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National Disability Institute's Washington Insider is a monthly newsletter highlighting key federal policy news that impacts the financial futures and economic empowerment of all people with disabilities. The Washington Insider tracks legislative and policy initiatives gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, specifically in the areas of taxation, asset building and economic development.

 

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 June 2012 | Vol. 4, Issue 5
CONTENTS
ABLE Act: Support for Bill Growing
DOL Announces Employment First Mentorship Program
Administration for Community Living Holds Capitol Hill Briefing
NDI's Michael Morris Works with Advocate to Prepare SSA Policy Recommendations
CFED Announces 2012 Assets Learning Conference
 

ABLE Act: Support for Bill Growing

The ABLE Act of 2011 continues to gain cosponsors in the 112th Congress. The list of cosponsors has grown to 181 – 161 in the House and 20 in the Senate.  Many legislative offices have stated that they would like to see a Congressional Budget Office score  – CBO Score – before they sign on to the bill. The CBO score calculates the amount a proposed bill will either increase or decrease federal spending and tax revenues.  The CBO score for the ABLE Act has not yet been made public.

Now is the time for organizations to encourage their grassroots advocates to contact their Representatives and Senators to urge them to support this legislation.  The ABLE Act would create a new subsection (f) of the IRS code Section 529. ABLE accounts follow all the requirements and regulations of a traditional 529 qualified tuition program. The 529 code provides for the tax treatment of ABLE accounts established under State programs for the care of family members with disabilities, and for other purposes. In other words, ABLE accounts would allow individuals and families to plan for the financial future of their child with a disability. ABLE accounts will allow individuals with disabilities and families to save in tax-deferred accounts and to use those funds for education, transportation, housing, employment support, health and wellness, assistive technology, personal care assistance, and other important supports necessary for independence and planning.

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DOL Announces Employment First Mentorship Program

The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) kicked off its Employment First mentorship program by welcoming leaders from the four states chosen to participate in the program’s pilot effort. National Disability Institute’s Executive Director Michael Morris led a presentation on the design of a Federal Employment First strategic framework at the kickoff. ODEP designated Washington State as the mentor state and Iowa, Oregon and Tennessee as “protégé” states. The goal of the mentoring program is to help states align policies, regulations, and funding priorities to encourage a primary outcome of integrated employment for individuals with significant disabilities.

As explained by the Department of Labor, the Employment First approach makes integrated employment the “first option” for employment services for youth and adults with significant disabilities. The goal is to facilitate full inclusion in the workplace and community of people with the most significant disabilities. Integrated employment refers to jobs “held by people with disabilities in typical workplace settings where the majority of employees do not have disabilities and where the workers with disabilities earn at least the minimum wage and are paid directly by the employer.”

Washington was chosen as the mentor state for the project because it implemented the nation’s first Employment First policy in 2006 after many years of study and work. The three “protégé” states have plans to expand their current employment First Policies in various ways. Iowa will study policies and funding mechanisms that emphasize interagency collaboration. Oregon plans to increase the number of high school age youth who transition to integrated employment and decrease the number of adults currently served in facility based employment services.  State leaders in Tennessee intend to increase the use of customized employment strategies by service providers, cultivate a better understanding of and use of work incentives available to individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income, and include a focus on One-Stop Career Centers.

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Administration for Community Living Holds Capitol Hill Briefing

On May 22nd, leaders of the newly-created Administration for Community Living (ACL) held a briefing on Capitol Hill to lay out their vision for the new organization. The panel of speakers included Kathy Greenlee, Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging, Henry Claypool, Principal Deputy Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Disability Policy, Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration for Community Living, and Sharon Lewis, Commissioner, Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Community Living.

The new organization will reunite the Administration on Aging and the Administration for Children and Families, as well as the Office of Disability, under the direction of Administrator Kathy Greenlee. The term “community living” reflects the missions of the three combined organizations. The new administration reflects a partnership between aging and disability, although each function will retain its own unique identity. The ACL aims to reflect the populations it serves and to focus on the issues that each community shares: housing, caregiving and medical needs.

Henry Claypool noted a societal shift occurring toward community living. For many years, there was an  overreliance on long-term care institutions. While some citizens may feel that their needs may be better served in an institutional setting, the trend is moving toward a home-and community-based care model. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 gave a new framework to the lives of people with disabilities, and the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead Decision had major implications for long-term care. Since then, Medicaid Change Grants, the Ticket to Work Program, the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration Program (MFP) have supported citizens with disabilities in achieving greater independence in community-based settings.

ADD Commissioner Sharon Lewis underscored the important point that the ACL will bring together all stakeholder voices: consumer/beneficiaries and older Americans across the country in both policy and service delivery. The most important perspective from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the Administration on Aging is to work across departments to advance a broad agenda in pursuit of community living which encompasses work, life, education and participation in all aspects of community life.

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NDI's Michael Morris Works with Advocate to Prepare SSA Policy Recommendations

A leader of a regional ADA Center asserted that the network of federal programs designed to support individuals with disabilities in their efforts to work are falling short and, “as currently designed keep individuals with disabilities dependent on the system and not employed.”

Speaking at a Social Security Advisory Board panel discussion in Atlanta on May 8, Christy Dunaway, the chair of the Affiliate Leadership Council for the Southeast ADA Center and the Director of Living Independence for Everyone of Mississippi (LIFE), recommended a number of reforms in the Social Security program to “find the right mix of incentives, rewards, alignment, and coordination with other disability support programs and systems that will allow people with disabilities to work and meet their essential health and living needs.”

Even the most innovative programs, she said, such as Work Incentives, Ticket to Work, and funding of benefits planners and advisors, have had disappointing results. This is because overly complex rules and often conflicting information create a fear on the part of participants that they will lose access to health care and thus are reluctant to even attempt to return to work. This is especially problematic because people with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty than their nondisabled peers.

Michael Morris, National Disability Institute’s executive director, worked with Dunaway to develop testimony and policy recommendations that would allow more SSI and SSDI beneficiaries to earn more and move out of total dependence on government benefits. These recommendations include: ensuring that all SSI recipients must have PASS plans that expands goals to include asset building; granting states flexibility to adjust the asset test; raising the asset limit; raising the substantial gainful activity under SSI and SSDI; indexing the asset limit to inflation; exempting certain categories of assets; allowing SSI recipients to set aside funds for future expenses related to their disability; and increasing the level of earnings for SSI recipients to remain eligible for Medicaid waivers.

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CFED Announces 2012 Assets Learning Conference

The 2012 Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) Assets Learning Conference: Ideas Into Action will be held September 19-21, 2012 and the Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC.  Premised on the belief that, with the right tools, all Americans can enter the financial mainstream, the conference will convene more than1,000 assets practitioners, influential policymakers, innovative businesspeople and creative researchers working to make asset poverty a thing of the past. Visit assetsconference.org for more information and to register for the conference.

 

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