On August 23, the Senate passed the fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (L-HHS-Ed) by a vote of 85-7. A number of amendments were passed to provide funding increases for select programs (such as school-based mental health services, opioid treatment, and child abuse prevention), but the bill did not include controversial policy riders. With only a few legislative days left before the midterm elections, the House is not expected to take up its Labor-HHS-Ed bill before then. A continuing resolution to keep the government funded through November or December is expected.
On September 5, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on several bipartisan initiatives, including reauthorization of the Money Follows the Person (MFP) Demonstration Program. On September 6, The Arc and other advocacy organizations will hold a briefing for Congressional staff on reauthorization of MFP. MFP 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 Medicare and Medicaid almost $1 billion as of 2013. The Arc strongly supports reauthorization of MFP.
On August 1, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Economic Security for New Parents Act (S.3345). This bill allows workers to receive 12 weeks paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child by reducing their Social Security retirement benefits. Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) has indicated that she plans to introduce similar legislation in September. The bill does not provide medical leave or leave to care for a family member with a serious medical condition. The Arc opposes S.3345; read The Arc’s statement here.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has released a Listening Session Framework for what is being referred to as “Tax Reform 2.0”. The outline includes making permanent the individual and small business tax cuts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Permanent extension of the individual and small business tax cuts, that are presently set to expire in 2025, would reduce revenues by $1 trillion over ten years – increasing pressure to cut vital federal programs for people with disabilities. Chairman Brady has stated that he intends to bring a legislative package to the floor in September. If both chambers pass a concurrent budget resolution for fiscal year 2019, it would be possible for the Senate to approve additional tax cut legislation by a simple majority.
On August 1, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a final rule regarding the sale of short-term limited duration insurance (STLDI). The final rule changes the duration limit from three months to less than 12 months and allows renewal for up to 36 months. STLDI plans are not required to cover the essential health benefits generally required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as rehabilitative and habilitative services, and mental health and substance abuse services. Furthermore, these plans can deny coverage or charge more because of a pre-existing condition, rescind coverage, and impose lifetime and annual limits. The Arc remains concerned that the expansion of these plans will lead to healthier individuals exiting ACA marketplaces and drive up costs for people who need more comprehensive coverage, such as people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Read The Arc’s statement here.
On July 25, President Trump issued a proclamation commemorating the 28th Anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is the primary civil rights law for people with disabilities. It passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Read the statement here.
The U.S. Department of Education found that only twenty-one states deserved the “meets requirements” designation for the 2016-2017 school year. Twenty-eight states were placed into the “needs assistance” category. Michigan and the District of Columbia were placed in the “needs intervention” category. The findings come from an annual mandatory assessment of state compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The ratings are based on how well states meet their obligations to serve students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.
On July 23, the State of Washington opened a new Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program, bringing the total number of jurisdictions with ABLE programs to 40. The program is currently only open to Washington residents. It has three investments options and a cash option. Accounts have a $35 annual fee with an additional $10 fee for those who receive paper statements, and asset-based fees ranging from 0.30% to 0.38% for investment options. More information about state implementation of the ABLE Act can be found here.
Last week, the House Committee and Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security held a hearing on “Examining Changes to Social Security’s Disability Appeals Process.” As stated in the Committee’s announcement, the hearing focused on “…recent and planned changes affecting the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) disability appeals process, the metrics the SSA uses to evaluate process changes, and the progress the SSA has made to address the appeals backlog.” Visit the Committee web site for testimony and archived video of the hearing.
Following the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member John Larson (D-CT) led all Subcommittee Members in a bipartisan letter to Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy Berryhill stating that the agency should not proceed with plans to reinstate the reconsideration level of appeal in 10 states, until a Senate-confirmed Commissioner is sworn in. President Trump has nominated Andrew Saul of New York to be Commissioner of Social Security.
On July 26, Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Gregg Harper (R-MS) introduced the Healthcare Extension and Accessibility for Developmentally Disabled and Underserved Population (HEADs UP) Act of 2018. This bill would declare people with DD a medically underserved population (MUP). People with DD face a shortage of primary care providers, as well as higher infant mortality rates, higher poverty rates, and shorter life expectancy than the general population. The MUP designation comes with increased access to resources from 25 different government programs including Federally Qualified Health Centers, Community Health Centers, loan repayment and training programs under Health Resources and Services Administration Workforce Development and Training Programs, and preference in research within agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. The Arc supports this bill.