On March 22, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Alex Acosta to be the Secretary of Labor, which was originally scheduled for March 15. The committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination on March 30. The Department of Labor is the agency responsible for the implementation of federal labor and employment laws, including those relating to wages and hours. Additionally, it includes the Office of Disability Employment Policy which is a non-regulatory agency that promotes employment of people with disabilities.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (S. 636 and H.R. 1516) in the second week of March. The Arc supports this legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are sick, to care for a loved one, to obtain preventative care, or to address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Under this legislation, workers can earn up to 56 hours (seven days) of paid sick time by earning one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Small employers with fewer than 15 employees would not be required to provide paid sick days.
On March 22, the House Ways and Means Committee’s Oversight and Social Security Subcommittees held a joint hearing on Social Security’s representative payee program. Witnesses were Marianna LaCanfora, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration (SSA); Gale Stallworth Stone, Acting Inspector General, SSA; Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer, Public Policy, The Arc, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force; Brenda Uekert, Principal Court Research Consultant, National Center for State Courts; and David Slayton, Administrative Director, Office of Court Administration, Texas Judicial Branch. Visit the committee web site for more information and to view the archived video of the hearing.
President Trump’s administration released a short version of his Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget on March 16. While this budget does not address substantial parts of the federal budget and provides very little detail, it does indicate double digit cuts to several priority agencies for people with disabilities for the fiscal year beginning on October 1, 2017:
- A cut of 18 percent for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that operates the largest number of discretionary programs for people with disabilities. This includes elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant and $403 million in cuts to health professions and nursing training programs.
- A cut of 13 percent for the Department of Education. While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act program is level funded, the budget includes significant cuts to community schools, professional development, and class-size funding which would adversely affect all students.
- A 13.2 percent decrease for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with only about half of the 7.5 billion in proposed cuts identified. Public housing funding would be cut by 30 percent, resulting in the loss of about 200,000 housing choice vouchers.
- A 21 percent cut for the Department of Labor, including unspecified cuts to job training and employment service formula grants, projected to result in the loss of over 123,000 supported jobs.
The President’s detailed budget is expected in May. Congress is expected to develop its FY 2018 budget resolution after the President’s full budget request is released.
In a major win for the disability community, the U.S. Supreme Court ruledthat school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, the high court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” standard set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver. That language had been used in a precedent-setting opinion in another special education case by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, who sits on the 10th Circuit appellate court.
“Of course this describes a general standard, not a formula,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” he wrote. “The IDEA demands more,” he added. “It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
Endrew’s parents sought reimbursement from the district for the cost of a private school, arguing that the public school had failed to meet the IDEA’s mandate for a free and appropriate public education. The Supreme Court did not directly address the question of reimbursement, but sent the case back to the lower courts for consideration. For more information, read The Arc’s statement on the Supreme Court decision here.
On March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that there will not be a vote on H.R.1628, the American Health Care Act because he lacked the votes to pass the bill. It is not expected that another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act will be considered in the near future. In the days before the bill was pulled, several changes were made including allowing a Medicaid block grant, adding incentives for states to institute work requirements, eliminating the requirement that health plans cover basic health services, and ending the extra funding for the Medicaid expansion earlier. The Arc opposed H.R.1628 because it would have cut and capped federal spending in the Medicaid program which jeopardizes services for people with I/DD and their families. The Arc also opposed using cuts in the Medicaid program to pay for the repeal of the ACA, including the repeal of the taxes it imposed. The replacement plan provided inadequate and unaffordable health insurance, and about 24 million people would lose their health insurance by 2024. The Arc and its members, along with members of numerous human service coalitions representing beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid program, view the decision to pull the AHCA as a victory for people who need health care and their families. The Arc appreciates the work of those who voiced their opinions through weeks of emailing, phone calls, and town hall meetings and helped make this happen.
President Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, responded to questions from the members of the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee. The nearly four hour hearing on January 17 included a series of questions related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In response to questions posed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) regarding whether all schools that receive federal funding -whether public, public charter or private – should be required to meet the requirements of IDEA, Ms. DeVos replied, “I think they already are” and “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states,” and “I think that is certainly worth discussion.” In response to a follow-up question on the same topic by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), DesVos stated “Federal Law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.” Watch the archived hearing here(IDEA discussion begins at the 3 hour and 31 minute mark).
We need your input and help disseminating this crucial survey! The Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota in collaboration with The Arc, is seeking caregivers to share their perceptions on a range of life-span issues impacting individuals with I/DD. We are inviting family or unrelated caregivers aged 18 years or older who provide frequent primary support to a person with an I/DD to participate. The results of the 2010 Survey provided unique insight into the growing gaps in education, employment, and other life-span activities that exist between persons with disabilities and their non-disabled peers, which has informed further dialogue and policy changes at the Federal and State levels. Take the survey and share it widely in your networks! Deadline: March 30.
We are one week away from the 2017 Disability Policy Seminar! Join us in the heart of Washington D.C. from March 20-22 to cultivate champions on Capitol Hill and advance the grassroots movement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Learn from the experts about the issues that matter to you and network with other advocates from across the country as you prepare to interface and build relationships with your representatives. The Disability Policy Seminar is your chance to make an impact! Register here.
On March 15, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Alexander Acosta to be the Secretary of Labor. The Department of Labor is the agency responsible for the implementation of federal labor and employment laws, including those relating to wages and hours. Additionally, it includes the Office of Disability Employment Policy which is a non-regulatory agency that promotes employment of people with disabilities. Visit the Committee web site for more information or to access live video the day of the hearing.