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September 12, 2011  - Bimonthly Alert on Disability Policy


[PLEASE NOTE:  Beginning in September, 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.]


President Announces Details of American Jobs Act in Speech to Joint Session of Congress on September 8th


On the heels of this month's jobs report released by the U.S. Department of Labor highlighting no net growth last month in the job market, President Obama unveiled his proposal to address the nation's ongoing unemployment challenges during a Joint Session of Congress on September 8th. The proposal, coined the American Jobs Act, includes three specific strategies for improving the nation's stagnant employment rate:

  • Tax Relief: tax relief incentives for companies that create jobs and hire new workers.
  • Infrastructure Investment: increased government investments in clean energy and new construction projects to build schools and transportation.
  • Assistance for the Long-Term Unemployed: with an emphasis on those citizens who have been out of work for six months or more (or approximately 6 million Americans).

More than half of the $447 billion plan provides for tax cuts for employees and employers, while the rest targets infrastructure spending and extension of unemployment benefits. The bulk of the tax cut is an extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut that is already in place and set to expire at the end of this year. Given the concern in Congress over deficits and debt, the president asked the 'Super Committee' to look for additional cuts to pay for this package.  The plan is quite front-loaded, with more than 70% of the amount being dispersed in 2012. Estimates for its impact on the economy's growth momentum vary, ranging between 1.5% and 2.5%. Those growth numbers are attractive and timely, given the current fears in the market of an impending recessionary downturn for the economy. 


With regards to assistance for long-term unemployed, the President outlined a $4,000 tax cut for employers per employee hired that has been out of work for six months or longer. This concept is based off a statewide public-private partnership called Georgia Works, which gives unemployed Americans eight weeks of training at a local company while allowing them to still collect their unemployment benefits. The program is financed at no additional cost to the participating company and includes the tax cut for employers based on each employee hired. The state of Georgia claims that thus far, Georgia Works has produced tremendous employment results, with the participating companies hiring 24% of all workers in the program and another 60% hired by other employers by the conclusion of the program.


Meanwhile, the monthly jobs report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that employers added no net jobs in the month of August, keeping the national unemployment rate at 9.1 percent and hinting too many that the country is on the verge of another recession. According to the Associated Press, the Labor Department says total payrolls were unchanged in August, the weakest report in almost a year. It's the first time since February 1945 that the government has reported a net job change of zero. This dismal news comes after a tough summer for employment, when June and July job gains were revised down, and hours and earnings also fell. The White House is now predicting that unemployment will likely stay above 9 percent through next year's election as the president campaigns for a second term. Currently, there are approximately 14 million working-age adults unemployed in America.


This month's labor statistics continue to also paint an ongoing grim portrait of workforce participation by people with disabilities. Workforce participation for people with disabilities remained virtually unchanged from 2010 to 2011 at roughly 21 percent. For those with no disability, the rate was 70 percent. During that same period, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability rose from 16.4 percent to 16.8 percent while that for people without disabilities showed a slight decline - from 9.5 to 9.1 percent. At every level of education, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts with no disability. Unfortunately, the President's proposals outlined for the American Jobs Act did not mention or include any emphasis on specific strategies for helping citizens with disabilities in particular secure or maintain jobs.




Congress Returns from Summer Recess with Super Committee Hitting the Ground Running


On August 2nd, Congress and President Obama achieved an agreement on the federal debt crisis, resulting in a temporary lifting of the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and instantly giving Treasury $400 billion in additional borrowing power. As a condition of the negotiations, Congress must now work toward reducing the federal deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion over the next decade above and beyond the $900 billion already in domestic spending cuts already agreed to earlier this summer.

In order to move forward in developing the additional deficit reduction plan, a Super Committee of twelve Congressional leaders have been selected to work on the development of a bipartisan plan for achieving the ambitious $1.5 trillion reduction goal. Historically, there are few examples of successful structures such as the Super Committee that has been devised. However, the agreement reached established unique parameters around the Super Committee that incentivize lawmakers to make the process work. Specifically, Congress must take an up and down vote by December 23rd without filibusters. 


Figure 1. List of Congressional Members of Super Committee




Xavier Becerra (D-CA)

Max Baucus (D-MT)

Dave Camp (R-MI)

John Kerry (D-MA)

James Clyburn (D-SC)

Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Jeb Hensarling (R-TX); House Co-Chair

Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Co-Chair

Fred Upton (R-MI)

Rob Portman (R-OH)

Chris Van Hollen (D-MD

Patrick Toomey (R-PA)

Most importantly, it has a failsafe or trigger, called a sequester. If Super Committee fails to offer a plan to cut at least $1.5 trillion by November 23rd or Congress refuses vote on the plan by December 23rd, the sequester will trigger an automatic across-the-board cut in both domestic and defense spending over a ten-year period to achieve the $1.5 trillion deficit reduction goal. In the end, some experts believe while it's unlikely the Super Committee will be able to agree on a package of $1.5 trillion in cuts, that a smaller consensus package is feasible which could at least temper the automatic cuts that would be triggered as a result.


Given the upcoming Super Committee process focused on deficit reduction, refundable tax credits and services aimed at supporting America's working are at significant risk of being reduced or altogether eliminated. 


New SSI Asset Limit Reform Coalition Established to Push for Increasing Asset Limits in Order to Promote Work & Savings among SSI Beneficiaries


NDI will join CFED and the World Institute on Disability this month to launch the SSI Asset Limit Reform Coalition, aimed at supporting and advocating for the reform of the resource test of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.


The current asset test used to determine eligibility for SSI - a program intended to provide a safety net for people with disabilities - actually hinders a recipient's economic security because of the outdated SSI asset limit test. The current limit is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples. This asset limit has not been raised since 1989 and has never been indexed for inflation. While some assets, like a recipient's home or a single car, does not count against the asset limit test, the SSI test generally counts all resources deemed accessible to an individual, including defined-contribution retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s or 529 College Savings Accounts.


These limits discourage the eight million SSI recipients from working, saving and building assets for the future so as to secure a more financially stable position to enable them to subsist without the SSI benefit.


The federal government already recognizes the need for asset limit reform.  Effective January 1, 2010, the asset limits for the Medicare Savings Program was increased to match the asset limits for the full low-income subsidy (LIS) asset limits and has been indexed to inflation every year. In 2008, Congress exempted retirement savings and indexed the asset limits in the SNAP program (formerly Food Stamps).


Based on this precedent, the SSI Asset Limit Reform Coalition seeks to reform the asset limit test for SSI so that people with disabilities who receive SSI can stop living in fear of losing their benefits and start working and saving and investing in themselves and their financial security. The coalition will focus on promoting legislation or regulations that propose the following:

  • Raise assets limit and index them for inflation;
  • Exclude amounts in retirement investment accounts, college education investment accounts and individual development accounts;
  • Set caps on retirement accounts up to $50,000 for those under 65, and excluding at least $10,000 in retirement savings for those over 65;
  • Remove the requirement that recipients must draw down their retirement savings to qualify; and
  • Disregard one-third of the funds drawn down from retirement accounts for those under 65 when calculating household income.

Given these priorities, the Coalition actively supports the SSI Savers Act of 2011 (H.R. 2103), which was recently reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Petri (R-WI) and Congresswoman Tsongas (D-MA). NDI sent a letter of support in June to the Congressional champions of H.R. 2103.

Senate Committee Action on WIA Reauthorization Package Delayed

Ongoing conflict about proposed changes to the vocational rehabilitation system within the Senate draft WIA reauthorization bill led to an indefinite postponement of the Senate HELP Committee markup, last scheduled for August 3rd. One of the outstanding issues of contention remains ongoing concerns expressed by several national disability advocacy organizations and experts in the field related to Section 511 of Title V of the Senate draft, which outlines specific steps that the vocaitional rehabilitation system must take to assist youth with significant disabilities before recommending a job placement paid below the federal minimum wage.


In an attempt to build consensus on the Senate reauthorization draft, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) hosted an open meeting of interested disability stakeholders from around the country during the Congressional recess in August. During the open meeting, stakeholders from across the country weighed in regarding their perspectives on Section 511 pertaining to the employment of youth with significant disabilities in general and the implications of Section 511 in particular.


Andrew Imparato, Senior Counsel & Disability Policy Director for the Senate HELP Committee Majority Staff, also participated in the meeting and addressed questions of the meeting participants. In his remarks, Imparato expressed an interest in working with disability advocacy stakeholders on potential revisions to the draft legislative language in Section 511 to help address some of the concerns that have been raised about perceived unintended consequences in the legislation. Several groups, including the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, National Federation of the Blind, the National Disability Rights Network and others have all individually provided written recommendations in recent months on how to improve upon the language but it remains unclear whether any of those recommendations will be included in a future draft of the legislation.


In the meantime, political insiders have confirmed that the House Education & Workforce Committee will attempt to move a smaller workforce investment package of legislative proposals in this Congress but are unlikely to agree to a comprehensive WIA reauthorization package of the magnitude that the Senate HELP Committee has proposed.

HELP Committee to Discuss Job Creation for Americans with Disabilities

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will host a another Congressional hearing on the topic of on how to best expand job opportunities for individuals with the most significant disabilities this Thursday, September 15th at 10:00 a.m. at 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building. Chairman Harkin will solicit input from panelists as he seeks to craft a job-creation agenda that addresses the needs of workers and would-be workers with disabilities.


In yesterday's press release disseminated by the Senate HELP Committee Majority Staff, Chairman Harkin stated, "During the recession, Americans with disabilities left the labor force at six times the rate of workers without disabilities, and today less than two-thirds of adults with disabilities have jobs. As we move forward on our job creation agenda, I want to be sure that the challenges facing people with disabilities receive the attention they deserve. I look forward to hearing some new ideas that will help to ensure that Americans with disabilities have an equal opportunity to find a job, and the pride and independence that comes with it."


This is the third in a series of HELP Committee meetings on improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The hearing will be webcast live at http://help.senate.gov. Following the hearing, testimony and archived videos will be posted at:  http://help.senate.gov/hearing. Testimony will be received from:


  • Katy Beh Neas, Senior Vice President, Government Relations, Easter Seals, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC
  • Fredric Schroeder, Former Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Department of Education, Interwork Institute, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
  • Jonathan Young, Chair, National Council on Disability, Washington, DC
  • Ruby Moore, Executive Director, Georgia Advocacy Office, Decatur, GA
  • Julie Petty, Past-President, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, Fayetteville, AR
  • Deb Pumphrey, Parent Advocate, Ottumwa, IA
  • Janet Samuelson, President and CEO, ServiceSource, Alexandria, VA
  • Michael Pearson, President, Union Packaging, LLC. Yeadon, PA




CMS Announces Plans for Disseminating Informational Bulletin Outlining Upates to 1915(c) Waiver Guidance


After much anticipation from disability advocacy groups, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced its proposed changes to the 1915(c) waiver technical guide. The proposed changes are intended to underscore the agency's commitment to promoting the importance of work for waiver participants while simultaneously supporting States' efforts to increase employment opportunities and meaningful community integration for waiver participants. Additionally, the updated waiver technical guide will provide further clarification on several existing core service definitions and adds new core service definitions as well.


Under the 1915(c) waiver program (also known as the Home & Community Based Waiver), States may offer a variety of services to consumers that are not limited in scope. These programs may provide a combination of both traditional medical services (i.e. dental services, skilled nursing services) as well as non-medical services (i.e. respite, case management, environmental modifications).  Family members and friends may be providers of waiver services if they meet the specified provider qualifications.  However, in general spouses and parents of minor children cannot be paid providers of waiver services. 

States have the discretion to choose the number of consumers to serve in a HCBS waiver program.  Once approved by CMS, a state is held to the number of persons estimated in its application but has the flexibility to serve greater or fewer numbers of consumers by submitting an amendment to CMS for approval.

Updates to the 3.6 HCBS Waiver Technical Guide include:

  • a strong preamble that highlights the importance of competitive work and CMS's goal to promote more integrated employment options in waivers;
  • an emphasis on the critical role of person centered planning in achieving employment outcomes;
  • an emphasis on best practices and highlights self direction options for employment support;
  • Explains that Ticket to Work Outcome and Milestone payments are not in conflict with payment for Medicaid services rendered;
  • Clarifies that pre-vocational services are not an end point, but a time limited (but no specific limit given) activity to help someone obtain competitive employment
  • Describes that volunteer work and other work type activities that are not paid, integrated community employment are appropriately classified as pre-vocational, not supported employment services
  • Splits supported employment into two core service definitions- individual and small group
  • Adds a new core service definition for career planning, that is currently used by several States

The proposed changes are intended to clarify and strengthen guidance around permissible waiver options to promote employment for people with disabilities and individuals who are elderly. CMS will issue an Informational Bulletin to State Medicaid agencies outlining these updates in the near future. Version 3.6 of the HCBS Waiver Technical Guide is anticipated for release sometime in 2012.

Special Demonstration Programs - National Technical Assistance Projects to Improve Employment Outcomes for Individuals with Disabilities

The Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has announced the availability of special demonstration grant funding on August 15th to support the provision of national technical assistance aimed at supporting state VR agencies in improving employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities. The purpose of this program is to expand and improve the provision of rehabilitation and other services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Rehabilitation Act), or to support activities that increase the provision, extent, availability, scope, and quality of rehabilitation services provided under the Rehabilitation Act.


One award of $800,000 will be granted. The application phase concludes on September 14, 2011. Organizations interested in competing in the grant process can download the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) here.

OMB Releases Sequestration Update Report

Last week the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Sequestration Update Report to the President and Congress for Fiscal Year 2012 was released. Based on preliminary OMB scoring of the latest House action for the 12 annual appropriations bills, if offsets are not enacted, a sequestration of approximately $10 billion in discretionary programs in the security category would be required. This sequestration process is indeed distinct from the sequestering trigger outlined in the Super Committee process to outline a ten-year deficit reduction plan starting in 2013. The House completed action on these appropriations bills before enactment of the Budget Control Act (BCA). At this time, there is insufficient information on Senate appropriations levels to determine whether those levels would breach the limits. The Administration and Congress must work together to ensure that no unintended breach of the spending limits occurs. View the report here. 


National Unemployment Rate on the Rise; Disability Unemployment Rate Continues to Soar


As previously reported, 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. 





August 2010

August 2011

August 2010

August 2011

% 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






WID-NCIL-Mathematica Release Report from April 2011 Employment Summit in the Great Recession


As an aftermath of the April 2011 Employment Summit in the Great Recession, the World Institute on Disability, in partnership with the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and Mathematica Policy Research, recently issued a report on the Summit and its topical issues. The Employment Summit was a part of the disability community's responsiveness to the Disability Community Employment Retreat held on Capitol Hill in October 2010 by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee. 

New Report Examines Costs, Cuts and Consequences of Federal Spending for Working-age People with Disabilities

A recent paper published in Health Affairs and an accompanying issue brief - both prepared by experts at Mathematica Policy Research-show that in fiscal year 2008, the federal government spent $357 billion to assist working-age people with disabilities, representing 12 percent of all federal spending. The states provided an additional $71 billion, mostly in Medicaid payments. Despite this more than $428 billion in total spending, services provided to those with disabilities are often fragmented, confusing, and ultimately less effective than they could be. Mathematica's brief documents how the expenditures are spread across multiple agencies that oversee more than 60 different programs to help working-age people with disabilities.


"These numbers are too large for fiscal reformers to ignore," said David Stapleton, senior fellow and director of Mathematica's Center for Studying Disability Policy, and co-author of the paper, "Now is the ideal time for policymakers to reshape federal disability policy. They should continue to address the needs of people with disabilities in the short term, while making smart investments that reduce costs over the long term. Working-age people are seeking greater independence but often are misperceived as unemployable. More of the considerable resources currently spent to assist these individuals should go toward helping them get and keep good jobs. This would enhance both their livelihood and the U.S. economy."


The brief explains how the majority of government-funded entitlement programs run contrary to the goal of "maximizing self-sufficiency" embraced by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and fails to direct funds in ways that have the most potential benefit to help those with disabilities join, remain in, or return to the U.S. workforce.



Vol: 3 Issue: 5
In This Issue
1. President Announces Details of American Jobs Act
2. Congress Returns from Summer Recess with Super Committee Hitting the Ground Running
3. New SSI Asset Limit Reform Coalition Established to Push for Increasing Asset Limits
4. Senate Committee Action on WIA Reauthorization Package Delayed
5. HELP Committee to Discuss Job Creation for Americans with Disabilities
6. CMS Announces Plans for Disseminating Informational Bulletin Outlining Upates to 1915(c) Waiver Guidance
7. Special Demonstration Programs - National Technical Assistance Projects to Improve Employment Outcomes for Individuals with Disabilities
8. OMB Releases Sequestration Update Report
9. National Unemployment Rate on the Rise; Disability Unemployment Rate Continues to Soar
10. WID-NCIL-Mathematica Release Report from April 2011 Employment Summit in the Great Recession
11. New Report Examines Costs, Cuts and Consequences of Federal Spending for Working-age People with Disabilities

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