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October 2010
Senate Introduces VITA Act of 2010

After several months of working with the asset building and disability communities, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Volunteer Income Tax Act of 2010 on September 29, 2010.  U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was an original cosponsor, and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) became a cosponsor on September 30th.

 

Established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, the $8 million demonstration VITA Grant Program marked the first ever federal financial support for community VITA. In both FY2008 and FY2009 grant cycles, nearly 400 programs applied for the limited federal funds - each year submitting grant applications totaling in excess of $30 million. Although the program received an increased appropriation of $12 million in FY2010, that amount represents only a fraction of what it costs to operate the 4,500 tax sites nationwide. VITA programs and community partners spend an estimated $150 million per year to operate free tax assistance services, and this figure does not account for costs associated with opening new program sites in underserved communities.

 

Although the VITA grant program has enjoyed federal appropriations since FY2008, there is currently no federal authorization of the program. The VITA Act of 2010 (S.3865) ensures sustainability of this vital community service by:

  • Authorizing an annual appropriation of $30 million in matching grants to eligible Community VITA programs to be used for program operation, taxpayer outreach, and related financial services offered at tax time, and
  • Establishes the National Center to Promote Quality, Excellence, and Evaluation in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance with a $5 million annual appropriation to disseminate best practices, facilitate technical assistance, coordinate program outcomes, and ensure continuation of service to underserved taxpayers for the 4,500 tax sites operating nationwide.

Additionally, NDI worked with Senate staff to ensure that the bill includes several disability-friendly provisions, including an emphasis on the provision of grant funding and technical assistance focused on outreach and services to taxpayers with disabilities.

 

NDI is working with the National Community Tax Coalition, United Way, and other national entities to garner additional cosponsors for the Senate bill, as well as cultivate support for the introduction of a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

US Department of Labor Awards More Than $21 million in Disability Employment Initiative Cooperative Agreements to Nine States

On September 29th, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the nine state awardees who will receive collectively $21,276,575 under the Disability Employment Initiative to improve education, training, and employment opportunities and outcomes of youth and adults who are unemployed and/or receiving Social Security disability benefits. The Disability Employment Initiative is jointly funded and administered by the department's Employment and Training Administration and its Office of Disability Employment Policy, and was created to further the promising practices developed during the eight-year Disability Program Navigator initiative.

The Labor Department has entered into cooperative agreements with the following states to implement strategic approaches to support exemplary employment services for individuals with disabilities in the public workforce system: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. These projects build upon DOL's Disability Program Navigator Initiative by hiring staff with expertise in disability and workforce issues. The grants also will support extensive partnerships, collaboration and services provided across multiple workforce and disability systems in each state. These involve state vocational rehabilitation services, mental health and developmental disability agencies, Medicaid Infrastructure Grant-supported activities, independent living centers, business leadership networks, and other community and nonprofit provider organizations.

Another critical component of the Disability Employment Initiative is expanding the workforce system's involvement with the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work program. The Disability Employment Initiative requires a state workforce agency or local workforce investment boards participating in a cooperative agreement to become employment networks under the Ticket to Work Program. The department recognizes that many Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries utilize the mainstream workforce system to seek employment opportunities, as shown in the May 2010 Mathematica Policy Research Inc. report "Use of One-Stops by Social Security Disability Beneficiaries in Four States Implementing Disability Program Navigator Initiatives," which was reported on in the August edition of NDI's Washington Insider and is available at http://www.doleta.gov/disability/whatsnew.cfm.

One of the requirements of the DEI is for state grantees to work closely with the Social Security Administration's Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program and its Community Work Incentive Coordinators to conduct outreach and coordination to expand services to beneficiaries. 

An option for the state grantees is to consider activities that promote economic self-sufficiency and asset development for persons with disabilities.  The majority of states in their proposals opted to include asset development activities in their statement of work.  NDI looks forward to assisting the states with adopting promising practices related to use of matched savings plans (IDAs), use of favorable tax provisions (EITC), and other ways to encourage work, saving, and planning for a better economic future.
One major concern is what the future holds for the programs supported previously by DPN grant funding, given that the DPN Initiative supported the hiring and development of over 425 Disability Program Navigators across 42 states.  Given that the DEI funds will be disseminated to only nine states, it remains to be foreseen whether or not the remaining states that are not receiving new funding under DEI will be able to maintain their strong DPN presence given the current financial constraints that state governments are facing.  As such, attempts are being made to include a permanent authorization of the Disability Program Navigator initiative in the context of the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act in 2011.

The following chart lists the grant recipients for the FY2011 Disability Employment Initiative (U.S. Department of Labor, September 29, 2010):

Disability Employment Initiative Grants

Amount

State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development

$2,727,000

State of Arkansas Department of Workforce Services

$1,500,000

Delaware Department of Labor, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

$1,490,409

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

$1,839,588

Kansas Department of Commerce

$1,879,459

State of Maine Department of Labor

$1,500,000

New Jersey Department of Labor, Workforce Division

$2,479,280

New York State Department of Labor

$4,945,060

Virginia Community College System

$2,915,779


Senator Harkin Hosts Two-Day Summit on Disability Employment Policy

In the aftermath of pledging firm commitment during the ADA 20th Anniversary Week to introduce comprehensive legislation focused on significantly improving the employment outcomes of citizens with disabilities, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of both the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-Education-Health & Human Services, hosted a two-day summit on the state of Disability Employment Policy on September 14-15th at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington DC. 

Approximately 65 disability policy experts from around the country joined Congressional Committee staff and top political leaders from the Obama Administration for a two-day discussion focused on identifying the key barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities and brainstorming innovative policy approaches aimed at tackling these barriers.  Participants were broken into the following small working groups:  federal employment; private sector employment; education & training; and supported employment services & subminimum wages.  Each of the working groups were facilitated by at least on federal executive, and were tasked with coming up with policy recommendations that were then presented to Senator Harkin and staff from the Senate HELP Committee.

Senator Harkin is expected to host a similar summit of private sector employers from around the country, and then convene a working group consisting of disability policy experts and employers to develop a comprehensive legislative package for consideration in 2011.  Many believe the recommendations will be added to initial drafts of key reauthorization vehicles, including the Workforce Investment Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Wagner-Peyser Act. Additionally, a staff member of the Senate HELP Committee who agreed to speak off the record suggested that the Chairman was planning to significantly expand the Committee's existing human resources devoted to disability policy issues prior to the beginning of the next Congress.

The working group on supported employment and subminimum wage began negotiations around a package of Employment First principles, to further support and bring to scale many of the innovative Employment First initiatives currently being implemented in several states through efforts to raise expectations of people with disabilities by prioritizing community-based, integrated employment that is compensated at or above minimum wage as the first option for people with disabilities. Employment First is a set of strategies that guides the development of policies, procedures and practices and encourages systemic change to increase competitive integrated employment, including supported employment, for the persons served.   In states that have adopted this approach, neither day center activities nor subminimum wage employment are looked upon as preferred outcomes. Instead, competitive, integrated employment is viewed as the priority outcome for all individuals with disabilities.   Although a consensus on Employment First principles was not achieved prior to the conclusion of the two-day summit, there was general agreement around a uniform policy objective to "establish a Federal commitment to improve employment outcomes for individuals with the most significant disabilities in competitive, integrated employment through federal policies that will lead to a significant and systematic reduction in the dependence on subminimum wages".

Each of the working groups will likely meet independently several more times during the fall to continue to develop a package of consensus recommendations for the Committee's consideration. 
CDFI Fund Announces Solicitation of Applications for FY 2011 Program; NDI Provides Feedback on Increasing CDFI Fund's Focus on Disability

On October 5th, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) for the CDFI Program, providing up to $135 million in Financial and Technical Assistance awards, subject to final appropriations, for the FY 2011 funding round. The awards will support Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) providing affordable financing and related services to low-income communities and populations that lack access to credit, capital and financial services.

The $135 million available for the FY 2011 funding round includes $25 million that will be used for Financial Assistance awards under the Obama Administration's new Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). In addition to providing details regarding the HFFI Financial Assistance awards, the NOFA includes information on other important changes being implemented this round. Among these are new requirements that all applications be submitted via the Grants.gov portal and that applicants apply for either Financial Assistance or Technical Assistance, but not both as they have done in past years. In the FY 2011 funding round, applicants can also earn priority points for serving highly distressed areas.

NDI recently met with CDFI Fund Director Donna Gambrell to discuss ways in which the CDFI Fund can increase outreach efforts in economically distressed communities better target assistance toward citizens with disabilities.  Specifically, NDI made the following policy recommendations:
 
    Include "Disability" as an "Other Targeted Market"

Lenders that wish to be certified as CDFIs must prove that they serve a "target market" comprised of populations that lack adequate access to capital and traditional financial/banking services.  The CDFI Fund designates three types of target markets:  a) a low income investment area; b) a low income targeted population and c) an "other targeted population."   Other targeted populations are populations that the CDFI has designated (based upon evidence) as lacking adequate access to capital and credit. Organizations that serve "other targeted markets" have a lower burden of proof in qualifying for CDFI certification since they do not need to establish (based upon recent and locally conducted studies) that they are serving a market that lacks adequate access to capital and financial services.  Rather, that burden has been met by the designation.  Currently, disability is not considered an eligible "other targeted populations".  Adding "disability" to the list of other targeted markets would thus make it easier for organizations serving this population to become certified as CDFIs.

    Strengthen Emphasis on Disability by Requiring CDFIs to Report on the Number of Individuals with Disabilities Served

Benchmark data does not currently exist on participation of individuals with disabilities in CDFI programs.  The CDFI Fund should ask CDFIs to report on this information - just as they are asked to report on the gender and "minority" status of clients served.   As an initial first step, CDFI should create immediate indicators that ask CDFIs what they are doing in terms of outreach efforts to the disability population.  This would result in an immediate acknowledgement in the field that this is subpopulation that the CDFI Fund is deeply committed to and would send a strong message to CDFIs to prioritize this subpopulation in their existing and future outreach strategies as well.

    Creation of National Technical Assistance Initiative to Support CDFIs in Reaching & Serving Disability Population 

Create an initiative within the CDFI Fund to increase awareness and education among CDFIs regarding the "disabilities market" - data sources on the market, opportunities, outreach & marketing, potential partnerships & best practices in working with individuals with disabilities.    Among other things, such an initiative would including training on lending opportunities and what CDFIs need to know to effectively serve people with disabilities (e.g., asset limit issues; when to call the benefits planner; rights and responsibilities relating to accommodations/alternative formats & how to meet those; potential partners and specialized funding sources). 

    Targeted Funding for Specialized Lenders Already Serving People with Disabilities and/or Assistance to Help these Lenders Quality for CDFI Funding

In the past, states have contracted with community based organizations (CBOs) to establish low interest loan programs ("alternative financing programs") to help people with disabilities pay for assistive technologies, as well as home and vehicle accessibility modifications.  Access to such technologies is absolutely critical to the path to full socio-economic participation by people with disabilities.   These specialized products are unique to the disability community and often difficult to finance through traditional financial institutions. The CDFI Fund could support the community development/access to capital needs of many people with disabilities by designating a pool of funding for programs that specifically serve the unique needs of citizens with disabilities, using the Native American CDFI program as a model. 

CDFI's leadership conveyed tremendous enthusiasm for increasing efforts aimed at assisting organizations and communities focused on helping struggling low-income citizens with disabilities, and NDI looks forward to working with the CDFI fund more closely in the future.
Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability Survey on Employment of Americans with Disabilities

The Kessler Foundation, National Organization on Disability and Harris Interactive have released the results of the follow-up survey of the 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities. Results from this latest survey show that although 70 percent of corporations polled have diversity policies or programs in place, only two-thirds of those with programs include disability as a component.  Only 18 percent of companies offer an education program aimed at integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. Download the complete survey (153 pages): http://www.2010disabilitysurveys.org/octsurvey/pdfs/surveyresults.pdf
SPECIAL IN-BRIEF:   Developing a Disability Economic Advancement Policy Agenda

In an effort to create a comprehensive reform package focused on promoting the economic advancement of citizens with disabilities for the 112th Congress, NDI is looking for your feedback on specific legislative and regulatory recommendations in the areas of taxation, savings, financial planning, and entitlement spending.  The recommendations will be included in a forum of public policy stakeholders that NDI is hosting in December 2010 (more details to follow).  Please send your comments by November 1 to Serena Lowe, NDI's Federal Government Relations Consultant, at EwoLAneres@gmail.com.

 

OCTOBER IS NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT MONTH

 

 

U.S. DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT PROFILE

STATISTIC

WITH DISABILITY

WITHOUT DISABILITY

Aug 2010

Aug 2009

Aug 2010

Aug 2009

% of population in the labor force

22.0%

22.2%

70.2%

71.2%

Unemployment rate

15.6%

16.9%

9.3%

9.3%

Employment-population ratio

18.6%

18.4%

63.7%

64.6%

As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6

 

Vol: 2 Issue: 7
In This Issue
1. Senate Introduces VITA Act of 2010
2. U.S. Department of Labor Awards more than $21 million in Disability Employment Initiative Cooperative Agreements to Nine States
3. Senator Harkin Hosts Two-Day Summit on Disability Employment Policy
4. CDFI Fund Announces Solicitation of Applications for FY 2011 Program; NDI Provides Feedback on Increasing CDFI Fund's Focus on Disability
5. Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability Survey on Employment of Americans with Disabilities
6. SPECIAL IN-BRIEF: Developing a Disability Economic Advancement Policy Agenda
7. U.S. DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT PROFILE


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