Last week, the House of Representatives voted 244 to 171 to revive a failed former policy that cuts off Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for certain people with disabilities and seniors. As amended and approved by the House, H.R. 2792 would revive a failed former policy targeting SSI recipients with old, outstanding arrest warrants for alleged felonies or alleged violations of probation or parole. This former policy ended following the resolution of class action litigation. Federal law already prohibits payment of SSI benefits to people fleeing from law enforcement to avoid prosecution or imprisonment, and the Social Security Administration has a process in place to notify law enforcement of the whereabouts of such individuals. Based on experience with the former policy, H.R. 2792 would not help law enforcement to secure arrests, but instead would target people whose cases are inactive and whom law enforcement is not pursuing. Anecdotally, a very high percentage of people affected by the former policy were people with mental impairments, including people with intellectual disability. To learn more, read The Arc’s press statement condemning the House vote to advance this harmful legislation.
In commemoration of the 27th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Census Bureau is releasing a “Facts for Features” report providing a demographic snapshot of the U.S. population with a disability and examining various services available to them. The demographic snapshot includes information about institutionalization, transportation, employment, accessibility, and other useful information.
Late last week, a draft bill believed to be under consideration for the House Republican approach to restructuring Medicaid and repealing the Affordable Care Act was “leaked”. It is believed that the draft bill and perhaps other draft bills have been sent to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to obtain cost estimates (known as “scoring”) expected to assist the House Energy and Commerce Committee in preparing legislation for possible mark-up during the week of March 6. It is, of course, unknown until the Committee releases its own bill what the actual legislation will try to achieve. However, given the elements of the leaked version and the proposals that have been discussed to date, it is likely to involve repeal of key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and drastic cuts to Medicaid through permanent restructuring of the federal/state partnership relationship. Therefore, continued advocacy is more urgent than ever. See action alert: TAKE ACTION TO PREVENT GUTTING OF THE ACA AND MEDICAID.
Congress has returned with an agenda to wrap up business for the 114thCongress during the “lame duck” session and with Leadership plans to build the platform for reforms on key issues for the 115th Congress. In addition, the House and Senate will begin electing new Leadership for the 115thCongress this week.
Congress’ top priority in this session will be to keep most of the government funded beyond Dec. 9, when a 10-week continuing resolution (CR) expires. Given the election results, it is possible that fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding decisions will be pushed into some point next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and the White House. This would provide greater leverage for Republicans to cut non-defense discretionary spending (which funds many disability-related programs) and increase defense spending for the remainder of FY 2017. Eleven of the twelve FY 2017 spending bills have yet to be enacted (only Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs received full-year funding). The House will take its first votes tonight, followed by the Senate tomorrow night. Congress is tentatively scheduled to work through Dec. 16, with one week off for Thanksgiving. Click here to see line item funding levels for priority disability programs for FY 2016.
Leadership could decide to extend the funding for another short period of months to give the new Trump Administration time to work with the Congress to make major changes to key programs such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Medicaid program.
Major changes to the Affordable Care Act and the basic structure of the Medicaid program are high priorities of the incoming Trump Administration and the House and Senate Republican Majorities. Democratic leaders have already engaged in discussions with President-elect Trump and others to determine where there may be common ground. Much remains to be seen.
Last week, the House and Senate wrapped up legislative business and adjourned. They are expected to return on November 14 to complete the budget process and, depending on the outcomes of the election, may tackle other issues.
Last week, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Ryan Costello (R-PA), and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced H.R. 5204, the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act. H.R. 5204 is the House companion bill to S. 2800,introduced in April 2016 by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), and Rob Portman (R-OH). The bills would end federal taxation of discharged federal student loans under the “Total and Permanent Disability(TPD)” standard or in the event of the death of a borrower. Under current law, federal student loan debt forgiven in these situations is considered income for tax purposes. As a result, borrowers who have their federal student loan debt forgiven due to a qualifying disability, and families of borrowers who die, can be charged tens of thousands of dollars in taxes. The Arc supports H.R. 5204 and S. 2800, which will end this unnecessary and harmful tax provision. H.R. 5204 was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Ways and Means.
We need YOU in Washington, D.C. to help us build bipartisan support in Congress for high-priority disability issues. When you attend the Disability Policy Seminar on April 11-13, we’ll arm you with all of the information you need to help educate your Members of Congress and their staff on the priorities of the I/DD community. Then, you can return to your hometowns with the ability to spread the word, educate new advocates, and reach out to your elected officials throughout the year, to help put the needs of people with I/DD front and center every day in your community. And since it’s an election year, this year there will be sessions to brush up on your right as a citizen to vote. The early registration deadline is March 11.
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.
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.