Autism – Wandering Bill Clears the Senate

The Senate passed S. 2614, Kevin and Avonte’s Law, by unanimous consent on July 14. This bill, sponsored by Senators Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), would provide grant funds to state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations for education, training, and technology to help prevent and reduce the harm from wandering (or “elopement”). The Arc supports Kevin and Avonte’s Law and encourages our members to thank their Senators and reach out to their Representative about the House bill, H.R. 4919, during the long summer recess. Click here for more information.

ABLE Act Passes House; Awaiting Senate Action

On December 3, the House of Representatives passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647) as a free-standing bill by a vote of 404 to 17 (with 13 Members not voting). On the same day, the House also passed the ABLE Act as Division B of H.R. 5771, commonly referred to as the “tax extenders” package (Division A, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, provides for tax extenders). A vote in the Senate on H.R. 5771, inclusive of the ABLE Act, is expected this week.

The ABLE Act aims to change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation. Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts would let individuals and families save for disability-related expenses to supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. If properly managed, funds in the ABLE accounts would not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits. With a full understanding of its features, individuals and families could use the ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities. The version of the bill that passed the House includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill. If the ABLE Act becomes law, The Arc will issue a fact sheet reflecting the details of the bill as it has changed through the legislative process. Further details must come through the regulatory process.

Senate to Vote on Transportation Extension

The Senate is expected to continue debate this week on a two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill.  This bill would extend the highway and transit programs authorized by the surface transportation bill.  The current temporary extension is set to expire March 31, 2012.  The House is still trying to find a compromise over the funding levels that would garner enough support to pass a bill.

Senate to Vote on Transportation Extension

The Senate is expected to vote this week on a two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill.  This bill would extend the highway and transit programs authorized by the surface transportation bill.  The current temporary extension is set to expire March 31, 2012.  The House is still trying to find a compromise over the funding levels that would garner enough support to pass a bill.

House Subcommittee Votes to Eliminate National Housing Trust Fund

The Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee voted 18 to 14 to approve H.R. 2441, a bill sponsored by Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA) to eliminate the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The NHTF was created in 2008 to provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental housing for people with the lowest incomes, such as SSI and SSDI beneficiaries. For FY 2012, the President’s budget requests $1 billion to start up the NHTF. The Arc supports the NHTF to address the housing crisis for people with disabilities. In 2010, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $785 per month – far higher than $703, the average monthly SSI income.  To move forward, H.R. 2441 must next be approved by the full House Financial Services Committee. There is no related legislation in the Senate.

House Committee Passes Another Elementary and Secondary Education Act Update Bill

H.R. 2218, which was introduced by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, was approved last Wednesday by a vote of 34-5 by the Education and Workforce Committee. The bill is the second bill proposed by the Republicans to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. The bill would amend the charter school program which authorizes funding for states to plan and start up charter schools. H.R. 2218 would authorize $330 million for Fiscal Year 2012 and for each of the next 5 years to states to award grants for replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools.

The bill includes measures designed to hold charter school accountable for educating all children with disabilities. Most children with disabilities who attend charters have learning disabilities and disabilities such as attention deficit disorder. Charters typically have not educated children with more significant disabilities.

The first bill to amend ESEA was passed by the committee last month and would cut half of the current Department of Education programs.

The Senate continues working on a comprehensive overhaul of the law. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had said the Committee would mark up a bill after the spring recess but he has not yet released legislation.

Senate Rejects House Budget Resolution

The U.S. Senate voted down the House Budget Resolution by a vote of 40 to 57. The House of Representatives passed this budget plan, known as the Ryan Plan after its author, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), in April. The bill includes drastic cuts and changes to:
  • Medicaid: Cuts $750 billion over 10 years and ends Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit by turning it into a “block grant” that leaves cash-strapped states to fill in the funding gaps with very little oversight.
  • Medicare: Replaces Medicare with a voucher program for younger beneficiaries that will provide less than the current system.
  • Discretionary Programs: Eliminates, over time, most federal government programs outside of health care, Social Security, and defense as the cuts are so deep.
While the Senate rejected the House Budget Resolution, it is expected that similar proposals will continue to surface in coming weeks and months as Congress continues to debate deficit reduction.

House Votes to Repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund

The House passed a bill repealing the prevention and public health funding provision of the Affordable Care Act. The chamber voted 236-183 to strip the mandatory funding of the trust fund. The Senate is not likely to pass the bill and the President has vowed to veto it. The Department of Health and Human Services recently allocated $750 million of the trust fund to support programs aimed at preventing smoking, obesity, diabetes, stroke and other prevention issues.

The Department of Labor has sent to the Department of Health and Human Services the report required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on what medical benefits are typically covered by employer health insurance plans. This report is to be used to help define what is included in the essential benefits package at the health insurance plans sold in the new exchanges. HHS is also awaiting recommendations from the Institute of Medicine on what should be part of the package. Together these will help HHS develop regulations implementing this important provision. The disability community is advocating that the law required that benefits be comprehensive and to include rehabilitation, habilitation, durable medical equipment, mental health and behavioral health services and others.

Senate passes supportive housing bill for people with disabilities and House voting today

On December 17, the Senate passed S. 1481, the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act by unanimous consent. The House of Representatives overwhelming passed its version of the bill, H.R. 1675, last year. The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed measure today and President Obama is expected to sign it into law.

This groundbreaking legislation streamlines Section 811 processing requirements, removes outdated regulatory barriers, and transfers funding for the “mainstream” voucher program to the Section 8 voucher program. This legislation has been a high priority for chapters of The Arc and affiliates of UCP who develop and operate supportive housing. The Arc and UCP would like to extend our gratitude in particular to Ronald Cohen, CEO of UCP of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties and Tony Paulauski, Executive Director of The Arc of Illinois, for their advocacy. See their Congressional testimony at http://financialservices.house.gov/hearing110/cohen062008.pdf  and
http://financialservices.house.gov/hearing110/paulauski062008.pdf