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.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) has introduced the Higher Education Affordability Act (S. 2954), a bill to reauthorize and improve the Higher Education Act (HEA). The bill seeks to improve affordability and accountability in the nation’s colleges and universities and includes a number of improvements for students with disabilities including:
- Reauthorizing and expanding the Transition Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) to encourage more programs for students with intellectual disability and to better disseminate knowledge developed by institutions in creating and operating these programs (view TPSID programs by state);
- Creating national technical assistance centers to help high school students with disabilities identify schools with appropriate supports and to help institutions better provide physical, programmatic, and instructional accommodations;
- Creating a national data center to collect information about the recruitment, retention, graduation, and employment of students with disabilities; and
- Requiring institutions to ensure their instructional materials are accessible.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP Committee).
Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-PA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced the Child’s Insurance Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 5715). The bill seeks to enhance Social Security’s Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefit. The DAC benefit allows a person age 18 or older who meets the Social Security disability standard to receive benefits based on the prior contributions of a parent, who is themselves eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or who is deceased and was insured under Social Security. Currently, to qualify for the DAC benefit a person’s disability must have started prior to age 22. H.R. 5715 would increase that age from 22 to 26. The bill would apply this change retroactively, so that individuals who acquired disabilities between age 22 and 26 could qualify for benefits, regardless of their current age. Additionally, H.R. 5715 would increase the ages associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recent work requirements by 4 years. This would extend SSDI coverage to more individuals ages 22 to 28 who have a limited work history, such as youth enrolled in post-secondary education. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) have introduced the Debt Collection Improvement Act (S. 2896) to limit the amount the federal government can garnish from monthly federal benefits. In 1998, Congress set this amount at $750 per month; since then, it has not been raised or adjusted for inflation. As a result, the federal government can garnish Social Security benefits so long as the beneficiary is not left with less than $750 per month. A recent report by the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) found that 155,000 people had their Social Security benefits garnished in 2013 because they had defaulted on their student loan payments. The vast majority – 71 percent – were receiving Social Security disability benefits. According to the GAO, if the garnishment limit had been indexed to match the rate of increase in the poverty threshold, in 2013, 68 percent of all borrowers whose Social Security benefits were garnished for federal student loan debt would have kept their entire benefit. Earlier this month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging (Chair: Sen. Nelson; Ranking Member: Sen. Collins) held a hearing on older Americans and the impact of student loan debt on retirement security. The Debt Collection Improvement Act would adjust the current $750 garnishment floor for inflation and index it going forward. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 2789, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act, on September 10. This bill would increase spending over the next decade to bring the federal share of funding for special education up to 40%, the amount promised when the law was first enacted in 1975. To date, the federal government has never covered more than 16% of these costs per year. The increased funding would be paid for through increased taxes on individuals earning over $1 million per year. The House version of the bill, HR 4136, was introduced in June by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Learn more at help.senate.gov.
Congress is considering what actions to take regarding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP was enacted in 1997 and after FY 2015 there will be no new funds for the program. CHIP has had bipartisan support and has helped expand affordable health insurance coverage to low and moderate income children. Earlier this summer, Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced S. 2461 to extend the program for four years. Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) joined Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) in sending a letter to governors asking for input on extending the program and seeking additional information about enrollment and design of each state program. The Arc has supported the CHIP program and will be closely monitoring Congressional actions.
On June 9, a bipartisan reauthorization bill (S. 2449) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Enzi (R-WI). The Senate bill is identical to the House bill, except that it includes a name change – the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act. The Arc, along with our coalition partners, advocated for replacing the title with one that uses respectful language. On the same day, the Energy and Commerce Committee quickly approved the House bill. See our coalition statement on the CCD website.
On May 9, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4631) was introduced by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ). The bill largely extends the research, surveillance, public awareness, and professional training activities under the Combating Autism Act for an additional 5 years. It does, however, include a few changes. The bill reforms the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to promote greater coordination among federal agencies. The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the existing landscape of services (federal, state, local government, and the private and non-profit sectors), conduct a survey of stakeholders, and make recommendations to enhance coordination, efficiency, and the value of the services currently provided to assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Unfortunately, this bill does not include a name change. Learn more about the Combating Autism Act on The Arc’s website.
On May 14, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Caring for Military Children with Developmental Disabilities Act of 2014. This bill requires TRICARE, the Department of Defense and retiree health program for members of the uniformed services and their families, to provide coverage for behavioral health treatments, including applied behavior analysis (ABA). Under current TRICARE policies, many children are denied coverage for ABA, and those children who do receive care often receive less than the prescribed treatment. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia currently require private insurers to cover ABA as a medically necessary service for most children with a developmental disability and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management also categorizes ABA as a “medical therapy” and covers ABA for federal employees’ dependents. Learn more at Senator Murray’s website.
Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 10, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would help ensure that Charter Schools enroll and retain students with disabilities. The bill would require states to ensure that charter schools can meet the needs of students with disabilities and meet their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. The Arc joined other organizations in supporting H.R. 10.