The Georgetown University National Center for Cultural Competence Calls for Applicants

In conjunction with the Leadership Institute for Cultural Diversity and Cultural and Linguistic Competence, the Georgetown University National Center for Cultural Competence is now seeking applicants for its second Leadership Academy.  Scheduled for June 13-16, 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this four day, in-person learning opportunity empowers leaders within the disability community to effectively harness the diversity among people with disabilities. The application deadline is February 7, 2016.  To learn more about this event and apply, please do so here.

Transportation/Civil Rights – U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Fines United Airlines $2.75 Million

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered United Airlines to pay $2.75 million as a result of the carrier’s notable increase in disability complaints filed in 2014. These grievances were uncovered while the Department was investigating United’s compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act.  Many of the violations concerned United’s failure to provide appropriate assistance to fliers when boarding and disembarking planes. Others cited failure to return wheelchairs and other mobility aids in a timely fashion to travelers. If you would like to read more about the grievances as well as United’s plans to improve access for people with disabilities, you may do so here.

Tax – ABLE Act – Social Security Administration Issues Implementation Instructions

The Social Security Administration (SSA) released internal instructions, effective on December 18, 2015, for implementation of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act programs and accounts in relation to Supplemental Security Income and Social Security disability benefits. The instructions are included in SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS).  POMS instructions are written for SSA staff to guide them in making decisions about numerous aspects of eligibility and benefits payments. In these POMS instructions, SSA has joined the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in taking an overall positive approach to implementation of the ABLE Act and to incorporating approaches intended to encourage beneficiary independence and self-direction.

In this POMS issuance, guidance is given on how to treat contributions to and distributions from ABLE accounts for purposes of the SSI program; qualified disability expenses for housing and how they will be treated; treatment of automatic contributions to an ABLE account from a beneficiary’s earnings; and the impact of exceeding the special SSI ABLE account and resource limits. For the most part, the POMS release is written in a straightforward manner and provides substantial information about how SSA will be treating funds in these accounts; however, the POMS are written for the use of SSA staff and contain numerous codes and undefined terms, as well as internal references to other POMS sections. SSA has indicated that it will produce a fact sheet for beneficiaries in the near future.

Health Care – House Passes and President Obama Vetoes Health Care Legislation

On January 6th, the House voted 240-181 to pass H.R. 3762, “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act” which repeals substantial parts of the Affordable Care Act. On January 8th President Obama vetoed the legislation.

The package, which the Senate passed in December, would have removed the penalties used to enforce the mandates that most individuals have health coverage and large employers offer it to their workers. In 2018, it would have repealed the law’s Medicaid expansion and its subsidies to help low and middle-income individuals buy health coverage through the new insurance exchanges.

The measure also would have scrapped a lengthy list of taxes used to help offset the cost of the health law, including the taxes on medical devices, health insurers and so-called “Cadillac” employer-sponsored health plans that will receive temporary suspensions under the year-end funding and tax package. In addition, the package would have stopped most federal money from flowing to Planned Parenthood for one year and boost funding for community health centers.

Rights – New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

Last week, President Obama announced a set of “New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer.” As part of this initiative, the Administration proposes to increase mental health treatment by $500 million. The initiative also includes two actions to increase reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS is a federal database used to help identify people who are prohibited by gun control laws from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm. The law and regulations broadly define who is subject to the mental health prohibition, including:

  • Individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for reasons such as mental illness or drug use;
  • Found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or
  • Otherwise determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or unable to manage their own affairs, as a result of “marked subnormal intelligence”, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.

As part of the initiative announced last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published final rules, effective February 5, 2016, modifying the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to allow some covered entities to report information to the NICS. Additionally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will propose rules to report information to the NICS about Social Security beneficiaries with mental impairments who have representative payees to manage their Social Security benefits.

The Arc is concerned about the well-being of all Americans. As an organization that protects and promotes the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), The Arc is also concerned about the potential for these actions to impact people with mental disabilities, including people with I/DD, who are not currently prohibited by law from purchasing firearms. The Arc will be closely monitoring implementation of the HHS final rules and will review and comment on any proposed rules by SSA.

Health – Congress Delays Implementation of Harmful Complex Wheelchair Components Proposal

On December 18, The House and Senate passed S. 2425, the “Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act.” The bill includes, among other bipartisan Medicare provisions, a one-year delay preventing CMS from inappropriately restricting access to critical complex wheelchair components, which was slated to begin on January 1, 2016. The one year delay will allow advocates time to fix the barriers facing individuals with significant disabilities who need access to specialized technology. The President is expected to sign the legislation.

Civil Rights/Employment – National Disability Rights Network, Department of Labor Enter Agreement that Assists Workers with Disabilities

After years of negotiation, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) announced last week they had reached a settlement with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The agreement centers on Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a portion of the statute that allows organizations to pay below federal minimum wages to individuals whose earning or productive capacity is affected by a physical or mental disability. More specifically, the agreement:

  • Strengthens the flow of information between NDRN, the Protection and Advocacy Agencies (P&As), and the WHD regarding potential violations of subminimum wage certificates by employers;
  • Leverages P&A resources, knowledge, and expertise concerning disability issues in each particular jurisdiction, such as locations of suspected wage and hour violations; and
  • Supports the sharing of information concerning laws and regulations of common interest among NDRN, the P&As, and the WHD.

Should you wish to read more about this important settlement, please do so here.

Budget & Appropriations – FY 2016 Federal Spending Bill and Tax Extenders Enacted

The House passed a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package (H.R. 2029) that will fund the federal government through the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. This measure was negotiated as part of a deal that also included passage of a $622 billion package to extend a number of personal and corporate tax breaks. On December 18, the Senate passed the two bills combined into one.  President Obama signed the bill into law later that evening.

The omnibus spending act (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016) reflects the increases that were negotiated in the fall to raise the caps on both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) appears to be a big winner in the deal, with an increase of $2 billion (6.6%). Numerous disability-related programs received increases as well. Highlights include:

  • Maternal & Child Health Block Grant: +31.59 percent
  • Lifespan Respite Care: + 42.37 percent
  • IDEA State Grants Part B: +3.61 percent
  • IDEA Preschool Grants: + 4.25 percent
  • IDEA Early Intervention Part C: + 4.56 percent
  • Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities: +11.56 percent
  • Social Security Administration administrative budget: +18.25 percent

See the summary table of appropriations of major disability-related programs showing changes in funding from FY 2015.

The tax package included in the omnibus act also contains a number of provisions relevant to the disability community:

  • ABLE Act amendment – Elimination of residency requirement for qualified ABLE programs. The provision allows ABLE accounts (tax-preferred savings accounts for qualified people with disabilities), which currently may be located only in the State of residence of the beneficiary, to be established in any state. This will allow individuals setting up ABLE accounts to choose the State program that best fits their needs, such as with regard to investment options, fees, and account limits. The provision is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2014.
  • Permanent extensions of the expanded earned income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (CTC) that benefit lower income families.
  • A two year delay for the excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage (the “Cadillac” tax), meaning the tax would first be effective in 2020 rather than 2018 as scheduled.
  • A one year moratorium on the annual excise tax imposed on health insurers for calendar year 2017.
  • A two year moratorium on the 2.3 percent excise tax imposed on the sale of medical devices. The tax will not apply to sales during calendar years 2016 and 2017.
  • A requirement for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to use the Medicare competitive bidding rates for durable medical equipment for the federal portion of Medicaid effective in 2019.

Health Care — Open Enrollment Began November 1st

Now is the time for individuals who are uninsured or looking for affordable health insurance to investigate the private health insurance plans available through state marketplaces (to find your state information visit the health care website).  During “open enrollment”, a person can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state.  There may also be financial assistance to help with health care costs available for people with low and moderate income.  It is also important for people who currently have insurance through the marketplace to look at the plan and determine if it will continue to meet the needs of the person or to select a better plan.  Individuals who do not take action will be automatically re-enrolled in the current plan.  Re-enrollment is also an important opportunity for people to report any changes in income.