Budget & Appropriations – Controversial Short-Term Funding Bill Released

On December 13, House Republicans released a funding bill which would fund the government through Jan. 19, 2018. This continuing resolution (CR) includes large defense funding increases and leaves out the two Affordable Care Act market stabilization proposals (Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson) that Maine Senator Susan Collins had negotiated in exchange for her vote on the tax bill. While the bill does include a full five-year re-authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and a two-year re-authorization for Community Health Centers, it proposes harmful offsets to Medicare and Medicaid to fund those provisions. The bill is not expected to garner the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. The current CR expires on Dec. 22, setting the stage for a possible government shutdown if Congress fails to reach agreement on a funding bill.

Medicaid/Long Term Services and Supports – Senators Introduce Bipartisan Money Follows the Person Reauthorization

On December 14, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Ensuring Medicaid Provides Opportunities for Widespread Equity, Resources, and Care (EMPOWER Care) Act (S. 2227). This bill reauthorizes the Money Follows the Person Demonstration Program, which provides grants to states to transition people from institutions to community based settings. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this program has helped over 63,000 people transition into the community and saved almost $1 billion for Medicare and Medicaid as of 2013.

Education – House Committee Advances Higher Education Bill

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act, on December 12. The final vote, 23-17, along party lines, advances the measure to the full House for a vote. The bill would overhaul the existing Higher Education Act by consolidating the student aid system, eliminating various regulations, and elevating post-secondary programs that offer professional certificates and job training. While The Arc appreciates the bill’s continuation of the Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TSPID), we oppose this legislation because it makes college less affordable and eliminates grants that support teacher preparation, increase accessibility for students with disabilities, support faculty who work with students with disabilities, and provide accessible materials. See the letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities on H.R. 4508. Meanwhile in the Senate, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, respectively, are working toward a bipartisan solution.

Family Support – House to Vote on RAISE Act

The House is scheduled to vote on H.R. 3759, the Recognize, Assist, Include, and Engage (RAISE) Act today. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) calls for the development of a national strategy to support the nation’s more than 40 million caregivers. It would bring together stakeholders from both the public and private sector to create an advisory body. This advisory body would then develop recommendations for how government, communities, providers, employers, and others can better recognize and support family caregivers. The Senate passed the RAISE Act in September. The Arc supports this legislation.

Budget & Appropriations/Tax Policy – House to Vote Tomorrow and the Senate on Wednesday on Harmful Tax Bill – Take Action

On December 15, the House and Senate Conference Report on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was released and approved by the conference committee. Though the compromise bill removes some of the objectionable provisions from prior versions, such as repeal of the medical expense deduction, the work opportunity tax credits, and the disabled access credit, The Arc strongly opposes this legislation. The TCJA repeals the individual mandate to have health insurance, leading to 13 million fewer people with coverage, and increases the deficit by nearly $1.5 trillion over a decade, adding pressure to cut Medicaid and other critical programs while providing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the most affluent and large corporations. See a summary of winners and losers in the bill from the New York Times. Take Action TODAY to oppose this historic damaging legislation.

Education – Education Department Releases Q&A on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Decision

On December 8, the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services released a “questions and answers” document regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas Country School District Re-1. In this decision, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that students with individualized education plans (IEPs) were entitled only to an education that was “merely more than de minimus” and ruled that an IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” This document will help advocates, parents, students, educators, and other school staff understand how the ruling will impact education.

Social Security – Bill to Protect Social Security Benefits from Garnishments Introduced in House

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and John Larson (D-CT) have introduced the “Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act” (H.R. 4500). The bill would repeal a 1996 change in law that allowed earned benefits to be garnished by the federal government to collect federal debts, such as student loans and home loans owed to the Veterans Administration. The bill would prevent garnishment of Social Security retirement, survivors’, and disability benefits – as well as other earned benefits – to collect federal debts. Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a Senate version of this bill (S. 959). View a Huffington Post column by Rep. Grijalva for more information about the bill. The Arc strongly supports this much-needed legislation to maintain basic living standards for Social Security beneficiaries struggling to pay student loans and other federal debts.

Social Security – Bill to Strengthen Representative Payee Program Introduced in House

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) have introduced the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2017 (H.R. 4547). The bill proposes numerous changes to Social Security’s representative payee program designed to enhance oversight and operations of the program. Visit the Committee on Ways and Means web site to view a summary of the bill, a section-by-section analysis, the full text of the bill, and related materials. The bill was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means.

Employment/Family Support – House Holds Hearing on Workforce Leave Policies

On December 6, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled “Workplace Leave Policies: Opportunities and Challenges for Employers and Working Families”. Witnesses were Barbara Brickmeier, Vice President for Human Resources and Business Development at IBM, on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Carrie Lukas, President, Independent Women’s Forum; Hans Riemer, President, Montgomery County Council of Maryland; and Angela Schaefer, Vice President, Human Resources, Safety National, on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management. Visit the committee web site for more information and to review opening statements and access archived video of the hearing.

Housing – House Committee to Mark Up Bill to Suspend Payments to National Housing Trust Fund

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Financial Services will mark up the GSE Jumpstart Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4560). The bill, introduced by Rep. French Hill (R-AR) would have the impact of suspending funding for the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF provides states with dedicated funding for affordable housing, primarily for people with extremely low incomes, a group that includes many people with disabilities. As described in a statement by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “The Housing Trust Fund is funded through a slight fee (0.42%) on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac activity. If enacted, the bill would stop funding for the Housing Trust Fund until Wall Street investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac receive dividend payments. This can only occur when Congress enacts legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been in government conservatorship for nearly a decade.” The Arc strongly opposes H.R. 4560. Visit the Committee web site to learn more and for live video the day of the markup.