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March 2012



Can the ABLE Act move through the Legislative Process in 2012?


With 16 Senators and 126 Members of Congress as cosponsors, the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) is well on its way to attaining the same overwhelming support that the legislation received in the 111th Congress. So the big question remains: Will 2012 be the year that Congress finally acts on this important legislation?   


Despite the ongoing momentum from both Congressional champions and disability advocates for the legislation, it remains unclear whether or not the ABLE Act, which enjoys widespread bipartisan support, will be able to move through the legislative process given the ongoing stalemate persisting within the halls of Congress. 


Despite the political inertia, however, advocates have ramped up efforts in recent months to encourage Congressional leaders to move the legislation this year, and such efforts are not fading anytime soon. Recently, the National Down Syndrome Society and National Fragile X Foundation collectively hosted over 500 advocates on Capitol Hill within a week of each other to push for the ABLE Act among other legislative priorities. At least three other national disability organizations are planning to host similar advocacy conferences within the next few months that will focus on passage of the ABLE Act as a leading public policy priority. Advocates are now focusing on those Congressional leaders who supported earlier versions of the legislation in the 111th Congress but have not yet signed back onto the newer version of the bill.

Lack of Reauthorization Action on WIPA Puts Program in Major Peril



Due to lack of action on the part of both the Administration and Congress, the re-authorization of the Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) programs is in great jeopardy. As a result, WIPA programs providing work incentive planning for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability recipients will be unfunded as of June 30.


Both the WIPA and PABSSS programs, funded by the Social Security Administration, provide vital information to individuals with disabilities regarding their public benefits, along with advocacy and information that allow them to go to work and increase their self-sufficiency. These programs were authorized by Congress as part of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1998. The Congressional authorization for the WIPA (formerly known as Benefits Planning Assistance and Outreach - BPAO) and PABSS programs has expired, and unless Congress acts immediately, these programs will no longer exist. Many WIPA and PABSS programs will disappear at the end of this coming June, and all remaining programs will disappear by the end of September 2012 without legislative or administrative action.


The cost of the WIPA program is approximately $375 per individual served, which is more than offset by extensive long-term savings in Social Security funds. The benefits counseling and employment information and advocacy infrastructure that has been built over the past decade has become a critical component in assisting individuals to become part of the general workforce. If the WIPA and PABSS programs are eliminated, people with disabilities will have no alternative place to turn for benefits counseling and employment advocacy services. Loss of the WIPA program would also likely destroy SSA's research effort aimed at implementing a 2:1 offset benefit for SSDI beneficiaries, similar to what SSI recipients get.


Several legislative proposals to reauthorize the program have floated through recent Congresses without action. Recently SSA Commissioner Astrue sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Ways & Means Social Security Subcommittee, asking them to re-authorize the WIPA and PABSS programs. The Social Security Administration may also possess the ability to continue the program through other administrative routes but continues to be stalled over a lack of strategic direction in how to legally apply alternative operational funds within the SSA budget to a program that is set to expire without reauthorization.


Many advocacy organizations are urging Congress to support the introduction and passage of the Social Work Incentive Amendments of 2012, which would reauthorize the WIPA and PABSS program for five-years. Should that not be feasible given the inertia of Congress and the tight timeline, an alternative would be for Congress to pass a two-year extension of the WIPA and PABSS programs through September 2013, maintaining the existing infrastructure while Congress considers a longer-term reauthorization that makes changes to increase the programs' effectiveness.

Multiple WIA Reauthorization Packages Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives, Spurring Anticipation Regarding Potential 2012 Action


After negotiations last summer went to a screeching halt in the U.S. Senate with respect to reauthorization efforts of the Workforce Investment Act, the disability advocacy arena completely refocused efforts toward other policy goals, assuming WIA reauthorization was dead in its tracks for another Congress. Now, less than eight months before the national elections, the U.S. House Education & Workforce Committee is reigniting its own interest in revamping the nation's workforce development system. Proposals from both the leading Republicans and an alternative proposal from senior Democrats surfaced late last week, suggesting workforce development may be up front and center on the Committee's agenda of priorities in the months to come. 


On March 29th, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4297), which is based upon earlier legislative proposals introduced by the Committee's Republican leadership in recent months. H.R. 4297 consolidates more than 20 programs into one Workforce Investment Fund, focused on providing a more flexible, streamlined system for workers and job seekers to find the employment support they need. The proposal builds on previous legislative efforts by Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), and Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV). 


"The federal government currently administers roughly 47 separate job training and employment programs across nine federal agencies. The complicated and confusing nature of the current system can prevent workers from receiving the help they need and deny employers access to a skilled workforce," and continues to cite President Obama's concerns about the myriad of confusing programs: ".....in his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama recognized these challenges, stating, "I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, [workers] have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need." 


Specifically, the legislation will:

  • Consolidate 27 ineffective and redundant programs into one flexible fund for state and local leaders to provide employment assistance to its workers;
  • Eliminate unnecessary requirements that stand in the way of a worker's ability to receive the support and training they need immediately; 
  • Strengthen the role of job creators over workforce development decision; Demand accountability to ensure the system is serving the best interests of workers, employers, and taxpayers.

Preceding the latest Republican proposal by exactly one week, senior Democrats on the House Education & Workforce Committee also introduced a legislative package for reforming the nation's workforce development programs. The Workforce Investment Act of 2012 (H.R.4227) - introduced by Reps. John Tierney (D-MA), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and George Miller (D-CA) on March 20th - will improve the nation's workforce investment infrastructure, focusing on finding workers jobs and careers through strategic partnerships with in-demand sector employers, community colleges, labor organizations, and non-profits. 


The Democratic approach to WIA reauthorization is driven by three core principles:streamlining and improving workforce investment system programs; strengthening workforce investment system accountability; and promoting innovation and best practices within the workforce investment system. The Workforce Investment Act of 2012 will do this by making critical improvements to the current system, including:

Streamlining and Improving Workforce Program Services

  • Requires states to establish unified state plans that streamline and coordinate the operation of job training, adult education, and postsecondary education programs.
  • Requires state and local workforce investment boards to implement career pathways strategies and initiatives that offer career advancement to workers. 
  • Expands use of on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, transitional jobs, and paid work experience so that individuals can learn and work and enter or reenter the labor market more quickly.
  • The bill improves access to training by making clear that individuals can immediately access services in any sequence.
  • Requires training programs to offer multiple exit and entry points for workers at various skill levels and career stages.
  • Allows local areas the flexibility to contract directly with community colleges to provide specialized group training classes that are designed for employers who are looking to hire many workers with a particular skill.
  • Codifies the co-location of Employment Service and One-Stop Centers offices and clarifies the Employment Service role in assisting unemployed individuals.

Improving Accountability and Transparency through Performance Measures and Reporting Across Programs

  • Establishes common reporting and performance measures across all job training, adult education, Wagner-Peyser, and Vocational Rehabilitation programs.
  • Provides workers and employers with easy access to performance outcome information for past participants and programs so that they can make informed decisions about which programs most likely will meet their needs. 
  • Adjusts performance measurement for areas that serve hard-to-serve populations. 
  • Measures system performance not just on how many individuals are placed into jobs, but also by how many individuals gain recognized postsecondary credentials for employment. 
  • Establishes an additional performance measure for employer satisfaction.
  • Ensures that more individuals receive training by requiring states to designate a portion of funding specifically for training.
  • Authorizes separate funding for infrastructure spending thereby reserving all other funds for worker and employer services.
  • Creates a national WIA identifier so that workers and employers know when they are using WIA funded services.

Promoting Innovation and Promising Practices

  • Codifies the Workforce Innovation Fund, a competitive grant program to support the development and expansion of new and promising strategies including career pathways, sector partnerships and regional approaches.
  • Provides additional capacity and incentives for states and local areas to implement and expand sector initiatives through industry or labor-management partnerships and increases opportunities for collaboration, regional planning, and resource alignment in key growth sectors, such as advanced manufacturing. 
  • Encourages states and businesses to invest in America through the availability of training to quickly provide skilled local workforces.
  • Expands information sharing between the Department of Labor, states and local areas.

Additionally, the legislation expands the role of community colleges in job training; modernizes adult education literacy and workplace skills services programs; and expands opportunities for youth through multiple entry points into the nation's workforce development system.


With respect to modifications to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both proposal expand transition opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities. H.R. 4722, however, includes a much greater emphasis on the creation of competitive integrated employment services and opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including:

  • Establishes competitive integrated employment as the goal for vocational rehabilitation services;
  • Expands services for supported employment and customized employment for individuals with disabilities;
  • Requires states to provide pre-employment transition services for youth with disabilities and establishes national and local transition coordinators to facilitate those services;
  • Increases outreach to employers for hiring individuals with disabilities; and
  • Codifies the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor.

It remains unclear what, if any, discussions are taking place between Committee leadership in the House and Senate regarding a strategy for moving WIA reauthorization through both chambers prior to the end of the calendar year, and this tactical issue is key to understanding the real potential of any legislation moving forward in 2012. More information on these legislative proposals as well as the status of Committee action related to reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act can be found at www.edworkforce.house.gov.




Department of Labor Launches Employment First State Leaders Mentoring Initiative in 2012 - Solicitation Released


After much anticipation, the U.S. Department of Labor has announced the first states to receive grant support under the agency's new Employment First State Leaders Mentoring Program (EFSLMP). In an attempt to provide further support to states interested in implementing Employment First strategies in their states, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office on Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) launched the new initiative to help states through the development of a strategic policy framework, provision of technical assistance from experts in the field, and access to mentors from other states who have already demonstrated success in implementing Employment First strategies in their states. A solicitation was released in mid-January, and 18 states applied.


Three states - Iowa, Oregon, and Tennessee - were selected to enter the initiative as mentee states, each receiving $100,000. In addition to the mentee states, the state of Washington has been offered $100,000 to serve as the first mentor state, providing technical assistance and training to each of the three mentee states based upon Washington's long-established Employment First model. The announcement is contingent upon each state negotiating a formal agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor.


The states that did not receive are invited to join a new Community of Practice designed to complement the EFSLMP. The Community of Practice will enable states to share strategies and resources helpful to advancing the intent of Employment First. More information about the EFSLMP can be obtained at www.dol.gov/odep.

Controversy over Proposed NPRM on Companionship Opens Old Wounds Between Industry, Labor, and Disability


A recent proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to update the companionship rules related to the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure that direct support professionals are paid adequate wages has created a deep divide among the disability advocacy arena. Despite a letter sent by 87 national organizations to the House Education & Workforce Committee leadership in support of DOL's proposed changes dated March 12th, other disability groups continue to assert that the proposed rule could result in unintended consequences for people with disabilities and attendants alike. 


The major concerns expressed thus far are related to the impact that new requirements outlined in the updated rule would have on current arrangements between individuals with significant disabilities and DSPs providing highly personalized supports to help ensure the individual can live independently. New regulations may make such arrangements cost-prohibitive, or force individuals with disabilities to hire multiple workers to help address daily needs as opposed to working with one or two trusted DSPs with whom the individual has already established a long-term relationship. Perhaps the greatest policy concern raised thus far is the lack of alignment between the proposed updates to the companionship rule and the ongoing decline in Medicaid reimbursement rates to pay for such supports. Critics of the rule are concerned that unless state Medicaid reimbursement rates are elevated to reflect changes in federal labor laws, individuals with significant disabilities will be at greater risk of being placed in institutionalized settings.


ADAPT, a national disability rights organization that has opposed the rule moving forward in its current form, has expressed concerns that disability advocates were not meaningfully engaged early on to ensure that updates to the companionship rule would not result in persons with disabilities not being able to access the supports they need to thrive independently. However, the Obama administration did extend the comment period twice and also hosted a meeting of disability leaders at the White House to discuss ongoing concerns about the proposed rule. Additionally, DOL already incorporated proposed changes suggested by some disability advocates to clarify that persons with disabilities who had unique living arrangements with roommates who were also providing some limited direct supports during the day would not be required to pay for sleep hours. And some proponents of the proposed rule have argued that DOL's leadership on this issue may precipitate other important regulatory actions of additional Federal agencies - including the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services - to ensure better reimbursement rates among Medicaid programs that promote the use of supports that ensure optimal independent living and self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities.


The House Education & Workforce Committee recently hosted a hearing on March 26th  to highlight concerns among the home health and nursing home industries about the impact the proposed rule will have on the costs of labor in these industries. Unfortunately, the panel did not include a single individual living with a disability.

President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability


Registration is now open for the next public meeting of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability to be held on Monday, April 9, 2012 from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm at the US Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC. Registration will remain open until March 30 or until capacity.


Visit www.treasury.gov in the days ahead for more details and information about the webcast.

OSERS Announces National Transition Conference on College and Careers for Youth with Disabilities


The 2012 National Transition Conference will take place from May 30-June 1, 2012 in Washington D.C. This conference will bring together partners in the transition community, including young adults and family members. All conference participants will have the opportunity to exchange innovative ideas and approaches; demonstrate knowledge gained from policy implementation, share transition practices and research findings and promote and facilitate the development of networks and relationships in order to promote practice, policy and research that leads to improved employment outcomes and self sufficiency for young people with disabilities.


The Conference will cover the following six theme tracks related to transition policy and practice:

  • Employment
  • Family engagement
  • Partnerships that support successful transitions
  • Program and policy development and implementation
  • Secondary and postsecondary education
  • Youth development

Continued Unemployment Trends Demonstrate Economic Recovery Not Benefitting Citizens with Disabilities


After experiencing the lowest unemployment rate for persons with disabilities in January 2012 since April 2009, the unemployment rate spiked back up to 15.8% in February 2012. Of further interest is that labor participation rate and employment-population ratio for citizens with disabilities were the lowest ever observed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since the agency began capturing monthly employment data on citizens with disabilities in 2008. Clearly, such negative trends imply what most disability advocates have been saying for years - any economic recovery has not translated into any significant workforce opportunities for individuals with disabilities





Feb 2011

Feb 2012

Feb 2011

Feb 2012

% of population in the labor force






Employment-population ratio 






Unemployment Rate





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


Vol: 4 Issue: 3
In This Issue
1. Can the ABLE Act Move Through the Legislative Process in 2012?
2. Lack of Reauthorization Action on WIPA Puts Program in Major Peril
3. Multiple WIA Reauthorization Packages Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives, Spurring Anticipation regarding Potential 2012 Action
4. Department of Labor Launches Employment First State Leaders Mentoring Initiative in 2012 - Solicitation Released
5. Controversy over Proposed NPRM on Companionship Opens Old Wounds Between Industry, Labor, and Disability
6. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability
7. OSERS Announces National Transition Conference on College and Careers for Youth with Disabilities
8. Continued Unemployment Trends Demonstrate Economic Recovery Not Benefitting Citizens with Disabilities

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