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Monthly Legislative Wrap Up from D.C.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Welcome to AJFCA's new Monthly Legislative Wrap Up Newsletter! While the majority of recent media attention has been focused on the presidential campaigns, much has happened in D.C. since our March newsletter. We are excited to update you on recent policy proposals and provide you with resources we hope will aid your day-to-day work. 

Is there a topic you would like us to touch on? A question about public policy you would like us to try and answer? We would love to hear from you! Please do not hesitate to email AJFCA's Director of Government Affairs, Liz Leibowitz, with any questions, comments, or ideas.
Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act Update - Signed by the President! 
AJFCA and JFNA are thrilled to announce that on April 19, 2016, President Obama signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) Reauthorization Act into law, which includes language related to Holocaust survivors for which both organizations have long advocated. Earlier this month, the Senate passed the House's version of the OAA Reauthorization Act, S.192 (click here to view a copy of JFNA's press release following the Senate's vote). AJFCA and JFNA look forward to working with the Administration on this new Holocaust provision. 

Restroom Access for Transgender Individuals & Recommendations
As you may already be aware, a handful of states have recently passed legislation requiring an individual to use the bathroom that correlates with his or her biological sex, instead of his or her gender identity (i.e. a person's internal sense of being male or female that does not conform with the sex to which they were assigned at birth). While many agencies in the AJFCA community have been leaders on inclusive lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) practices for numerous decades, we realize that some communities may have questions on this issue and how to best accommodate transgender individuals in their facilities. 

Therefore, below you will find a handful of resources on this topic that we have collected and hope you will find helpful. AJFCA has long supported the rights of LGBT individuals and believes that gender identity is a crucial part of each person's identity. Thus, we recommend that transgender individuals should have access to the restroom that matches their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex. We believe doing otherwise is not-in-line with our values. 
Three New Pieces of Legislation to Improve the ABLE Act 
As many of you are probably aware, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law in late 2014. This legislation allows parents or other loved ones of a person with a disability to set aside up to $14,000 a year (with a maximum of $100,000 in the account before eligibility for benefits are effected) for disability related expenses such as medical appointments, home modifications, transportation, or educational needs. After the passage of ABLE at the federal level, many states quickly passed their own ABLE bills to create state ABLE programs.

Three bills, which are supported by JFNA, were recently introduced at the federal level to more effectively enable the ABLE Act to help people with disabilities:
  1. The ABLE Age Adjustment Act (H.R.4813/S.2704) would raise the age limit of the onset of disability from age 26 to age 46 as it relates to an ABLE Act account. At present, a person must have been diagnosed with a disability prior to his or her 26th birthday for an ABLE Act account to be set up on their behalf. This disadvantages many individuals whose disabilities are acquired later in life. 
  2. The ABLE to Work Act (H.R.4795/S.2702) would allow people with disabilities that are employed to make contributions to their own ABLE accounts up to the Federal Poverty Level, which at present is $11,770. This change would be in addition to the general contribution limit of up to $14,000 per year for parents and others that is already authorized by the ABLE Act. 
  3. The ABLE Financial Planning Act (H.R.4794/S.2703) would allow families to transfer money that they had put in a 529 college savings plan for a child with a disability into an ABLE Account (also known as a 529A account), which the ABLE Act currently does not allow. This transfer would still be subject to the same dollar amount limits established in the original law.
These bills allow more people to have ABLE Accounts, provide greater financial flexibility for families, and give people with disabilities a role and sense of ownership in saving for their own futures. We will continue to monitor these bills and provide updates on their progress. 
Senate Passes Bill That Would Help Nonprofits' Energy Efficiencies 
Earlier this week, the Senate approved a bipartisan energy policy measure, the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012). The House passed its own energy reform measure last December, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R.8). Both bills modernize energy infrastructure, bolster the county's energy security, and promote energy efficiency. The Senate bill, however, also includes a new nonprofit energy efficiency retrofit pilot program.

The proposed nonprofit retrofit program would assist hospitals, youth centers, schools, social services agencies, faith-based organizations, and others acquire energy-efficiency products, equipment, or systems to improve their energy efficiencies. Improvements might include the retrofitting of roofs, windows or doors; acquiring lighting, plumbing, heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems; or the acquisition of renewable energy generation systems. The Senate bill would cap grant awards at $200,000 and would authorize appropriations of $10 million, annually, for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2020.

AJFCA and JFNA have a long history of public private partnerships and with working with Congress to promote innovations and efficiencies in nonprofit human service delivery. In this regard, we have advocated for the inclusion of the nonprofit energy retrofit program within the Senate bill. The program, if enacted, could benefit family services agencies, community centers, facilities for older adults, day care facilities, schools, museums, and other Jewish communal institutions, many of which are several decades old and some more than a century. Creating energy efficiencies is vital to ensuring that we maximize the use of philanthropic dollars to best serve the most vulnerable populations and to maintain healthy and vibrant communities.

AJFCA and JFNA look forward to continuing to advocate for the nonprofit retrofit program as the House and Senate work towards adopting a final compromise bill in conference. We look forward to updating you as the process moves forward.

NCBH's Public Policy Institute & The Expand Excellence in Mental Health Act
On June 6-7, the National Council for Behavioral Health will be hosting its annual Public Policy Institute and Capitol Hill Day. This free, two-day event brings together hundreds of behavioral health providers, administrators, board members, consumers and community stakeholders from around the country to learn more about federal behavioral health policy, and to advocate for important mental health legislation.

One of the major advocacy initiatives at the conference will be building additional support for the bipartisan Expand Excellence in Mental Health Act (S.2525/H.R.4567), sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Doris Matsui (D-CA). This legislation builds upon a behavioral health demonstration program first established under the Protecting Access to Medicare Act, which authorized a $1.1 billion federal investment in community-based mental health care.

Based on the model of Federally Qualified Health Clinics that offer primary physical health care, the demonstration program supports the creation of new Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in eight states. These clinics will provide comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment in accordance with national standards, with a special focus on care for those with Serious Mental Illness, Serious Emotional Disturbance, and chronic substance abuse. Last October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $22.9 million in planning grants to twenty-four states interested in this program. The new Expand Excellence in Mental Health Act would authorize the federal government to bring this unique program to all 24 states that applied for the planning grants.

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) supported the original Excellence in Mental Health Act and has also endorsed its expansion. JFNA staff will be participating in the National Council's conference and hill day, and we encourage you to participate as well.