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July 13, 2011  - Bimonthly Alert on Disability Policy


[PLEASE NOTE:  Beginning in July, NDI will begin providing two federal public policy updates per month.  We appreciate your continued interest in the Washington Insider and welcome any feedback on how we can improve upon our information dissemination to the field on timely policy issues.]




NDI to Host Annual Congressional Policy Forum to Highlight Legislative Proposals aimed at Economically Advancing Citizens with Disabilities August 2nd 



Next month, the National Disability Institute (NDI) will cohost the second annual Congressional briefing highlighting legislative proposals currently before the 112th Congress that would promote the economic advancement of citizens with disabilities. The briefing, entitled "Innovative Legislative Strategies for Promoting Economic Advancement of Persons with Disabilities in the 112th Congress," will be held on August 2nd from 12-1:30 p.m. in Room B-339 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing will be co-hosted by the Financial Security Task Force of the Consortium on Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination.


The briefing will serve as a platform for addressing several current policy barriers that impede the ability of citizens with disabilities to advance economically, and also highlighting several legislative proposals currently before Congress that could significantly improve the economic opportunities of the disability population. Such proposals include the SSI Savers Act, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, and the reauthorization of the Assets for Independence program. Additionally, key areas of prioritization for improving the economic outlook of citizens with disabilities during national entitlement reform and employment discussions on Capitol Hill will also be explored.


Lunch will be served. Space is limited, so interested Congressional staff and external policy stakeholders interested in participating in this important educational event are encouraged to RSVP as soon as possible to Ellen Daily (NDI Intern) at edaily@ndi-inc.org




Senate Committee Action on WIA Reauthorization Package Delayed until July 20th; Committee Hosts Hearing on Disability Employment Strategies on July 14th 


After months of anticipation, the Senate draft reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was introduced for public review during the week of June 13th. The Senate HELP Committee delayed the Committee's review of the WIA reauthorization package until July 13th. Disability policy advocates hope that this additional time will enable the Committee to incorporate additional modifications and technical improvements to strengthen the overall legislation.


NDI provided recommendations to the Senate HELP Committee for strengthening the draft WIA reauthorization package, highlighting the following priorities: incorporate legislative language that requires or allows Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) to invest a Disability Program Navigator-like model of support; include "financial literacy" as an eligible service that can be provided by vocational rehabilitation agencies; and target resources under the newly-created Workforce Innovation Fund toward projects specific to reaching prospective workers with disabilities.


NDI also signed onto a larger set of recommendations submitted by the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD), which requested that Section 511 under Title V of the WIA reauthorization package be removed. Section 511 provides a list of activities a VR counselor must complete before determining a youth with a significant disability is incapable of successfully accomplishing an employment objective. Critics of Section 511 fear that the provisions, as currently written, will have the unintended consequence of more youth with significant disabilities being put into subminimum wage positions because the provision does not require VR to offer and provide supported employment services to the individual.


On the heels of the second delay in the Senate HELP Committee's anticipated legislative mark-up of the WIA Reauthorization, the Committee also announced a Congressional hearing entitled, "Lessons from the Field: Learning from What Works for Employment for Persons with Disabilities," which is scheduled for this Thursday, July 14th in 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing includes testimony from Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office on Disability Employment Policy(ODEP), Governor Tom Ridge (Chairman of the National Organization on Disability); Deborah Dagit , Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Merck; and Northwestern University law student Amelia Wallrich.


VITA Act Companion Bill Introduced in House of Representatives 

Right on the heels of the reintroduction of the VITA Act of 2011

(S. 816) in the Senate on April 14, 2011, U.S. Representative Mike Honda (CA-D-15) introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2151. The House companion bill (H.R. 2151) includes identical legislative language to S. 816. The bill would authorize the Internal Revenue Service to continue the Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Matching Grant Program.


Since 2008, the VITA grant program has allowed community nonprofit organizations to provide services to those who need it most. The VITA Act would authorize the program at $30 million/year for a total of five years. The VITA Act of 2011 (H.R. 2151/S. 816) also provides greater flexibility to VITA grantees to use funds to expand the services provided to taxpayers in the areas of asset development and financial education. NDI sent

a letter of support to Congressional champions of the bicameral legislation, highlighting the many disability-friendly provisions contained in the VITA Act of 2011. 


SSI Savers Act Introduced on June 1st by Representatives Petri & Tsongas 

Disability advocates were extremely excited by the recent reintroduction of the SSI Savers Act (H.R. 2103) by U.S. Representatives Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Thomas Petri (R-WI) on June 1, 2011. H.R. 2103 seeks to modernize outdated asset limits in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for low-income elderly and disabled individuals.

Current asset limits pose serious obstacles for low-income families trying to become self-sufficient. This is particularly true in the SSI program where, with few exceptions, individuals cannot hold more than $2,000 in total assets and couples no more than $3,000. For example, SSI recipients can end up limited to only $2,000 to survive their entire retirement. These limits haven't been adjusted in more than two decades (since January 1, 1989) even though inflation has reduced the value of the dollar by almost half since then.

The SSI Savers Act of 2011 increases asset limits from $2,000 (single) and $3,000 (married) to $5,000 and $7,500 respectively, and indexes those limits to inflation. For recipients younger than 65, the bill excludes retirement accounts, education savings, and individual development accounts from counting against the limit. For recipients 65 and older, it allows retirement accounts up to $50,000 (single) / $75,000 (married) to reduce SSI benefits accordingly instead of creating an immediate cut off. An analysis of the legislation was recently completed by the Urban Institute. NDI recently sent a letter of support to the Congressional champions and will highlight the legislation at NDI's upcoming Congressional Policy Forum highlighting legislative proposals aimed at improving the economic advancement of citizens with disabilities. 

Outlook on Reintroduction of ABLE Act Stalled; Insiders Growing Weary 

Despite achieving extraordinary bipartisan support in the 111th Congress, reintroduction of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) has endured several bumps over the first six months of 2011 and insiders involved in the negotiations are growing increasingly uncertain about the bill's future prospects. Contextual questions concerning scope and eligibility, coupled with philosophical differences about whether individuals with disabilities receiving publicly-financed supports should be encouraged to save and build assets, seem to be the largest stumbling blocks consuming the legislation's champions and Committee staff working on an updated version of the bill. Many of the nation's leading disability advocacy organizations are perplexed by the ongoing delays, and have expressed concerns in recent weeks by the direction of conversations which seem to question the central purpose of the legislation - to empower citizens with disabilities and their families to save and built assets to help support ongoing, long term expenses faced throughout the lifespan.

Additionally, there are a variety of tactical strategies currently being considered, including bypassing introduction of a separate bill in favor of focusing all political energies toward inclusion of the bill's key provisions in a larger tax reform or savings bill. Disability advocates have suggested that these options are not mutually exclusive, and have reiterated the importance of getting a stand-alone bill reintroduced in both chambers as soon as possible in order to reignite a larger Congressional interest in and support of the legislation.

The ABLE Act, formerly known as the Financial Savings Accounts for Indivdiuals with Disabilities Act, was reintroduced in the 111th Congress by U.S. Representative Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), former U.S. Representative Kendrick Meeks (D-FL) as H.R. 1205 and as S. 493 by U.S. Senators Robert Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd. U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), who currently serves as a senior Democratic member of the House Ways & Means Committee (which has jurisdictional oversight over the ABLE Act), is expected to replace Meeks as the Democratic co-sponsor in the 112th Congress. 




CMS Announces Fall MIG-MFP Summit 


CMS's Disabled and Elderly Public Health Group (DEPHG) has announced details of the first Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG)-Money Follows the Person (MFP) summit, to be held in Baltimore on October 19-21, 2011. The purpose of the fall summit is to further promote sustainability of the successful accomplishments and expertise gained from the ten-year Medicaid Infrastructure Grants (MIGs), which will conclude at the end of 2011. The October conference theme is "Partners in Sustainability" and will highlight key strategies for sustaining systems transformation efforts by State Medicaid programs to promote the employment of working-age beneficiaries with disabilities.

The conference opens on October 19th with a focus on the Money Follows the Person (MFP) Demonstration program and integrating employment and MIG expertise to support MFP States in achieving their transition benchmarks, successful community transitions for MFP participants and states' long-term care systems rebalancing activities. 43 States and the District of Columbia currently have MFP grants. Sessions on October 20-21st will focus on several opportunities to promote competitive employment through the Affordable Care Act, as well as highlighting a number of federal initiatives and strategies for sustaining relationships with our key partners. CMS also intends to embrace a strong thematic focus on sustaining stakeholder engagement including advocacy organizations, employers and individuals with disabilities. For more information on the upcoming conference, interested entities can contact Annette Shea, DEPHG, at annette.shea@cms.hhs.gov

Administration on Developmental Disabilities Announces Two PNS Grant Opportunities Aimed at Systems Change & Improved Employment Outcomes 

The Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recently announced the availability of $2.2 million Fiscal Year 2011 for projects of national significance (PNS) developed by state consortia to be used toward investing in a collaborative approach to creating employment systems change at the state level on behalf of youth and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Six grants will be awarded over a five year period to fund the design and implementation of statewide model demonstration projects through Partnerships in Employment Systems Change grants that stimulate and advance systems change in order to expand competitive employment in integrated settings for youth and young adults with I/DD.

A second grant opportunity was announced to provide $200,000 annually to provide training and technical assistance to Partnerships in Employment Systems Change. The national technical assistance grantee will support the development of training and technical assistance for the six state Partnerships in Employment Systems Change projects. Additional information on both grant opportunities can be reviewed at ADD's website:


As National Unemployment Rate Declines, Disability Unemployment Rate Continues to Soar


The jobless rate for Americans with disabilities soared last month to the highest level seen in nearly two years. Unemployment rose to 16.9 percent in June for those with disabilities, which is equal to the record-high set in August 2009. June signified a major slump across the nation in terms of increased unemployment, with only 18,000 new jobs created in the labor market nationwide.






June 2011

June 2010

June 2011

June 2010

% 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

ISSUE IN FOCUS: Cross-Disability Policy Brief on Medicaid Reform & Employment Released


In June, the NDI Washington Insider reported about NDI's efforts in an ongoing national cross-disability policy dialogue focused on developing a set of policy recommendations for the Congress to consider as the debate around Medicaid reform continues to evolve. While hundreds of disability and aging organizations have aligned to speak out specifically against cuts to Medicaid, several groups are also working on developing solid policy recommendations intended to realign the current institutional bias that currently exists in the provision of many Medicaid-funded long term supports and services and ensure that any Medicaid reform efforts include both incentives and directives among state Medicaid plans to focus long-term supports for working age beneficiaries with disabilities toward helping the individuals attain self-directed supports that lead to optimal independence living in typical community settings, working in integrated settings at livable wages, saving and building assets to pay for future expenses, and engaging in meaningful ways in society.

These recommendations were publicly released this month in the form of a policy brief, which has been endorsed by fifteen national organizations thus far. The policy brief is an evolving document, meaning that additional recommendations and modifications may be added over time. It is important to both NDI and the other national organizations who have signed onto the policy brief to provide an open and transparent process for local and state stakeholders to provide feedback and engage in our work. The goal of this collective policy work is to ensure that any Medicaid reform proposals include changes that will establish stronger incentives and requirements for states to focus heavily on improving living and employment outcomes for citizens with disabilities. National organizations are also encouraged to sign onto the document in a display of support for the concepts and recommendations outlined. This policy brief has and will continue to be shared with key Congressional staff intimately involved in current recommendations around Medicaid reform proposals.

To sign onto the cross-disability policy brief on Medicaid Reform & Employment or to provide feedback to the policy brief, please email Serena Lowe (NDI Federal Government Relations Consultant) at EWOLANERES@gmail.com


Vol: 3 Issue: 4
In This Issue
1. NDI to Host Annual Congressional Policy Forum
2. Senate Committee Action on WIA Reauthorization Package Delayed until July 20th
3. VITA Act Companion Bill Introduced in House of Representatives
4.SSI Savers Act Introduced on June 1st by Representatives Petri & Tsongas
5. Outlook on Reintroduction of ABLE Act Stalled; Insiders Growing Weary
6. CMS Announces Fall MIG-MFP Summit.
7. Administration on Developmental Disabilities Announces Two PNS Grant Opportunities
8. As National Unemployment Rate Declines, Disability Unemployment Rate Continues to Soar
9. ISSUE IN FOCUS: Cross-Disability Policy Brief on Medicaid Reform & Employment Released

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