House and Senate FY 2016 Budget Conferees hold first meeting

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 House and Senate Budget Committee’s Conferees met for the first time on April 20. The Conferees are working to iron out the differences between their chambers’ FY 2016 Budget Resolutions. Since the differences are considered to be relatively small, they are expected to reach consensus and pass a concurrent budget resolution. Unfortunately, both budget resolutions contained drastic cuts to both the entitlement (Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security) and discretionary programs (e.g. housing, education, employment, protection and advocacy) that are critical for people with disabilities. In addition, they both contain reconciliation instructions which direct Congressional Committees to develop legislation to carry out the cuts to certain entitlement and other programs. However, any reconciliation legislation would then be subject to additional votes and ultimately presidential approval. For more information, see The Arc’s summaries of the FY 2016 House and Senate budget resolutions:
http://arcinsider.wpengine.com/2015/03/30/house-and-senate-pass-fiscal-year-2016-budget-resolutions-proposals-include-major-cuts-to-programs-including-medicaid/

The Senate Conferees are:

Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
David Perdue (R-GA)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Mark Warner (D-VA)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Angus King (I-Maine)

The House conferees are:

Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA)
Todd Rokita (R-IN)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Diane Black (R-TN)
John Moolenaar (R-MI)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
John Yarmuth (D-KY)
Gwen Moore (D-WI)

House and Senate Pass Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Resolutions: Proposals Include Major Cuts to Programs Including Medicaid

As expected, the House and Senate passed their Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Resolutions last week. The measures passed with votes nearly along party lines of 228-199 and 52-46, respectively. Both contain drastic cuts to the entitlement and discretionary programs that people with disabilities rely on. They would cut funding by block granting the Medicaid program (called “flexible state allotments”), privatizing the Medicare program, and freezing discretionary funding over the next decade.

Additionally, the House budget resolution includes several harmful provisions on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). It reiterates a House rule that creates roadblocks to preventing a 20 percent across-the-board SSDI benefit after 2016, and proposes cutting SSDI for people who also receive Unemployment Insurance after trying to work, but losing their job. The Senate budget resolution does not include these provisions.

Passage of the two resolutions paves the way for the House and Senate to begin negotiating a joint budget resolution.   See The Arc’s statement on the passage of the budget resolutions.

See a more detailed summary of what is in the budget resolutions in last week’s edition at:

House and Senate Expected to Vote on their Budget Resolutions later this week; Aiming to have agreement by April 15

Both House and Senate leadership have announced that they expect floor votes later this week on their annual budget resolutions (see details below). Congressional leaders also announced that they hope to have a budget agreement by April 15th. If the House and Senate agreement in the form of a Budget Resolution includes any budget reconciliation instructions, then the designated committees will begin developing bills to reach the spending cut targets specified. The Appropriations Committees will also begin working on their respective spending bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 which begins on October 1, 2015 using the totals specified by the Budget Resolution. Advocates are urged to oppose both budgets. Stay tuned for an action alert.

House 2016 Budget Released; Disability-related programs targeted

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, released the proposed House FY 2016 Budget Resolution on March 17.   The measure was passed by the Budget Committee the next day. While Congressional budgets are merely blueprints, they set the tone for spending and revenue priorities. The proposed House budget would cut overall spending by $5.5 trillion and reduce revenues by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Included in the spending cuts are combined cuts to the Medicaid program of $1.8 trillion. The proposed budget contains numerous specific provisions that would be devastating for vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities. Prime among these are:

  • Medicaid. The House budget would cut Medicaid by $913 billion over 10 years through “flexible state allotments,” resulting in a cut of more than 30 percent by 2025.       The federal government would no longer pay a fixed share of states’ Medicaid costs, starting in 2017.  Instead, states would get a fixed dollar amount known as block grants or “state flexibility funds” (the process for determining the amounts of these funds is not specified).
  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including Medicaid expansion. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 133% of the poverty level ($15,654 for an individual). The proposed House budget would repeal the ACA, resulting in millions of people losing access to health care.
  • Medicare. The House budget would fundamentally restructure the Medicare program, including privatization and over $100 billion in spending cuts over 10 years.
  • Discretionary Programs. Non-defense discretionary programs would be cut starting in 2017.       The total 10 year cut would be $759 billion, or 14 percent below the current caps. Included in this category are many disability related programs such as housing, education, employment, transportation, and protection and advocacy.
  • Social Security. The House budget would cut benefits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries who also receive Unemployment Insurance because they have attempted to work, but lost their job through no fault of their own. It also reiterates a provision in the House rules for the 114th Congress that sets up hurdles to a routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund, needed to prevent across-the-board SSDI benefit cuts at the end of 2016. Finally, the House budget recommends establishing a commission to look at Social Security’s long term finances.

Senate 2016 Budget Released; Disability-related programs targeted

Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, released the proposed Senate FY 2016 Budget Resolution on March 18, one day after the release of the House Budget. In a party-line vote, the Senate Budget Committee passed the measure on March 19. The proposed Senate budget provides for a slightly smaller overall spending cut goal of $5.1 trillion over 10 years, with $4.3 trillion cut from mandatory programs and $97 billion from discretionary programs. The combined Medicaid cuts would exceed $1.3 trillion over ten years. Specific provisions of great concern to the disability community are:

  • Medicaid. The Senate budget would radically restructure Medicaid by converting much of it into two block grants (no information is provided on how the funding levels would be set). It “improves Medicaid based on the CHIP model” and “increases state flexibility in designing benefits and administering its programs, to encourage efficiency and reduce wasteful spending” for long term services and supports. (Fortunately, it makes no changes to the funding of acute care services for the low-income elderly and persons with disabilities.)
  • Repeal of the ACA, including Medicaid expansion. The Senate budget seeks to repeal the ACA.
  • Medicare. $435 billion in Medicare savings is proposed, none of it specified.
  • Discretionary Programs. The Senate budget “strengthens the caps” on discretionary spending. It would maintain full sequestration in 2016, and cuts funding for non-defense discretionary programs at least $236 billion below the sequestration levels through 2025. By 2025, total funding for non-defense discretionary programs would be at least 24 percent below the 2010 level adjusted for inflation.

President’s Budget released; Mostly Protects and Level Funds Disability Programs

The Obama Administration submitted its Budget Request for FY 2016 to Congress on February 2. This document signals administration’s priorities but does not have the force of law. While most disability-related programs were generally level funded, it included a number of increases for specific programs. A few of the highlights for the disability community are:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Continue paying full benefits beyond 2016 by replenishing the trust fund through reallocation of payroll tax collections between the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund and the Old-Age, Survivors (OASI) Trust Fund, as has been done many times before.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation (VR): An increase of $56.7 million in funding for the VR state grant program (but only 1.7%);
  • Early intervention: An increase of $115 million for early intervention and pre-school services; and
  • Housing: $25 million in additional funding to create approximately 700 new units of Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities.

The next step in the budget and appropriations process is for the House and Senate to develop their own overall budget proposals, taking the President’s Budget Request into consideration. The Arc and other advocates will be working to ensure that Members of Congress understand the importance of these and other programs as they begin to develop individual funding bills over the spring and summer. See a spreadsheet of proposed funding amounts for disability-related programs.

President’s FY 2016 Budget Request Released

Today the Administration released its request for funding for the federal government. In the budget request, the Administration outlines priorities for federal spending. The budget request would eliminate the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester and invest in education, employment, transportation, and other spending on programs that help all people including people with disabilities.

The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget, for the first time, includes a rebalancing of Social Security’s trust funds, to put both on sound footing until 2033. Rebalancing is necessary to ensure that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can pay full scheduled benefits after 2016. Unless Congress acts, after 2016, Social Security’s disability fund reserves will be depleted and SSDI would only be able to pay about 80 percent of promised benefits, based on incoming payroll taxes. The Arc and many other groups strongly support rebalancing the funds, to ensure that Social Security can keep its promise both to the 11 million current SSDI beneficiaries and to the 165 million workers and their families who today pay into Social Security and who may need SSDI in the future.  The budget also includes a proposal that The Arc strongly opposes, to reduce benefits for individuals who receive both SSDI and Unemployment Insurance after attempting work but losing their job through no fault of their own. Finally, the budget includes a number of positive proposals for the Social Security Administration to strengthen its customer service and administrative capacity, and to research ways to help workers with disabilities remain in the workforce.

The Budget Request includes funding for proposals to expand access to home and community based services including increased funding for the Money Follows the Person demonstration, a proposal to give states the option to expand eligibility for the Community First Choice and 1915(i) home and community-based state plan options. Additionally, the Budget Request would allow a pilot for up to five states to test a long-term supports and services state plan option. We will continue to report on these programs as more details become available. The Budget Request also includes a four year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The President’s Budget Request also includes proposals for how to pay for the health care changes which may be problematic including proposals to create cost-savings in the prescription drug area, cuts to Medicare providers, and some limited increases in cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries.

Other highlights from the budget request affecting people with I/DD include:

  • An increase of $56.7 million in funding for the Vocational Rehabilitation state grant program;
  • An increase of $115 million for early intervention and pre-school services for children with disabilities;
  • A new initiative to help young people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities transition in community living, health, education, and employment; and
  • $25 million in additional funding to create approximately 700 new units of integrated, affordable housing for people with disabilities under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities project rental assistance program.

The Arc will do a more detailed analysis of the President’s Budget Request as the Administration releases further details about the budget proposals. The release of the President’s Budget Request is one of the first steps in the annual budget and appropriations process. Congress will review the spending requests for the federal agencies and proceed with developing a budget resolution and appropriations bills that reflect their own priorities.

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.

Congress Enacts FY 2015 Funding Bill

The House and Senate have approved legislation, H.R. 83, to fund most of the federal government through Sept. 30, 2015. President Obama is expected to sign the bill this week. The legislation funds 11 of 12 appropriations titles for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2015, and includes a continuing resolution to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27, 2015. The bill provides overall funding decreases for many key federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Labor; the bill provides overall level funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For the Department of Housing and Urban Development, reductions in revenues will offset an increased appropriation, resulting in an overall net cut for affordable housing programs run by the agency. Most disability-specific programs received level funding or adjustments at or below inflation; for instance, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) State Grants increased by 0.2% and the Vocational Rehabilitation State Grant increased by 1%.  A few small programs received increases, notably the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (7% increase), and the Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (13% increase).

Short Term Spending Bill Enacted

On September 18, the Senate voted 78-22 to approve H.J. Res 124, a continuing resolution (CR), and President Obama signed the measure into law the following day. This measure will avoid a government shutdown by extending current funding levels from the start of fiscal year 2015 on October 1, through December 11, 2014. See recent disability-related discretionary funding levels on The Arc’s website.