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January 2011

NDI Releases Federal Policy Agenda for 112th Congressional Session


As the new 112th Congress and the Obama Administration tackle the complex challenges of deficit reduction, growing demands in entitlement spending, and reformation of the federal tax code, the National Disability Institute (NDI) is focused on ensuring that the unique impact of disability is factored into these significant policy dialogues, and that any policy reform efforts promote employment and economic advancement of citizens impacted by disability.


As such, NDI released its federal policy agenda for 2011-2012 earlier this month, committing to focus on the following federal policy priorities over the next two years:

  1. Reform eligibility requirements for federal entitlement programs so as to consistently encourage work, savings, and asset accumulation for people with disabilities.

    • Extend asset limits to determine eligibility under SSI and Medicaid, as well as exclude as assets all restricted savings vehicles such as IRAs, 401(k), and 529 plans.
    • Review effectiveness of current programs authorized under the Ticket to Work & Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWIIA) and outline strategies for strengthening the existing programs to better address the original objectives of the legislation to advance employment and economic advancement of SSI/SSDI beneficiaries with disabilities.
  2. Support legislative initiatives that encourage economic growth and financial security for citizens with disabilities by expanding savings and asset building options.

    • Adopt the basic elements of the ABLE Act (tax-advantaged savings accounts for citizens with disabilities) as part of any federal tax reform proposals to encourage citizens with disabilities and their families to set aside funds to cover extra costs related to health care, education, housing, technology, transportation, and employment without jeopardizing eligibility for needed publicly-financed supports.
    • Enact the Savings for Working Families Act (SWFA) to expand the number of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) to be available for up to 1.2 million low-income workers with and without disabilities over a seven-year period.
  3. Expand strategies through the federal tax code to promote work and educational advancement, financial education and asset building strategies among low-income taxpayers with disabilities.Expand IRS community partnership development and volunteer tax preparation assistance programs to target low income tax payers with disabilities to ensure their enhanced access and use of refundable tax credits that promote work and educational advancement, financial education and affordable financial services and products.
    • Codify the Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant program operated by the Strategic Partnerships, Education and Communications (SPEC) division of the Internal Revenue Service.
    • Increase federal funding of the VITA program to $35 million FY2011 to adequately support the VITA programs in the field that assist taxpayers with disabilities and other targeted subpopulations.
  4. Continue funding and reauthorization of major initiatives that support cross agency coordination of resources to advance economic self sufficiency for working age adults with disabilities.

    • Secure reauthorization, reformation and continued investments in strengthening the Medicaid Infrastructure Grants (MIGs), reaffirming the focus of future federal funding for this initiative on improving employment and economic self-sufficiency for citizens with disabilities.
    • Protect the continuation of the Disability Program Navigator (DPN) Initiative through increased funding and possible codification via WIA reauthorization as well as expanded funding of the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) to include additional states.
  5. Expand and improve access and availability of financial education and affordable financial services for all citizens with disabilities.  Support continued efforts of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB), the U.S. Department of Treasury's Bank On initiative and other financial education programs, and the Federal Reserve to promote economic advancement through improved financial education and affordable financial services for citizens with disabilities.
  6. Coordinate activities within the Social Security Administration to align policy and practice to embrace advancement of economic self-sufficiency as a primary objective and milestone by which SSA programs will be measured.
    • Encourage Social Security beneficiaries to return to work and advance economically by matching savings toward specific asset goals.
    • Expand direct deposit and debit card options for receipt of monthly Social Security payments to include savings and asset building choices.
    • Reform the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) so as to expand its use among the 10 million+ recipients of SSI and SSDI based upon individual needs and preferences to advance a better economic future.
    • Redirect existing demonstration initiatives funded by SSA to focus primarily on piloting innovative models that reward SSA beneficiaries for increasing levels of work so as to help them transition to improved economic self-sufficiency over time.

Individuals interested in learning more about NDI's federal government relations and public policy efforts can register for federal advocacy updates at www.ndi-inc.org.


2011 Starts with Grim News from both New Congress and Administration - Various Proposals to Cut Federal Spending and Reduce the Deficit Unveiled


The start of the New Year painted a grim picture of the fiscal realities that lie ahead for the nation, as both the Obama Administration and the 112th Congress laid out proposed strategies for addressing the growing deficit and slashing the federal budget.  With deficit reduction, reformation of the federal tax code, and cuts to entitlement spending on the table, the future longevity of various federal programs and systems of supports for citizens with disabilities remains unclear.


President's SOTU only briefly-mentions Disability; Obama steers clear of entitlement reform


The President's third State of the Union (SOTU) focused heavily on the state of the nation's economy, and after months of speculation, the President released a proposal to freeze discretionary spending for the next five years.  The President's proposed FY 2011 budget, to be unveiled in early February, will lay out specific details for what the President referred to as a major overhaul of public administration.

President Obama's themes of tying performance to funding and tightening the discretionary budget belt came on the heels of earlier guidance issued during the summer and fall of 2010 by the Office of Management and Budget.  In June 2010, OMB issued budget guidance to federal agencies to "identify the programs and subprograms that have the lowest impact on the agency's mission and constitute at least five percent of the agency's [FY 10] discretionary budget." In Memo M-10-19, OMB noted that agencies should not simply reduce spending across the board. Instead, agencies should aim to restructure their operations strategically. This includes eliminating low-priority programs and activities, re-engineering staffing plans, improving procurement and grants management processes, and strengthening IT and financial management. A follow-up memo, M-10-20, gave more insight into how these reductions should be achieved. Agencies are to evaluate programs based on their impact on the agency's mission and relevant administration initiatives. Agencies should consider whether the program has an unclear or duplicative purpose, uncertain federal role, a completed mission, or lack of demonstrated effectiveness, according to the June guidance. The intent of OMB's efforts were to encourage agencies to identify those programs with the lowest impact.  Thus, programs that are not demonstrating intended outcomes are vulnerable to deeper cuts in this new fiscally conservative environment.

Entitlement reform was one area the President steered clear of during the majority of his speech.  This is not to suggest that entitlement programs citizens with disabilities rely heavily on - including Social Security and Medicaid - are safe or exempt from cost-containment strategies, only that the topic is so volatile the President chose not to directly outline any specific recommendations for controlling the increased demand experienced by federal entitlement programs (particularly in Medicaid and SSI/SSDI) in recent years.


Additionally, disability was only referred to once in the SOTU, toward the end of the President's speech as he put a light placeholder on the topic of entitlement reform and the importance of protecting the integrity of these vital programs. 


One area the President emphasized was the lack of comprehensive review that has taken place of the federal government's current infrastructure since the Brownlow Commission during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  This provides an opportunity for the disability policy community to bring forth specific proposals for reforming current federally funded programs and agencies in an effort to build stronger coordination of objectives, greater alignment among funding streams, and increased uniformity in anticipated outcomes.  NDI has been working with several national disability organizations over the past two years to thoughtfully develop several proposed schemes for bringing together overlapping programs so as to maximize resources and produce optimal outcomes related to the economic advancement of citizens with disabilities.  Such reforms, however, will require the disability community to detach itself from pet programs and think more holistically about systemic reforms necessary to produce significant reform of the current barriers to employment and economic advancement.


New Congressional Rules Constrain Spending and Force Thoughtful Debate over Measuring Quality of Existing and Future Federally-Funded Initiatives


With the change in leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and over 25% of the incoming class of Congressional leaders being freshman, the current political dynamic in Congress remains uncertain.  House Republican leadership are already facing challenges managing expectations of the party's more experienced members with several new faces representing various levels of conservatism and the Tea Party.


In early January 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a new rules package focused on controlling spending in the 112th Congress and addressing the nation's federal deficit and soaring debt. The new rules reflect the priority of the new Republican majority to reduce spending and, in general, shift the focus of budget rules from controlling the deficit to controlling spending. Among the rule changes include new "cut as you go" (CUTGO) spending rules in place of the "pay as you go" (PAYGO) approach, new authorities for the Budget Committee chairman, changes to budget reconciliation rules, and a new point of order against legislation that increases long-term spending.  A more detailed outline of the new rules can be reviewed in a new report released by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.


Meanwhile, Congress will likely consider another continuing resolution on March 1st that will continue federal spending at current FY2010 levels for the remainder of FY2011.

WIA & Rehab Act Reauthorization Moves Forward in Senate with Introduction Anticipated by Easter - House Leadership Plans Unclear

Despite the fiscal challenges facing the Congress, the Senate HELP Committee is moving forward in its quest to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act and the Rehabilitation Act collectively in 2011.  With an internal goal to introduce the reauthorization package by Easter and bring to the Senate floor before the August recess, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) remains strong in his resolve to see the critically important employment and training programs established through these two landmark statutes reauthorized in the 112th Congress.  The reauthorization package is predicted to also include important amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to decrease the use of subminimum wage practices in the hiring of citizens with significant disabilities, specifically youth with significant disabilities transitioning from high school to adulthood.


Codification of the Disability Program Navigators (DPNs) or the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) through the reauthorization package remains unclear.  However, there is speculation that the WIA reauthorization package will allow state and regional workforce investment areas to use existing authority to further disseminate the promising practices developed through the eight-year DPN demonstration to better focus and coordinate multiple systems of supports toward optimizing the success of various at-risk sub-populations (including but not limited to citizens with disabilities).

Medicaid Reform High on Congressional Agenda - MIG Future Uncertain

With entitlement spending under strict scrutiny, several strategies for reforming current Medicaid programs are being considered by both the Obama Administration and the 112th Congress. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) has already indicated among internal staff that comprehensive Medicaid reform will be a top priority of the Committee. 


Recent dialogue with CMS leadership concerning the future of the Medicaid Infrastructure Grants (MIGs) indicate an interest in combining the systemic reform aims of the MIGs with the more individualized goals of Money Follows the Person (MFP) to assist beneficiaries to live independently and engage in their communities.  A focal point for both programs in the future will be focused on employment outcomes, and CMS recently awarded a contract to Health Disability Advocates (HDA), the long-term national technical assistance partner for the MIGs, to determine how the MFP initiative can better achieve employment outcomes for beneficiaries with disabilities.  One of the primary aims of the MIGs was to create Medicaid Buy-in programs so as to encourage citizens with disabilities to obtain and sustain employment by ensuring a buy-in health care option through a state's Medicaid program, which most states have achieved.  Unfortunately, while the enrollment numbers into the Medicaid buy-in programs remain high, only a small percentage of those enrollees are actually employed.


Although there continues to be widespread support for reauthorizing the MIG program, several disability stakeholder groups are questioning the rationale for a straight 5-year reauthorization in light of poor outcomes overall in recent years.  A core group of disability organizations are working collectively on building Congressional support for a more pared down reauthorization strategy, that would call for a two-year reauthorization coupled with a strong data collection and evaluative component so as to better capture what is working in the field in terms of improving and sustaining employment outcomes versus those strategies that may need to be reconsidered or eliminated.  Because of the substantial federal investment in the MIGs, any reauthorization effort will likely be attached to  stronger accountability requirements among state grantees to deliver more promising employment results. 

Tax Reform Ambitions Leave Future of ABLE Act and Tax Credits Uncertain

Despite the passage of legislation in December 2010 that extended several vitally important tax credits for taxpayers with disabilities, dialogue around whether or not to tackle comprehensive reform of the national's federal tax code in the 112th Congress is still being debated by both political parties.  Simultaneous to this discussion, disability advocates are still pushing hard for a separate and quick vote on the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in early 2011. U.S. Representative Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and James McDermott (D-WA) plan to co-introduce the legislation by early March.  Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) is also planning to introduce a companion bill in the Senate around the same time frame.  One of the key factors that will determine the response from Congressional leaders on whether or not to consider the ABLE Act as a stand-alone bill early on in 2011 will depend largely on the updated budget score on the legislation.  Preliminary estimates anticipate a total cost of the legislation of $900,000-1.2 billion over 10 years.


In addition to the ABLE Act, which would allow tax-advantaged savings accounts specifically for citizens with disabilities to save resources to pay for long-term needs and supports, comprehensive tax reform would create an opportunity to discuss other strategies to incentive work and economic self-sufficiency among taxpayers with disabilities.  This could include preferential tax rates, elimination of tax penalties for transferring investment accounts into special needs trusts or other savings vehicles, and preservation of existing tax credits.

CCD Launches Working Group on Financial Security

After two years of managing an ad-hoc task force on behalf of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) to promote public policy strategies focused on asset building and savings, the National Disability Institute is pleased to announce that CCD has agreed to establish a permanent working group within its existing organizational structure to focus on public policy reform that promotes the economic advancement of citizens with disabilities.  The CCD Working Group on Financial Security will be co-chaired by Dr. Johnette Hartnett, Director of Research & Strategic Partnerships for NDI and Director of the Real Economic Impact Tour (www.REITour.org). The working group will meet quarterly in 2011 and will tackle issues related to financial literacy, planning and education; tax incentives for workers with disabilities; and asset building strategies to foster greater economic advancement among citizens with disabilities.  Organizations who are current members of the CCD and are interested in participating in this new working group should contact Johnette Hartnett at jhartnett@ndi-inc.org. 





December 2010

December 2009

December 2010

December 2009

% of population in the labor force





Unemployment rate





Employment-population ratio





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

Vol: 3 Issue: 1
In This Issue
1. NDI Releases Federal Policy Agenda for 112...th Congressional Session
2. 2011 Starts with Grim News from both New Congress and Administration - Various Proposals to Cut Federal Spending
3.WIA & Rehab Act Reauthorization Moves Forward in Senate with Introduction Anticipated by Easter House Leadership Plans Unclear
4. Medicaid Reform High on Congressional Agenda - MIG Future Uncertain
5.Tax Reform Ambitions Leave Future of ABLE Act and Tax Credits Uncertain
6. CCD Launches Working Group on Financial Security

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The National Disability Institute (NDI) is a not-for-profit research and community development organization and creators of the Real Economic Impact Tour, dedicated to promoting work, saving, and asset building for persons with disabilities and their families nationwide.