Home and Community Based Services Bill Introduced in the Senate

Last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), together with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), introduced S. 1604, Transition to Independence Medicaid Buy-In Option, bipartisan legislation which would, as stated in Sen. Grassley’s press release, “create a demonstration project to encourage states to improve opportunities for individuals with disabilities to obtain employment in the community, gaining self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion.” Ten states, over a period of five years, would receive bonus payments for meeting benchmarks which are outlined in the bill’s technical summary.

Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act Introduced in the House and Senate

Last week, the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act (SSI Restoration Act) was introduced in the Senate (S.1387) by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and in the House (H.R. 2442) by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 25 cosponsors. The bill seeks to restore the SSI program’s original intent of protecting beneficiaries, including people with disabilities and the elderly, against extreme poverty. The bill modernizes SSI resource limits for individuals and couples, to $10,000 and $15,000, respectively. These limits have not been adjusted for inflation since 1989. The bill would also update the general income disregard (to $112 per month) as well as the earned income disregard (to $364 per month) to the amounts they would be currently, if they had been adjusted for inflation since SSI’s inception in 1972. Moving forward, both the SSI resource limits and income disregards would be updated annually for inflation. Lastly, the bill would repeal the SSI in-kind support and maintenance provision as well as the SSI transfer penalty. The SSI Restoration Act was referred in the Senate to the Committee on Finance, and in the House to the Committee on Ways and Means. The Arc applauds the introduction of this bill.

Two Bills to Strengthen Social Security Trust Fund Introduced in House

Last week, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced two bills that seek to preserve Social Security for future beneficiaries, including people with disabilities. The Fair Adjustments and Income Revenues (FAIR) for Social Security Act (H.R. 1984) would ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund is able to pay full benefits at least through 2057. This bill would do so by eliminating the cap that currently allows the wealthiest Americans to contribute a significantly lower percentage of their annual income to the trust fund. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Social Security Protection and Truth in Budgeting Act (H.R. 1983) would ensure Social Security trust funds are not used for non-Social Security purposes. Additionally, it would separate Social Security trust funds from the federal budget so they could not be used to artificially lower the deficit. The bill was referred to the House Budget Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. The Arc applauds the introduction of these two bills.

Bill to Strengthen Finances Introduced in House

Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R.1391) along with 54 cosponsors. The bill provides for numerous improvements to Social Security benefits, including a modest benefit increase for current and new beneficiaries, starting in 2015; an improved annual cost of living adjustment; a tax break for over 10 million Social Security beneficiaries by raising the threshold for taxation on benefits for individual and joint filers; and a new minimum benefit that will be 25 percent above the poverty line. The bill would also make Social Security fully solvent for 75 years and includes a reallocation of Social Security payroll contributions to prevent a 20% across the board benefit cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Bill Introduced to Provide Permanent Protections for Tenants at Foreclosure

The Permanently Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2015 has been introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 1354, introduced March 13 by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and 24 cosponsors; S. 730, introduced March 12 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 5 cosponsors). The bills would provide permanent protections for tenants at foreclosure, formerly available under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 (PTFA; P.L. 111-22, Division A, Title VII). The PTFA expired at the end of 2014. The PTFA was the only federal protection for renters living in foreclosed properties. It provided most renters with the right to at least 90 days of notice before being required to move after foreclosure. The Arc supports this important legislation to enhance protections for tenants at foreclosure, including tenants with disabilities and their families.

Bills Introduced to Cut Concurrent Social Security Disability Insurance & Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT), House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX), and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced the “Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act” in both the Senate and House (S. 499, with 4 cosponsors; H.R. 918, with 10 cosponsors). The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and House Committee on Ways and Means, respectively. As previously reported, the prior week, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced S.343, the “Reducing Overlapping Payments Act”. While different in their mechanics, all three bills would reduce or delay Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for individuals who also receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) (such as, after attempting to work but losing their job through no fault of their own and therefore qualifying for UI).

The Arc strongly opposes cuts to SSDI benefits, including cuts to concurrent SSDI and UI benefits. As noted in a fact sheet by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, SSDI and UI are separate programs established for different purposes; receipt of concurrent SSDI and UI benefits, while rare, is both legal and appropriate. Cutting these benefits would harm the economic security of SSDI beneficiaries and their families, single out SSDI beneficiaries and treat them differently from other workers under the UI program, and create disincentives to work for SSDI beneficiaries. For these reasons, The Arc strongly opposes S. 499, H.R. 918, S. 343, and similar proposals.

House Education Bill Introduced

Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) introduced legislation to replace No Child Left Behind. The bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and makes numerous changes to the law that give states more flexibility in the accountability systems and the alternative assessments. The bill consolidates a number of programs and removes the maintenance of effort provisions that ensure that states and local areas do not cut their funding and continue to receive federal funds. The House Education and Workforce Committee is expected to move quickly on this legislation. Disability advocates oppose this bill and urge the House and Senate to work with the disability community to include provisions to provide meaningful access to rigorous standards for all students and fully include students with disabilities in the education system.

Bill Introduced to Block Funds to National Housing Trust Fund

Last week, Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA-39) and 12 co-sponsors introduced a bill (H.R. 574) to prohibit contributions by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The bill was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. Congress created the NHTF in 2008 to fund affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes, a group that includes many people with disabilities. By law, the NHTF is intended to have dedicated funding from a very small assessment on the volume of business of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. However, until now the NHTF has remained unfunded. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ran into deep financial trouble as the foreclosure crisis hit the nation in the fall of 2008, and as a result, contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the NHTF were suspended. However, in December 2014 the Federal Housing Finance Agency ended the suspension, meaning that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will now begin setting aside and directing funds to the NHTF. Current projections are that states will begin receiving NHTF funds in the spring of 2016. The Arc strongly supports funding the NHTF to help meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities for affordable, accessible community housing. The Arc strongly opposes efforts to block funds going into the NHTF, such as H.R. 574.

Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) Bill Introduced in the House

Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced H J Res 1 on January 6. This measure would amend the U.S. Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, to prohibit the federal government from spending more than it takes in each year with certain exceptions.   The Arc strongly opposes a BBA as it would likely force cuts in Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and a number of other programs that people with disabilities rely on to live in the community.  Learn more about a constitutional BBA at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities website.

Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act Introduced

Last week, Congressman Gregg Harper (R-MS), introduced H.R. 188, Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2015. The bill aims to phase out special wage certificates [Section 14(c)] under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, under which individuals with disabilities may be employed at subminimum wage rates, by discontinuing the issuing of such certificates upon enactment; transitioning entities holding such certificates within three years; and repealing the relevant section of the Fair Labor Standard Act three years after enactment. The bill was referred to the House Education and the Workforce Committee with one co-sponsor, Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). An identical bill, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831), introduced by Congressman Harper in 2013, died at the end of the 113th Congress with 97 co-sponsors.