SSDI: Time for Action!

A lifeline of financial security for millions of Americans with disabilities, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is currently under attack. Congress must adjust SSDI’s finances by the end of 2016 to prevent a devastating one-fifth across-the-board cut in benefits. Writing in the Journal of Health and Social Work, The Arc’s T.J. Sutcliffe makes the case for how social workers and other professionals in the field can and should support necessary action to strengthen and preserve this vital support for people with disabilities and their families.

Sign up for The Arc’s Capitol Insider weekly e-news and periodic Action Alerts to stay informed on the latest developments and take action to support the SSDI lifeline.

Supreme Court Delivers a Major Victory against Housing Discrimination

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued several landmark decisions for all Americans, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

In a 6-3 opinion in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court held that federal tax subsidies are being provided lawfully in those states that have decided not to run the marketplace exchanges for insurance coverage. This is a huge win for the Affordable Care Act and people with disabilities throughout the country.

Less prominent, but a tremendous victory for civil rights, is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. – a ruling that will support the continued progress of people with disabilities and other minorities toward full inclusion in all aspects of American life.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that housing discrimination is illegal, even if it is not intentional. This decision upholds a longstanding principle under the Fair Housing Act, known as “disparate impact.” By finally settling the question of whether the language of the Fair Housing Act allows for claims based on disparate impact, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does, the decision supports our nation’s progress toward integrated, inclusive communities that foster opportunities for all Americans.

In the case, a fair housing advocacy organization sued the state of Texas, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act for awarding federal tax credits in a way that kept low-income housing out of predominantly white neighborhoods, thereby denying minorities access to affordable housing in communities where they might access better schools and greater economic opportunity. The state was not accused of intentionally excluding African-Americans from predominantly white neighborhoods, but of structuring its tax credit assignments in such a way that they had a discriminatory effect.

At stake in this case was not only the claims brought against the state of Texas, but also whether the key legal protections provided under disparate impact would continue to be available under the Fair Housing Act.

As noted in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act of 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “to eradicate discriminatory practices within a sector of the Nation’s economy.” As amended, today the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of disability, race, national origin, religion, gender, and familial status.

Disparate impact is a legal doctrine that holds that the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws prohibit policies and practices that discriminate, whether or not the policies were motivated by the intent to harm a particular group.

For over 40 years, the disparate impact doctrine has been a key tool protecting the rights of people with disabilities, people of color, and other groups covered by the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws to have equal opportunity to live and work in the communities that that they choose. It has formed the basis for federal regulations and has been used extensively by the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and civil rights organizations to fight housing and employment discrimination across the United States.

The ability to allege disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act has been upheld by 11 federal appeals courts, but the Supreme Court has never before issued an opinion in a fair housing disparate impact case.

Fortunately, a majority of the Supreme Court upheld the disparate impact standard, finding that recognition of disparate impact claims is consistent with the Fair Housing Act’s central purpose.

This week’s decision marks an important milestone in our nation’s path toward integration and inclusion. It’s a major victory that shores up the progress that people with disabilities and civil rights organizations have made over the last four decades, and strengthens our ongoing work to end discrimination in all its forms.

To learn more:

The Arc Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Subsidies to Purchase Health Insurance under the Affordable Care Act

Washington, DC – In its 6-3 King v. Burwell decision, issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court held that federal tax subsidies are being provided lawfully in those states that have decided not to run the marketplace exchanges for insurance coverage. This is a huge win for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and people with disabilities throughout the country.

The case was brought by Virginia plaintiffs alleging that the ACA forbids the federal government from providing subsidies in states that do not have their own exchanges. These exchanges allow individuals without insurance to shop for individual health plans. Some states created their own exchanges, but others allowed the federal government to run them. Approximately 85% of individuals using the exchanges qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage based on their income.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the subsidies to purchase health insurance in the federal exchanges is good news for many Americans, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This challenge could have weakened the law overall, threatening all the protections that people with disabilities gained in the landmark law. This ruling should end the effort to dismantle this law, and instead the focus should be entirely on effective implementation,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The ACA is important to people with disabilities. It expanded coverage and reformed insurance to end discrimination against people with disabilities and enhance access to health care. The private health insurance marketplaces allow individuals or small businesses to shop for coverage and potentially receive subsidies to help offset the cost of insurance. The subsidies are key to ensuring affordable coverage. The health insurance reforms, the protections from high premium increases or out-of-pocket costs, and the coverage of “essential health benefits”, including mental health care and rehabilitative/habilitative services and devices, help assure that people with disabilities have affordable health care that meets their needs.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 665 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc on New Study That Highlights Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities on Supplemental Security Income

This week, the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Housing Task Force released a study, Priced Out in 2014. This publication is released every two years. The 2014 results show that the national average rent for a modestly priced one-bedroom apartment is greater than the entire average Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit for a person with a disability.

Priced Out in 2014 highlights an ongoing barrier to community living for people with disabilities – the lack of accessible, affordable housing. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independently in the community, though as highlighted by Priced Out in 2014, many who rely on SSI face severe obstacles to that opportunity. While progress has been made over the last several years with a new, integrated housing model under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 811 program, our nation still has a long way to go. Having a place to call home is a basic human right. The Arc is advocating for Congress to adequately fund the Section 811 project rental assistance program to help address the housing crisis for people with disabilities.

SSI provides basic income to people with significant and long-term disabilities who have extremely low incomes and savings. According to Priced Out in 2014:

  • In 2014, the average annual income of a single, non-institutionalized adult with a disability receiving SSI was $8,995, about 23% below the federal poverty level for the year.
  • As a national average, a person receiving SSI needed to pay 104% of his or her monthly income in order to rent a modest one-bedroom unit. In four states and the District of Columbia, every single housing market area in the state had one-bedroom rents that exceeded 100% of SSI.
  • In 162 housing market areas across 33 states, one-bedroom rents exceeded 100% of monthly SSI. Rents for modest rental units in 15 of these areas exceeded 150% of SSI.
  • People with disabilities receiving SSI were also priced out of smaller studio/efficiency rental units, which on a national basis cost 90% of SSI. In eight states and in the District of Columbia, the average rent for a studio/efficiency unit exceeded 100% of the income of an SSI recipient.

The full results of the study can be viewed on the TAC website.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 811 Project Rental Assistance (PRA) program is an innovative new model that allows states to effectively target rental assistance to enable people with significant disabilities to live in the community. Section 811 is the only HUD program dedicated to creating inclusive housing for extremely low-income people with severe disabilities, including SSI recipients.

Osteoporosis Prevention

HealthMeetOsteoporosis, a condition where an individual’s bones become increasingly brittle and fragile, is one of the most commonly diagnosed bone diseases in the U.S. However, screening and diagnosis for individuals with disabilities are commonly overlooked. While screening for the general population usually starts later in life around age 65, individuals with disabilities should start being screened much earlier since the risk often comes at an earlier age. Osteoporosis is a secondary condition that can be alleviated (and in some cases prevented) if proper treatment and screening measures are in place.

Osteoporosis usually affects women (especially postmenopausal) more than men.   Women with specific disabilities that impair mobility are even more at risk to developing osteoporosis due to bone loss from immobility. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to osteoporosis are:

  1. Low levels of calcium and vitamin D
  2. Smoking
  3. High levels of alcohol use
  4. Inactivity
  5. Small bone structure
  6. Frequent use of steroid treatments

Through the HealthMeet project we have found that the rate of falls for individuals with disabilities was 3 times higher than the rate for the general population. Falling can be particularly dangerous for an individual with osteoporosis, which can easily cause fractures and breaks that can lead to increased mobility issues and extensive hospital fees. Making sure homes and organizations are set up to prevent falls will help to decrease the initial risk of falling.

Some steps to take to help prevent osteoporosis are:

  1. Exercise – especially weight bearing exercises to help build bone density
  2. Limit alcohol intake and avoid smoking
  3. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D – Ask your doctor if you should be taking calcium or vitamin D supplements

Screening for osteoporosis can be difficult due to the tests that are required for diagnosis. Individuals with disabilities may not be able to sit in the required position to obtain x-rays or may have a hard time lying still for the amount of time required for the tests. Primary care physicians need to be educated to screening alternatives such as ultrasound, and the importance of prioritizing prevention methods for individuals with disabilities.

Check out The Arc’s HealthMeet page for more information relating to health and wellness.

Relias Learning and The Arc Announce New Partnership to Benefit State and Local Chapters Nationwide

Washington, DCRelias Learning, the leader in online training and compliance solutions for the healthcare market, announced today that it is partnering with The Arc, the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families.

Relias Learning will offer Chapters of The Arc specialized rates on its Intellectual and Developmental Disability Training Library, which contains over 200 courses designed to improve competency and performance in community-based support, positive behavior support, autism support, customized employment, health and safety, and more. Relias Learning’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Autism Library provides courses approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) for continuing education needs for Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and to meet training requirements for the RBT certification.

“We are honored to announce our partnership with The Arc,” said Jim Triandiflou, CEO of Relias Learning. “Relias Learning is dedicated to providing tools necessary to build competencies and confidence in the Direct Support Workforce supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Delivering quality care begins with a skilled and trained workforce. Partnering with The Arc will put training in the hands of more people nationwide and help us to continue developing and delivering the best programs available.”

“Relias Learning has been a longtime friend to The Arc and we are thrilled to be entering into this partnership. This agreement will enable more members of The Arc’s network to utilize all of the high quality materials that Relias Learning has to offer. Continuing education courses, like the ones available, are essential to making sure employees are on the cutting edge of their respective fields. Working together The Arc and Relias Learning will be able to better serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and improve outcomes for them and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In addition to online training libraries, courses are offered through an individual course-by course purchase option via www.academy.reliaslearning.com.

Through the new partnership, The Arc member chapters are eligible for exclusive discounts on learning management library subscriptions and Relias Academy courses.

The Arc Applauds Introduction of SSI Restoration Act

Washington, DC – The Arc applauds today’s introduction of the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act (SSI Restoration Act) by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“The SSI Restoration Act will bring welcome relief to the millions of Americans with disabilities and seniors who look to SSI as a lifeline that protects against extreme poverty. Unfortunately, key standards that affect important areas such as how much a SSI beneficiary can save or earn have not changed in decades. The SSI Restoration Act will bring these standards up to date to better reflect the program’s original intent and strengthen SSI for extremely low income people with disabilities and seniors,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer, Public Policy, The Arc.

The SSI Restoration Act would update the SSI resource limits, to $10,000 for an individual or $15,000 for a couple – the amount they would be today if adjusted for inflation since 1989, the last time the resource limits were updated. The bill would also update the general income disregard (to $112 per month) and the earned income disregard (to $364 per month) to the amounts they would be today if adjusted for inflation since 1972, the last time they were updated. Finally, the bill would repeal the in-kind support and maintenance provision and repeal the SSI transfer penalty.

For more information, read the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2015 Policy Brief and SSI FAQs.

The Arc Launches TalentScout – Guide for Employers on How to Successfully Employ People with Autism

TalentScoutWashington, DC – One in 68 children today are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).  The unemployment rate of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including ASDs, is 85 percent.  This appalling statistic coupled with the increase in prevalence of kids being diagnosed demands action from all sectors of our economy to ensure that people with ASDs are finding appropriate employment at a fair wage, and retaining that job with the proper supports to be successful and have a career of their choosing, just like people without disabilities.
With nearly 65 years of experience working with and serving people with I/DD, including autism, The Arc is launching an exciting new resource called TalentScout for employers to unlock the talents of people with autism in the workplace.  TalentScout is a first of its kind resource toolkit that gives employers essential insight and tools that harnesses their employees with autism fullest potential and leads to higher levels of productivity in the workplace.

“People with autism have a lot to contribute in all aspects of our society.  In the workplace, their individual unique talents need to be maximized to benefit both the goals of their employer, and their personal desire to have and keep a job that adds meaning to their life.  Far too many people with autism are left on the sidelines of our workforce, and entities that have recognized the benefits of hiring someone with autism are reaping the rewards.  Whether it’s the loyalty that someone with a disability may bring to their employer, or their unique skill set that gets the job done, people with autism are ready for hire,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

TalentScout is a valuable resource for government agencies that are working to implement President Obama’s initiative (EO 13548) to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government workforce, and for federal government contractors who need to bring their companies in compliance with the new 503 regulations on employment of people with disabilities.  These new regulations require federal contractors to conduct targeted outreach to the disability community, establish a 7% workforce utilization goal; implement data collection mechanisms to measure effectiveness of affirmative action, provide invitation to applicants and existing employees to voluntarily self-identify, and to perform an annual evaluation to measure outcomes.

The Arc is providing a unique resource for employers in that TalentScout’s content has been vetted by people with autism, and it includes their first-hand accounts and insights as job applicants and employees. It is backed by the years of nationwide experience of The Arc’s vast chapter network, and by Autism Now: National Autism Resource and Information Center.

“TalentScout is an extremely valuable guide. This sets the bar high for employers,” Jose Velasco, SAP, Head, Autism at Work Program.

“The personal stories and insights took this document to another level,” Kristie King, Comcast/NBC Universal, Manager, Diversity Recruitment.

TalentScout is one component of TheArc@Work, which is leading the way in developing innovative workforce solutions for the government and private sector by connecting employers with talented employees with I/DD and supporting the recruitment, on-boarding, and retention process.

Building Financial Literacy and Building Acceptance

In April, we mark both Autism Acceptance Month and National Financial Literacy Month. Since we celebrate them together, let’s focus on how increasing financial literacy promotes acceptance and inclusion of people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Economic self-sufficiency is one of the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), along with equality of opportunity, full participation, and independent living. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the ADA in July, we still have a long way to go to achieve the goal of economic self-sufficiency. Nearly one in three people with disabilities age 18 to 64 lives in poverty, more than twice the rate of working age people with no disability (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2014). Correcting that financial disparity will require a lot of hard work on many fronts.

One step that we can take in our communities is to make training available to increase financial literacy of people with disabilities and their family members. As a part of its Real Economic Impact Network, the National Disability Institute has created the Financial Education Toolkit that includes an array of tools and resources to promote financial literacy education. These tools teach core concepts in areas such as understanding what money is, budgeting and spending responsibly, and establishing and working towards financial goals.

As we improve financial literacy, we also need to work with people with I/DD and their family members to put those concepts to work in a way that improves their individual financial situations. The Center for Future Planning provides critical information that people with I/DD and their families can use to stabilize their financial situations now and to plan for the future.  The Center provides families with resources on what public benefits are available and how to organize private funds in Special Needs Trusts and ABLE Accounts without putting public benefits at risk. ABLE accounts are not yet available, but we expect they will be soon in many states.

To participate in all aspects of community life, people with I/DD need financial resources. Even as April comes to an end, it’s important to continue developing ways to help people with I/DD and their families develop financial skills and build financial resources. Moving towards economic self-sufficiency is moving towards acceptance.

Learn How HealthMeet® is Promoting Healthy Lives!

In 2012, The Arc launched the HealthMeet® project because we believe people with intellectual disabilities (ID) should have access to high quality, comprehensive, and affordable health care. HealthMeet® offers free community-based health assessments to people with ID at selected chapters in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Over 1,500 people have been assessed through the HealthMeet initiative and 9 percent of those participants reported to have an autism spectrum disorder. At The Arc, we believe that Autism Acceptance is promoting healthy lifestyles.

Overall, HealthMeet® has been a positive experience for participants and chapters of The Arc involved in the project. The health assessments provide an opportunity for participants to be assessed in the areas of vital signs and body composition, respiratory health, vision, hearing, oral health, and foot and mobility issues. Participants also feel empowered to take charge of their health by engaging in dialogue with health assessors about the status of their health and recommendations for follow-up care. As Erika Hagensen of The Arc of North Carolina has noted “health is not a taboo topic, it’s an empowering topic.”

The chapters of The Arc involved in HealthMeet® have leveraged community resources and developed partnerships with local entities such as public health departments, nursing schools, and medical schools. HealthMeet® has also been a learning experience for many of the healthcare professionals that conduct the health assessments because they now feel more equipped to serve people with ID. Through HealthMeet®, healthcare providers have developed better communication skills that will ultimately help them serve the participant’s healthcare needs.

To learn more about how The Arc is increasing health opportunities for people with ID view this video:

If you are a healthcare provider, national organization of healthcare providers, caregiver, chapter of The Arc, or service provider (not affiliated with The Arc), we ask that you join our effort to increase your knowledge of the I/DD community and serve people with I/DD. Learn more by viewing this video:

HealthMeet aims to reduce health disparities experienced by people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) so they can live a longer and healthier life. Through free health assessments and training, HealthMeet helps people with I/DD learn about their health needs. HealthMeet also offers training to improve public, health professional, and caregiver awareness of health issues faced by people with I/DD. HealthMeet is supported through at $1 million cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on the HealthMeet project, contact Jennifer Sladen at sladen@thearc.org.