Education – NCD Releases Reports on School Choice

On November 15, the National Council on Disability (NCD) released two reports on school choice. The first report relates to charter schools. This report highlights many concerns with the charter school system, including the disproportionately low percentage of enrollees who have disabilities, frequent non-compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), harsh codes of conduct, increased racial segregation, and the negative impact on students remaining in the traditional public school system. The report makes several recommendations to policy-makers to remedy these concerns. The second report relates to private school choice. This report recommends that schools receiving voucher funds be required to follow the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and accountability requirements that currently apply to public schools.

Social Security – Senate Finance Committee Advances SSA Commissioner Nomination

On November 15, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously voted to favorably report the nomination of Andrew Saul to be Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA administers Social Security programs such as Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Visit the Committee web site for more information or to view archived video of the hearing.

Housing – Fair Housing Improvement Act Introduced

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) have introduced the “Fair Housing Improvement Act of 2018” (S. 3612). The bill would expand the Fair Housing Act’s protections to prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income or veteran status. Under the bill, source of income includes a Section 8 housing voucher or other form of federal, state, or local housing assistance; Social Security or Supplemental Security Income; income received by court order, including spousal support and child support; and payment from a trust, guardian, or conservator. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. The Arc strongly supports this legislation.

Education – Keeping All Students Safe Act Introduced; Briefing Held

On November 14, Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA), Robert Scott (D-VA), and 34 other co-sponsors introduced the Keeping All Student Safe Act (H.R. 7124). A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Patty Murray (D-WA). These bills would prohibit physical restraint that is life-threatening or restricts breathing, mechanical restraint, chemical restraint, and seclusion in schools that receive federal funding. Physical restraint would only be allowed when a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger to self or others and less restrictive interventions would be ineffective. The bills require states to ensure schools have personnel trained to safely restrain students in those circumstances. Additionally, they prohibit individualized education programs or behavior intervention plans from including provisions allowing the use of restraint or seclusion. The Arc strongly supports this legislation and looks forward to working with sponsors in further refining the bill in the 116th Congress.

The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions, and Seclusion (APRAIS) sponsored a Congressional Briefing to mark the introduction of the bills. Speakers included Representative Don Beyer (D-VA); Annie Acosta, Director of Fiscal and Family Support Policy, The Arc; Denise Marshall, Executive Director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; Amanda Lowe, Senior Policy Analyst, National Disability Rights Network; Dr. Joe Ryan, Stanzione Distinguished Professor of special education, Clemson University; Kimberly Sanders, President, Ukeru Systems; and Alex Campbell, a student and self-advocate who was subjected to restraint and seclusion. Learn more at stophurtingkids.com.

Congress – House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Republicans Select Leadership

On November 14, Senate Republicans and Democrats, and House Republicans held their leadership elections for the 116th Congress, which will begin in January 2019. Senate Republicans re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Majority Leader and elected Senators John Thune (R-SD) and John Barasso (R-WY) as Majority Whip and Conference Chairman, respectively. Senate Democrats re-elected Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as Minority Leader, Duck Durbin (D-IL) as Minority Whip, and Patty Murray (D-WA) as Assistant Minority Leader. The House Republican Conference elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Minority Leader, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as Minority Whip, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as Conference Chairwoman. House Democrats will hold leadership elections in December.

Congress – Democrats Win Majority in House, Republicans Maintain Senate Majority

In the November 6 general mid-term elections, Democrats won at least 232 seats in the House of Representatives, securing a majority. Republicans won at least 198 seats and six races have not yet been called. Republicans will remain in the majority in the Senate with at least 52 seats, while Democrats will have at least 47. The Mississippi Senate result will be determined in a November 27 runoff election.

Education – CAP Releases Report on For-Profit Virtual Charter Schools

The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report titled “Profit Before Kids”. The report detailed the low performance of for-profit virtual charter schools as well as their financial practices. The report recommends a ban on for-profit companies from operating virtual charter schools, increased regulation of non-profit virtual charter schools, and a ban on compensation incentives for enrollment of all public schools, similar to the ban that currently applies to higher education institutions. The percentage of students with disabilities in the schools studied varied considerably, from 0 to 32%.

Social Security – SSA Announces Cost of Living Increases for 2019

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2019. The Social Security Act provides for annual COLA increases based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W rose modestly over the last year, the 2019 COLA will increase benefits modestly. According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker will increase by $39, from $1,422 in 2018 to $1,461 in 2019. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security disabled worker beneficiary will increase by $34, from $1,222 in 2018 to $1,234 in 2019. In addition, the SSI Federal Payment Standard will increase from $750 per month in 2018 to $771 per month in 2019. Important work incentive thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will also increase, including the Substantial Gainful Activity level and the Trial Work Period earnings level. View SSA’s fact sheet for more details on the 2019 Social Security COLA.

Education – President Appoints OSEP Director

On October 11, President Trump has appointed Laurie VanderPloeg as Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Ms. VanderPloeg currently serves as president of the Council for Exceptional Children. Additionally, she has experience as a district special education administrator in Michigan. OSEP is the office within the Department of Education charged with administering the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Immigration/Rights – DHS Issues Proposed Rule Limiting Immigration

On October 10, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed rule that will greatly expand the what is known as the “public charge” test. The public charge test allows for denying entry to or permanent residency in the United States based upon the likelihood an individual will need government benefits. Currently, the only benefits considered are cash benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), comparable state and local programs, and institutional long-term care (including through Medicaid). Under the proposed rule, an individual could be considered a public charge for using or applying for a broader range of benefits including most Medicaid programs, housing assistance, or food assistance. The Arc opposes the proposed rule because it will result in discrimination against legal immigrants with disabilities. Read The Arc’s full statement here.