his report, “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity.” During his January 28th State of the Union Address, President Obama called up on Vice President Biden to ‘to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: Train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.” Highlights related to people with disabilities include:

  • Disability Employment Initiative: According to the report, “This fall, grants will be awarded to expand the capacity of American Job Centers to improve employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities (including those with significant disabilities) by increasing the participation of this population in existing career pathways programs that provide a full education and training programs along with supportive services.”
  • Pathways to Careers for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities: “This fall, grants will be awarded “to develop, test, and evaluate new integrated education and career training strategies to help ensure that youth and young adults with disabilities acquire the skills, degrees, and credentials needed for high-wage, high-skill employment.”
  • A cross-agency group, including DOL, ED, DOJ, HHS VA, SSA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Council on Disability, and Office of Personnel Management will “…help people with disabilities prepare to qualify for the array of jobs offered by federal contractors; connect federal contractors with jobs to qualified job seekers with disabilities; and provide federal contractors with the tools and resources they need to recruit, retain and promote people with disabilities.”

Workforce System Guidance Issued

A Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL, No. 3-14) to stakeholders issued July 30, 2014, communicated the vision for an integrated, effective, job-driven workforce system. Seven job-driven elements, which President Obama directed all Federal Departments and Agencies to integrate and will drive DOL’s implementation of WIOA, were discussed. Workforce system leaders and partners are encouraged to use resources and incorporate elements into strategic planning, operations, and collaborations.

Online Dialogue on Careers and People with Disabilities

The National Council on Disability (NCD) and the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) are hosting an online dialogue: Encouraging People with Disabilities to Pursue Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This dialogue comes in response to a report from the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration which revealed a growth in STEM jobs three times the rate and at a 26% higher wage rate as compared to non-STEM jobs. People with disabilities are underrepresented in the STEM fields. NCD and ODEP would like to ensure that job opportunities in the STEM fields are open to everyone, including those with disabilities. The organizations are gathering input on recommendation to ensure such access. To participate, visit http://stemcareersforpwd.epolicyworks.org.

Achieving a Better Life Experience Act Act Clears House Ways and Means Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee marked up the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) last week.  The bill has significant bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and the lead sponsors are hopeful it can clear Congress in the early fall.  The ABLE Act would create tax-favored savings accounts for people with disabilities that would not count toward the $2,000 individual asset limits that apply to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs.  To address cost concerns, the scope of the bill was significantly narrowed from the legislation that was introduced in 2013.  Among the changes are a cap on contributions at $14,000 a year; requiring that individuals open accounts in their home state or with a state which contracts with their home state; limiting individuals to only one ABLE account; and limiting the availability of ABLE accounts to people who acquire the disability before age 26.  The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated the new bill to cost about $2 billion over 10 years and a new estimate by the Congressional Budget Office is expected soon.  During the mark-up, Chairman Camp (R-MI) and Ranking Member Levin (D-MI) discussed their commitment to work over the August recess to find “pay-fors” acceptable to both sides in order to allow the bill to move quickly following Labor Day.  For more information please see the materials provided by the JCT.

Social Security Trustees Release 2014 Report

The Social Security Trustees have released their annual report on the current and projected financial status of the Social Security trust funds. Similar to 2013, the 2014 findings show that Social Security is fully solvent until 2033, but faces a moderate long-term shortfall. In 2013, Social Security took in roughly $32 billion more than it paid out. Its reserves were $2.76 trillion in 2013, and are projected to grow to $2.9 trillion at the beginning of 2020. If Congress does not act before 2033, the reserves would be drawn down, and revenue coming into the Trust Funds would cover about 77 percent of scheduled benefits. The 2014 Trustees Report also continues to project that the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund by itself can pay all scheduled benefits until 2016. If Congress takes no action before 2016, the Trustees project that the DI trust fund will be able to pay about 81 percent of scheduled benefits.

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