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November 2009
IRS Announces 2010 VITA Grant Recipients - Disability VITA Focus Acknowledged in 2010 Awards

The Internal Revenue Service today announced for the second year in a row it has awarded nearly $8 million in matching grants to support the Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Grant program.  Funds provided through the Community VITA Grant Program are intended to support VITA sites and community partners by:
  • Enabling VITA programs to extend services to underserved populations and hardest to reach areas, both urban and non-urban
  • Increasing the capacity to file returns electronically
  • Heightening quality control and improve the accuracy of returns prepared by the VITA sites
  • Enhancing training of volunteers
VITA partners are organizations that provide free federal tax return preparation and electronic filing to low and moderate income individuals. For tax year 2009, individuals and families with an adjusted gross income of $49,000 or lower are eligible for assistance.  During the 2009 filing season, more than 3 million tax returns were prepared at nearly 12,000 locations by volunteers working under either the VITA program or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly, another volunteer program sponsored by IRS.

There was a strong response to the 2010 Community VITA Grant program, with 360 organizations submitting applications requesting more than $30 million in matching funds, similar to the prior year.  Under the VITA Grant Program, the IRS awarded matching grants to 147 organizations that will offer free tax preparation services during the 2010 filing season at locations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Applicants have to include a specific focus on one of six targeted underserved populations (including disability, elderly, English as a Second Language, low-income, Native Americans, and rural) as a primary focus, and also identify a secondary targeted underserved population.   In 2009, NDI has worked with other stakeholders in the federal public policy arena to promote support for: (1) increasing annual funding of the Community VITA Grant program; and (2) ensure that more grants funded have a primary focus on disability.

Six grant applicants who included disability as the primary population of focus in their grant applications received funding in the 2010 cycle.  The six grants together collectively account for $250,000 of the $8 million awarded for 2010.  Of this amount, NDI received $12,500 for continued support of specific cities involved in the Real Economic Impact (REI) Tour.  The other five grantees whose grant applications focused primarily on disability include entities in the states of Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Wisconsin.  27 grant applicants that included disability as the secondary population of focus in their grant applications were also awarded funding for 2010 totaling $1,130,075.

One area of concern with respect to the grant program is that the awards are based on the projected number of returns anticipated in the grant application, which is difficult to predict for grantees focusing on disability given the significant accessibility barriers and impediments that still exist.  For underserved markets, this is difficult, particularly with a focus on individuals with disabilities when accessibility continues to be a major issue.  

An IRS state-by-state analysis recently confirmed that persons with a disability receive access to free tax services at a lower rate than general low income populations. Specifically, the percentage of persons with disability receiving free tax services was 1.6% compared to 3.5% for low income populations overall. Similar research conducted by the National Disability Institute's Real Economic Impact Tour on the DeafTax initiative funded by IRS, confirmed similar trends (www.deaftax.com).  This analysis reflects that more resources need to be applied to identify and address access and accommodations issues to ensure equal access to this government funded program.
More information about the 2010 Community VITA Grant Recipients can be found at the following web link:   2010 VITA Grant Recipients.


NDI Provides Feedback on New National Strategy for Financial Literacy & Education

NDI responded to a solicitation for comments in November by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Financial Education related to the Financial Literacy and Education Commission's development of a new national strategy for financial literacy and education.  The goal of the National Strategy will be to establish the direction for financial literacy and education, research, practice and coordination with the collective purpose of improving financial security for the diverse populations of the United States.  To achieve this objective, stakeholders with knowledge and expertise in the field of financial literacy and education we contacted and requested to provide recommendations on the development of the plan, and NDI responded to a list of questions that were identified by the Commission to guide the National Strategy's formulation. 
NDI took this opportunity to push for a new national strategy that leverages resources across federal agencies and the private sector and recognizes the unique needs of socially disadvantaged populations such as individuals with disabilities and their families.  Furthermore, NDI advocated that financial education be a part of lifelong learning (K-12 students) as well as working-age adults and seniors.
NDI identified the following issues as the most important aspects of financial education that should be prioritized:  
  • Understanding credit use
  • Importance of saving and asset development
  • Money Management
  • Debt-relief strategies
  • Perils of payday and predatory Lending
  • Planning for a better economic future
  • Informed decision-making (fee structure, terms and conditions of financial services)
  • Poverty alleviation
  • Relevance to low-income workers
NDI also suggested a number of strategies for the federal government to help coordinate and promote financial literacy and capability, including:
  • Utilizing all USDOL One-Stop Career Centers as mandated sites to offer FDIC's Money Smart;
  • Utilizing all SSI field offices to distribute effective financial education materials to beneficiaries (seniors and persons with disabilities) and link to web-based programs;
  • Testing the consideration of financial literacy needs and planning to advance self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities under multiple systems, including but not limited to Individual Plan requirements with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Ticket to Work Social Security (SSA), Youth in Transition with disabilities (Dept. of Education - IDEA) and Community Support (CMS under Medicaid Waivers);
  • Allowing a tax deduction for employers who document expenditures on financial education for their employees;
  • Requiring all federally-funded loan recipients (housing, education) to enroll in an education program that advances their financial literacy skills;
  • Increasing research to document impact of the above suggestions on specific target populations;
  • Announcing annually a coordinated plan across federal agencies with common measures to evaluate outcomes, and reporting annually to Congress the results; and
  • Offering all EITC recipients an immediate tie-in to financial education options both on-site and online.
Finally, NDI suggested the following key performance measures for evaluating the Commission's implementation of successful strategies:
  1. Documentation of cross-agency collaboration in service delivery, jointly funded projects, and outreach partnerships
  2. Specific leveraged partnerships with the private sector with documented outcomes
  3. Utilization of government infrastructure to reach target audiences (field offices, websites, One-Stop Centers, Training programs, beneficiary communications)
  4. Common Measures adopted across federal agencies on outreach, training, collaboration, and outcomes
  5. Target disadvantaged groups most at risk (seniors, persons with disabilities, other minorities)
The stakeholder responses will be carefully reviewed and combined to help guide the focus areas and next steps in developing the National Strategy.  The respondents will participate in a series of web meetings during the week of December 7, 2009, that will focus on common themes and issues and how they could be incorporated into the new National Strategy. 
End-of-Year Jobs Stimulus Package being Punted by House of Representatives Democratic Leadership

With unemployment now above 10 percent, Senate Democrats are planning to craft a new jobs bill early in 2010.  Some view the sudden interest in a jobs-focused  as an attempt by House and Senate Democratic leaders to prepare for what could be a major political bruising in the upcoming 2010 mid-term elections, largely resulting from the continued weak economy and soaring unemployment rates. A jobs bill could provide a tremendous opportunity to look at a number of important initiatives targeting employment strategies for individuals with disabilities, and NDI is in the process of developing key recommendations for consideration once Congressional policy makers make a firm commitment to the employment legislative endeavor.
Renewed Focus on WIA Reauthorization Legislation Continues

Senate HELP Committee staff, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, have confirmed reports that a new focus on WIA reauthorization has arisen, with the development of draft legislation expected in January and Senate consideration expected by March 2010.  This announcement comes on the heels of recent public hearings co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment & Training Administration (ETA) and Office of Disability and Employment Policy.  Using the existing federal statute as a framework for the new reauthorization bill, a bipartisan committee of Senate HELP Committee staff are meeting weekly to prepare the draft legislation by early next year.  NDI has participated in two recent discussions with the bipartisan workgroup, focusing comments on three key recommendations:  requiring stronger multi-agency collaboration through practices like the use of blending and braiding of federal resources; reinstating a solid, expanded commitment to the use of Disability Program Navigators (DPNs) in workforce investment areas (WIAs); and clarifying the importance of asset development as a primary objective of the Department of Labor.

NDI is expected to continue participating in further conversations with the Senate HELP Committee as well as House staff who will also begin to take up WIA reauthorization in the near future.
Asset Development
Legislation Updates:

Revitalized Efforts underway for Moving ABLE Act in Early 2010

Amid growing concern by the stymied movement of any legislation outside of health care reform in recent months, NDI has recently joined efforts by a core group of national disability organizations to reinvigorate an aggressive advocacy campaign in the next several weeks on Capitol Hill in an attempt to push the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act forward in the political process.   NDI will be participating in a number of educational meetings on Capitol Hill the week of December 7th with targeted Congressional Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee.  The objectives of the meeting will be two-fold:  (1) secure additional cosponsors and support for the legislation; and (2) advocate for a Committee hearing and consideration of the ABLE Act during the first quarter of 2010.  Additionally, steps are being taken to identify other Democratic champions in the Senate, and conversations have already occurred with key staff on the Senate Finance Committee.
Draft Tsongas Legislation offers Hope and Promise for Working Individuals with Disabilities

NDI recently had the opportunity to review and provide feedback on legislation drafted by Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA), that would increase current asset and income limits tied to eligibility requirements under Social Security.  The draft provides a strong framework for seeking exemptions of several financial savings vehicles from current asset limits.  NDI has provided the following five recommendations for improving and clarifying the intent of the legislation:

  1. Increase the asset limits to 5 times the existing limit, or to $10,000 (the current legislation expands it to $7500).
  2. Ensure that the exclusions outlined in the legislation that loosen existing SS asset & income limitations are applied comprehensively to financial eligibility tests under all federally-supported programs, including Medicaid. 
  3. Strengthen current bill language to ensure that alternative financial savings tools and different kinds of accounts created in the future.
  4. Reference the inclusion of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) operating under the auspices of the Personal Responsibility Act so as to ensure that the legislation covers all TANF IDA accounts, some of which are operated by states. 
  5. Clarify that anything that is excluded as an asset under the legislation will also be excluded when converted to income by allowing any withdrawn funds to be income-exempt up to the level that they were resource-exempt prior to their withdrawal. 

NDI will continue to support efforts of the larger generic asset development community, which is largely being led by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), to promote awareness about the legislation once it is introduced by Representative Tsongas.  Read more about CFED's asset development advocacy efforts at http://www.cfed.org.

SPECIAL IN-FOCUS:  Reauthorization of the Medicaid Infrastructure Grants Initiative

The Medicaid Infrastructure Grants (MIG) program, authorized under Sectiion 203 of the 1999 Ticket to Work Act, provides grants to States to develop state infrastructures to support working individuals with disabilities.  As of 2008, over 40 States and the District of Columbia are participating in this program.  The MIG Program is up for reauthorization in 2010, and NDI is seeking your input on specific recommendations to share with Congressional policy makers and the Obama Administration about its reauthorization. 

Please send your comments and feedback to Serena Lowe, Federal Government Relations consultant, at EwolAneres@gmail.com.  Comments are requested no later than December 20th, 2009.

For more information on the MIG program, please refer to the following links:

 Oct 2009 Employment

As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics for October 2009
Vol: 1 Issue: 10
In This Issue
IRS Announces 2010 VITA Grant Recipients - Disability VITA Focus Acknowledged in 2010 Awards...The.....
NDI Provides Feedback on New National Strategy for Financial Literacy & Education
End-of-Year Jobs Stimulus Package being Punted by House of Representatives Democratic Leadership
Renewed Focus on WIA Reauthorization Legislation Continues
Revitalized Efforts underway for Moving ABLE Act in Early 2010
Draft Tsongas Legislation offers Hope and Promise for Working Individuals with Disabilities
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