Last week, the Social Security Board of Trustees released “The 2017 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds.” The 2017 report finds that, in 2016, Social Security took in roughly $35 billion more than it paid out (in total income and interest). Social Security’s reserves were $2.85 trillion at the end of 2016. The Trustees continue to project that Social Security’s combined Trust Funds can pay all scheduled benefits through 2034, at which point the Trust Funds would be able to pay approximately 77 percent of scheduled benefits. The Trustees also find that Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund can pay full scheduled benefits through 2028, after which the fund will be able to pay about 93 percent of scheduled benefits. This is 5 years longer than projected in the 2016 Trustees Report, due to declines in applications, awards, and the number of people receiving Social Security disability benefits. Additional key points about the Trustees Report are available from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force.
The Social Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on the 2017 Trustees Report. The witness was Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary, Social Security Administration. Visit the Committeeweb site to view testimony and archived video.
On July 12, Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and eight co-sponsors introduced H.R. 3199, the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to improve college access and completion for students with disabilities. The Arc supports this comprehensive legislation that would provide students and institutions with improved training, greater resources, and expanded services, and includes improvements to the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.
The House of Representatives continued advancing several funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 which begins on October 1. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (L-HHS-ED) which includes the vast majority of discretionary disability-related programs and passed it out of subcommittee the following day. The bill provides funding of $156 billion, a $5 billion (3.1%) cut from FY 2017 levels. The Department of Education has the most significant cut of $2.5 billion (though IDEA programs received a small increase), while the Department of Labor would face a $1 billion cut and HHS faces around $500 million in cuts. See summary here. Line item figures are expected to be made available soon. A markup by the full House Appropriations Committee is planned for July 19.
On July 13, the Senate released a new discussion draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The Senate was unable to secure support to pass the bill before the July 4 recess and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Administration officials continue to work hard to convince at least 50 Senators to support the bill. To address strong criticism regarding the impact on people with disabilities, the new draft includes $8 billion for a four-year home and community based services demonstration for rural states. This woefully inadequate one-time fund is much smaller than the $19 billion cut from the enhanced federal match (which is not time-limited) in the Community First Choice state option. Additionally, the draft bill still includes per capita caps, which, when combined with cuts to Medicaid expansion, will result in reductions in Medicaid spending by 35% by 2036, compared to current law. Additional changes include allowing insurers to sell plans that cover fewer services, increased funding to address the opioid crisis, and maintaining the Affordable Care Act’s high-income payroll tax and investment income tax. In a statement, The Arc warned that the new draft continues to pose a severe threat to people with disabilities.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell has announced that a vote on the BCRA will be delayed for at least a week. Advocates should continue reaching out to their Senators and organizing against the BCRA. Please call your Senators and take part in our emergency letter-writing campaign.
According to a Rutgers University research report, people with disabilities and their families accounted for 25% of the electorate in 2016. Yet, people with disabilities register and vote at rates that continue to lag behind voters without disabilities.
Let’s change that! This is National Disability Voter Registration week – and it’s time to Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power! Join the REV UP Campaign and use this quick and easy link to Register to Vote Now!
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues to push hard for a Senate vote this week before Congress begins its July 4 recess. This process is expected to advance today or tomorrow with the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) report projecting the Senate measure’s impact on the number of insured Americans and federal deficits. The CBO had projected that the House’s bill would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance and over $830 billion in cuts to Medicaid over 10 years.
The Majority Leader will need to win over the five Republican Senators – four conservatives and moderate Dean Heller (R-NV) – who announced their opposition to the measure last week. Republicans control 52 seats and can afford only two defections to still pass the bill with Vice President Pence to break the tie, assuming no Democratic support.
Should the Senate measure pass, attention could immediately turn back to the House of Representatives to pass the Senate’s bill. President Trump has indicated his intent to sign Congress’ health care legislation into law.
This week marks a truly historic time in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The system of home and community based services that has taken decades to build with bipartisan support is facing unprecedented risk. The Arc urges its network of advocates across the country to make every effort to contact their Senators and urge them to vote NO. See Action Alert.
On June 22, 2017, the Senate Budget Committee released a discussion draft of health care reform legislation, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.” Some Senators are claiming that provisions have been added to this bill to protect people with disabilities. However, provisions related to people with disabilities are wholly inadequate. Click here to see key points on why the disability provisions fail to provide any meaningful protections for people with disabilities.
The Senate draft is substantially similar to the harmful bill (H.R 1628) passedby the House in May. Among other things, both measures radically restructure the financing of the Medicaid program to pay for the repeal of the tax provisions and other revenue producing provisions of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, deep cuts to health care and community living supports for low income people would be used to fund tax breaks that largely benefit corporations and wealthy individuals.
Reactions to the Senate draft were swift and overwhelmingly negative from the disability community and others, evidenced by a highly-publicized protest in the Senate. Click here to watch MSNBC’s coverage of the protest which included numerous arrests and an extensive analysis of Medicaid’s significance to people with disabilities.
As The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns noted in his statement on the day the Senate draft was released, “This bill will have a devastating impact on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Make no mistake – people’s lives and independence are on the line.”
On June 13, Georgia became the 22nd state to launch a qualified ABLE Program. This program is currently only open to Georgia residents. The program has five investment options. There is a quarterly fee of $3.50 and asset-based fees that range from 0.19% to 0.34% for investment options. The minimum initial deposit is $50. 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.
Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) and 17 cosponsors have introduced the Social Security for Future Generations Act (H.R. 2855). The bill would extend Social Security student benefits to age 22, enhance Social Security benefits for widow(er)s, provide annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits that better reflect beneficiaries’ living expenses, apply Social Security payroll tax on wages above $250,000, and increase the Social Security special minimum benefit for long-term low-wage workers. The bill was referred to the House Committees on Ways and Means, Education and the Workforce, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Energy and Commerce. The Arc supports this legislation.
Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Sam Johnson (R-TX) have introduced legislation to bar payment of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to people with an outstanding arrest warrant for an alleged felony or for an alleged violation of probation or parole (H.R. 2792). This would revive an old, failed policy that had catastrophic effects for many people with disabilities and seniors, employing procedures that did not withstand judicial scrutiny. This bill would not change existing policies and procedures, which already bar payments to people fleeing from law enforcement and direct the Social Security Administration to exchange information about fugitive felons and probation or parole violators with law enforcement. Instead, the bill would primarily affect people whose cases are inactive and whom law enforcement is not pursuing; most of the warrants in question are decades old and involve minor infractions. Cutting off benefits will not help resolve warrants – but will threaten the means of survival of hundreds of thousands of Social Security and SSI beneficiaries. The Arc strongly opposes this bill. Learn more from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.