On April 12, the House failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass legislation (H.J. Res. 2) proposing a constitutional balanced budget amendment (BBA). The vote was 233-184. Despite not passing in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly wants to take up a balanced budget amendment in the Senate. See The Arc’s blog post on the Congressional BBA legislation here.
There is also concern about BBA efforts at the state level. Twenty-eight states have active BBA resolutions, only 6 short of the 34 needed to call a Constitutional Convention to pass a BBA. Supporters of a Constitutional Convention to pass a BBA plan to target Maine, Virginia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington state.
Last week, the Senate approved by unanimous consent the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018 (H.R. 4547). Introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Rep. John Larson (D-CT), the bill makes numerous changes to Social Security’s representative payee program designed to enhance oversight and operations of the program. The House approved the bill in February; following last week’s Senate approval, the bill will next be transmitted to the President for his signature. Visit the Committee on Ways and Means web site to view summaries and related materials about the bill. The Arc strongly supports this bipartisan legislation to strengthen Social Security’s representative payee program and applauds the House and Senate votes.
On March 22, the House passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that covers the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 that ends on September 30. The following day it was passed by the Senate and signed by the President. A number of disability-related programs saw significant increases, including the Developmental Disabilities Act’s Projects of National Significance (20%), the Lifespan Respite Care Act program (22%), the National Family Caregiver Support Program (20%), and State Grants to Remove Barriers to Voting (40%). Housing programs saw the largest gains with $402 million in new Section 811 mainstream vouchers in addition to $107 million for renewals, and $82.6 million for new Section 811 Project Rental Assistance. Most programs, however, saw modest increases, ranging from 2% to 5%, or level funding. Only one program was cut – the Supported Employment State Grant program sustained a cut of 18%.
Additionally, the bill included two policy provisions that The Arc supports. The first is Kevin and Avonte’s Law (S. 2070), which includes grants to law enforcement agencies and other entities for education, training, and technology to help prevent and reduce the harm from wandering by children with Autism and other developmental disabilities. The second is a requirement that the Government Accountability Office conduct a study on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools to improve reporting and the use of alternatives to these practices.
For a list of The Arc’s funding priorities and amounts appropriated, click here. The Arc is continuing to review the full bill.
With only four days left until the current continuing resolution expires at midnight on March 23, Congress is working to finalize the spending package to cover the remainder of Fiscal Year 2018 to avoid a partial government shutdown. House Republican leaders are expected to present the details of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to their members in a closed-door meeting this evening. The full text of the bill will likely be released afterward. It’s not yet clear when the measure will be voted on. At issue have been several controversial policy riders and how to allocate the additional funding provided by the budget deal enacted last month.
On March 15, Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) introduced the Ensuring Medicaid Provides Opportunities for Widespread Equity, Resources, and Care (EMPOWER Care) Act (H.R. 5306). This bipartisan 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. The Arc strongly supports this legislation.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) released a policy brief regarding the potential rescission of guidance from the Education Department and Department of Justice clarifying the responsibility of public schools to address disproportionality in school discipline. The brief explains that students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students are disproportionately subject to suspension and expulsion. The document states that rescission of the guidance would impede the progress being made on reducing this disproportionality.
Arizona and Wyoming recently opened new ABLE programs, bringing the total number of jurisdictions with ABLE programs to 35. These programs are currently open only to state residents. They have five investment options. The accounts have a $3.50 monthly fee and asset-based fees ranging 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.
Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced S. 2530, the Safe Equitable Campus Resources and Education (SECuRE) Act on March 9. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced companion legislation (H.R. 5241) in the House of Representatives. The SECuRE Act ensures the needs of students with disabilities will be taken into account in campus planning and response efforts to sexual assault on campus, and that resources provided to the campus community are accessible to everyone. Specifically, the SECuRE Act would improve prevention programs, reporting systems, personnel training, and disciplinary proceedings. A recent report from the National Council on Disability, “Not on the Radar: Sexual Assault of College Students with Disabilities,” found that the needs of these students are often not addressed under existing policies. The Arc supports this legislation.
On March 7, Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) introduced the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act (H.R.5199/S.2517). These bills would use a portion of Federal Impact Aid payments to create “Military Education Savings Accounts” that parents serving in the military could use for private school or other education expenses for their children. Federal Impact Aid is funding for school districts that have a large amount of non-taxable federal property (such as military bases and tribal lands) in order to make up for lost tax revenue. The Arc opposes these bills because they redirect money from public schools to private schools that are not required to follow the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID) recently released a report titled America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis: Effects on People with Intellectual Disabilities, Families, Communities and the U.S. Economy. The report notes that direct support professionals (DSPs) provide services that allow people with intellectual disability to live in their communities and enable family members to work. Additionally, the report indicates that the average hourly DSP wage is $10.72, most DSPs work two or three jobs, and the average annual turnover rate is 45%. For more information, see The Arc’s statement on the report. A plain-language version of the report can be found here.