More Veggies and Fruits Please!

fruitObesity has been a large problem in our country for several years now, and affects both people with and without intellectual disabilities (ID). Through The Arc’s HealthMeet project, which has conducted health assessments on over 1,000 individuals with ID in its first two years, 35% were in the obese category and 11% were in the extremely obese category.

According to ChooseMyPlate.Gov, half of your meals should be fruits and vegetables. While this sounds easy, many people do not meet these goals in their daily eating habits. Fruits and vegetables provide a lot of vitamins and nutrients—vitamin A, C, potassium, and iron to name a few—that our bodies need daily. They are also naturally low in fat and will help to fill you up without all the additional calories, so feel free to eat as much of them as you’d like! Just be careful about extra toppings that you may add on. For example, make sure not to add an excessive amount of butter or cheese to things like broccoli or brussel sprouts, and use salt sparingly.

Below are a few easy ways to help increase your fruit and vegetable consumption throughout the day.

  1. Smoothies: make them in the morning for breakfast or as an after-dinner treat. You can use a variety of fruit and even add in some vegetables as well. Add a little kale or another green leafy vegetable in a smoothie to help increase nutrients even more.
  2. Fruit/Veggie Appetizers: most people come to the dinner table ready to eat. Have some cut up carrots, peppers and hummus out for individuals to snack on when waiting for dinner. Having some time to snack on the appetize will allow that food to digest in their bodies before dinner and will help to fill them up on healthier options so that they will be less likely to go back for seconds once they have finished their plate. When individuals eat too fast their bodies don’t have time to realize that they are full. Spreading the meal out with a healthy appetize of vegetables in the beginning allows for more time for the body to recognize it’s getting full and send these signals to the brain.
  3. Disguise them!: Add slices of fruits and vegetables to items you wouldn’t usually add them in or just haven’t before. Finely chop zucchini, squash, or eggplant and add to spaghetti sauce – they won’t even notice! Salads and sandwiches can be enriched with slices of apples, grapes, kale, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and more.
  4. Drink them: Fruit juice can be a great way to get easily add in some extra fruits. However, make sure that it is “100% fruit juice” as other juice drinks can use a lot of extra sugars to sweeten and flavor them.

Making sure to offer a variety of fruit and vegetables to choose from will help determine what kind of foods individuals like. Buying fruit fresh is a great idea, but fruit that is frozen or canned will still provide a lot of needed vitamins and may be easier to store and prepare. Make sure canned/frozen fruit doesn’t use any extra sugars or syrups added to preserve it, as that can add a lot of extra calories. Try cooking vegetables in an array of different ways – raw, steamed, baked, grilled, etc. An individual might not like carrots because they are too hard to chew, but if you steam them and make them softer it could be something that they enjoy eating.

Check out The Arc’s HealthMeet webinars for more information about nutrition and eating healthy.

Who Should Be the Trustee of a Special Needs Trust?

By Rebecca A. Hajosy, J.D., Special Needs Alliance

SNA LOGO trademarkedProviding long- term financial support or supplementation to a loved one with disabilities requires careful planning. One commonly used tool is the special needs trust (SNT), created to protect assets, while maintaining eligibility for means-tested government benefits. A critically important part of the trust process is selection of a trustee, who will make decisions regarding the investments, distributions and all other aspects of managing the trust for the benefit of an individual with disabilities.

Of course, the selected trustee should be honest, dependable and organized, but typically, someone is needed to play more than a purely administrative role. Parents should write a separate “letter of intent” to help guide the trustee in understanding how the SNT should enhance their son’s or daughter’s quality of life. It should describe the beneficiary’s goals, needs, routines, and preferences for current and future support. It should also include advice about interacting with, and advocating for, the individual. It’s usually a good idea to choose someone located nearby to facilitate the trustee’s active involvement.

Family members are often chosen for the trustee role, but before making a selection, the following should be factored in:

  • This is a long-term commitment, and the trustee should be willing and able to serve for years to come. If an older relative is being considered, it would be wise to also appoint a younger “successor” trustee so that the trust can be administered without interruption.
  • Government entitlement programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid and HUD Housing, have detailed requirements regarding SNT distributions. The trustee must be familiar with the rules pertaining to the programs in which the beneficiary participates. A wrong move can disqualify them for benefits, result in overpayments or even expose the trustee to legal liability. In order to advocate for the benefits to which the beneficiary is entitled, the trustee must be knowledgeable concerning a wide range of often-changing laws and regulations.
  • The trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the trust’s assets in the best interests of beneficiaries. The trustee should either have investing experience or hire someone who does, since improper handling could, again, lead to legal liability.
  • In some situations, having a family member serve as trustee could change─ and even damage –the individual’s relationship with the beneficiary.
  • Even when a family member serves as trustee, it’s common for them to be paid a fee, given the amount of work involved. Family members usually charge less, though, than corporate trustees, banks, accountants and lawyers.

Due to the complexity of administering an SNT, family members may prefer to act as co-trustees, alongside professionals. While appointing co-trustees has advantages, in most cases, they must agree on all actions to be undertaken, including the signing of checks. This can become burdensome, and even result in gridlock. If a family member acts as sole trustee, they may choose to regularly consult a special needs attorney or financial advisor to supplement their own skills.

Another way to involve family members is to name one or more of them as “trust protector.” In that capacity, while not managing the trust, they can require accountings and investigate actions. They also usually have the authority to remove and appoint trustees.

There’s a lot to consider when managing an SNT, and the degree to which it contributes to an individual’s well-being rests largely with the trustee. Choose carefully.

The Special Needs Alliance (SNA) is a national non-profit comprised of attorneys who assist individuals with special needs, their families and the professionals who serve them. SNA is partnering with The Arc to provide educational resources, build public awareness, and advocate for policies on behalf of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families.

Impact of Poor Vision

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.07.02 PMVision is very important to maintaining the quality of an individual’s life. Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) are more at risk for having issues associated with vision than the general population. Research has shown that individuals with ID are less inclined to to go to routine physician visits for check-ups. The same applies for receiving their biennial eye check-up. Individuals who are at risk or have a history of poor vision in their family should go more frequently for check-ups. Some factors that can affect vision—putting an individual at risk—are: diabetes, high blood pressure, specific medications with side effects to vision, or previous injuries to the eye. Obesity, which often leads to diabetes and high blood pressure, is already a very prominent issue among individuals with ID, putting them in a potential at-risk category.

Individuals who are non-verbal might not to be able to express to their family or caregiver that their vision has changed and that they may now require corrective lenses, which is why it’s so important to continually get check-ups. Individuals may also be used to having poor eyesight and not know that their vision can be corrected to see clearer. So, it’s important to continually go back to the doctor for check-ups to ensure their vision is still accurate. Physicians should have adaptive eye charts that include pictures, shapes, or a rotating “E” (individuals can point to which side the opening is on the E) instead of letters if the individual is not literate or non-verbal.

Correcting poor vision will help individuals to be more independent. They might feel more comfortable going places or doing things on their own where they can now clearly see signs, directions, and other markers around them. It will also help with balance to have a clear view of the floor and things around them, and with depth perception to reduce falls. Being able to see others clearly could even improve their social skills by allowing them to identify people better and feel more comfortable being in social settings around others.

Ensure that individuals you care for receive an eye exam every 2 years. If glasses are required, there are organizations, such as the Lion Club, which help to recycle old prescription eyeglasses and give them out to those that can’t afford them. To learn more about the health of individuals with ID, check out The Arc’s HealthMeet project website.

Happy 80th Birthday Social Security!

This week, The Arc celebrates the 80th anniversary of our nation’s Social Security system.

Signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on August 14, 1935, Social Security improves our lives in so many ways. It provides basic economic security for workers and their families – including children and spouses with disabilities – when a worker retires, dies, or acquires a significant, qualifying disability. It helps people with disabilities who work to enjoy a secure retirement. And it provides access to health insurance through Medicare, enabling many people with disabilities to get the health care they need.

Social Security insures nearly all Americans, or an estimated 165 million workers. Its protections are hard to come by anywhere else: roughly 7 in 10 civilian workers have no long-term disability insurance, half have no private pension, and one in three has no savings set aside for retirement.

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without Social Security. Benefits average just over $40 per day, but lift about 22 million Americans out of poverty. For most beneficiaries, that $40 per day is most or all of what they have to get by. Many people with disabilities tell us that even a small cut in their Social Security benefits would mean facing terrible choices, like whether to take a prescribed medication or buy groceries.

Social Security has never missed a payment since 1935. Workers pay for Social Security, and count on it being there when they and their families need it. The Arc knows how important it is to sustain Social Security’s record of success, and keep our nation’s promise to today’s workers and beneficiaries, and for generations to come.

Over the last year, The Arc has been on the front lines, defending our Social Security lifeline against shocking attacks and speaking out against harmful benefit cuts. We’re fighting to prevent a devastating 20% across-the-board cut in Social Security disability benefits at the end of 2016. And we offer many recommendations for strengthening Social Security so that the system works better for people with disabilities and stays financially strong for decades to come.

Please join us in making sure this vital system is there for people with I/DD and their families!

SSDI: Sustaining Our Lifeline for Decades to Come!

As The Arc celebrates Social Security’s 80th anniversary this August, we kick off the month by marking the 59th anniversary of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Signed into law on August 1, 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, SSDI insures nearly all American workers and their families in the event of life-changing disabilities. Without SSDI, many families with members with significant disabilities – including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – would face financial dire straits and often unthinkable choices.

Our Social Security system has withstood the test of time. But this bedrock of our nation’s economy requires periodic maintenance to remain strong.

Today, our SSDI lifeline stands at great risk. Here are three facts that people with I/DD, their families, and friends need to know about SSDI and the action that Congress must take:

  1. Congress must act by the end of 2016 to prevent a 20% across-the-board cut in SSDI benefits.

Congress from time to time needs to adjust Social Security’s finances to account for population and economic shifts. The need to replenish the Social Security’s Disability Insurance (DI) fund in 2016 to account for long-term trends, such as an older workforce now in its disability-prone years, has been expected for several decades. Without Congressional action, at the end of 2016 the DI fund’s reserves will be depleted, leaving only incoming payroll contributions to pay for benefits. As a result, unless Congress acts, SSDI beneficiaries will face benefit cuts of 20% at the end of 2016.

  1. Two ready, sensible solutions can prevent SSDI benefit cuts: merging Social Security’s trust funds, or ‘reallocation”.

Over the last 5 decades, Congress has repeatedly, on a bipartisan basis, used a simple, commonsense solution to address shortfalls in either of Social Security’s two funds (the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance or OASI fund, and the DI fund). A temporary shift to direct more Social Security revenues to the DI fund – called “reallocation” — will extend the solvency of the DI fund for almost two decades, through 2034. Congress has made similar shifts 11 times in the past, about equally increasing the percentage going into one fund or the other. Reallocation does not require any new taxes. Additionally, the solvency of the overall Social Security system stays the same, with the combined funds remaining fully solvent through 2034.

Another approach – proposed in the One Social Security Act (H.R. 3150) – would merge Social Security’s OASI and DI funds into a single Social Security Trust Fund. This would align Social Security’s finances with the program’s reality: an integrated system of retirement, life, and disability insurance paid for by a single payroll tax. It will eliminate needless crisis points, such as the pending 2016 depletion of the DI fund. And it will better enable Congress to consider the system as a whole to develop responsible ways to strengthen benefits and finances over the long-term, to ensure that Social Security will be there for generations to come.

  1. Congress can secure SSDI’s finances while rejecting harmful approaches.

Unsurprisingly, Americans overwhelmingly support preserving and strengthening Social Security, and oppose benefit cuts. Fortunately, Congress can secure SSDI’s finances while rejecting approaches that would harm people with disabilities and their families.

  • Congress needs to reaffirm the Security in Social Security, and reject short term solutions to the shortfall. Artificial crisis points, such as the one currently faced by the DI fund, cause great alarm for beneficiaries and their families who are forced to live for years with the fear of major cuts to benefits that often mean the difference between financial security and extreme hardship. Short-term patches to the DI fund would force SSDI beneficiaries and their families to live in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty.
  • Congress should reject any proposals that cut eligibility, benefits, or coverage. SSDI benefits average only about $40 per day, making up the majority of income for most beneficiaries and the only source of income for one in three beneficiaries. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could get by if these extremely modest benefits were cut.

As the end of 2016 grows near, Congress must hear from people with I/DD, their families, and friends that we want Congress to sustain our SSDI lifeline for decades to come.

Sign up for The Arc’s Action Alerts and Capitol Insider newsletter to stay up to date and take action. Your voice can make a difference!

Happy Birthday to Two Essential Lifelines!

Millions of Americans with disabilities appreciate the vital contributions of the Medicaid and Medicare programs. They provide access to health care and vital home and community based supports (HCBS). Needless to say, they are essential lifelines for people with disabilities.

As we mark the 50th Anniversary of these important programs we have much to celebrate. Did you know that today for the first time in its history, home and community-based services (HCBS) accounts for a majority of Medicaid long-term services and supports (LTSS) spending? This anniversary gives us the opportunity to celebrate the fact that millions of Americans with disabilities have access health care thanks to Medicare and Medicaid. That’s right, MILLIONS of people. Approximately 9 million low-income seniors and younger people with disabilities are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid, including. These dually eligible beneficiaries have complex and often costly health care needs and rely heavily on these program. The harsh reality is without these lifeline programs, their medical needs would not be met – that alone is a cause to celebrate these essential programs.

For people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) Medicaid and Medicare are especially critical. Nationwide, state and federal Medicaid together provides over 77.7% of the funding for supports and services for people with I/DD. This effective and cost efficient program is essential for people with I/DD, enabling them to live and work in the community.

Medicaid has evolved over the years just as the needs of people with I/DD. We urge Congress and the states to ensure that it can meet the future health and LTSS needs of people with I/DD and other disabilities. Please join The Arc in wishing Medicare and Medicaid a Happy Birthday – cheers to another 50 years of essential supports for people with I/DD across the nation!

Social Security – Attack Averted on Social Security, SSDI, and SSI in Senate Highway Bill

As noted in a statement by Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer for Public Policy, The Arc applauds the Senate, which last week “…listened to the voices of people with disabilities and seniors, and removed a harmful proposal from legislation to reauthorize our nation’s highways, bridges, and public transportation system. The proposal would have partially funded the bill with cuts to Social Security, SSDI, and SSI. Social Security must not become a piggybank to pay for unrelated programs, no matter how important, and beneficiaries cannot afford any cuts to these modest but vital benefits. The Arc will remain vigilant and ready to fight back if any similar proposals arise as Congress continues to debate reauthorization of surface transportation legislation.”

Social Security – One Social Security Act Introduced

Last week, Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and 22 original cosponsors introduced the One Social Security Act (H.R. 3150). The bill would avert a 19% across-the-board cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits at the end of 2016 by merging the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds into a single Trust Fund. This new financial structure would better reflect Social Security’s already unified nature: a single payroll tax currently pays for an interrelated system of Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability benefits, and changes to one part of this system often impact all parts of the system. The Arc supports the One Social Security Act. More information about the bill is available online.

Social Security – 2015 Trustees Report Released

Last week, the Social Security Board of Trustees released “The 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds.” The 2015 report finds that Social Security has large and growing reserves. In 2014 Social Security took in roughly $25 billion more (in total income and interest) than it paid out. Social Security’s reserves were $2.79 trillion at the beginning of 2015, and are projected to grow to $2.86 trillion at the beginning of 2020.  The long-term projections of the 2015 Trustees Report improved slightly from the 2014 Trustees Report, with exhaustion of the combined Trust Funds occurring one year later, in 2034. The 2015 Trustees Report also continues to project that the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund by itself will be able to pay full benefits until the end of 2016, at which point if no action is taken the DI trust fund will be able to pay about 81 percent of scheduled benefits.

Rights – White House and Federal Agencies Host Official ADA Commemoration Events

Last week, the White House held a commemoration in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Obama delivered a speech and noted that while there was certainly reason to celebrate, it is “also a chance to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain.” The President described efforts his administration has undertaken to remove these obstacles, including signing an executive order mandating the U.S. government include more people with disabilities in its workforce and to establish the first special advisor for international disability rights at the State Department. The celebration was attended by several prominent legislators, agency heads, and leaders in the disability community, including former Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Dole (R-KY) , former Congressman Tony Coelho (D-CA), Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House Minority Whip, and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.   View the President’s speech here, read a transcript here, and see the White House ADA anniversary fact sheet here. In addition, a number of federal agencies hosted their own events:

  • The Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Access Board celebrated the event with speeches by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, Senator Bob Dole, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Steny Hoyer. During the celebration, the EEOC and DOJ signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen ADA and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act enforcement efforts by the agencies. Read more about the event here.
  • The Department of Labor held a series of events including a conversation between Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and disability employment champions Senator Tom Harkin and Delaware Governor Jack Markell.   Watch the video here and see the Department’s ADA webpage here.
  • The Department of Education hosted an event that included a speech by Secretary Arne Duncan, a panel discussion, and outdoor demonstrations of accessible programs and resources. Learn more here.

Click here to see a comprehensive listing of all ADA commemorative events throughout the summer.