Family Support – Senate Passes Older Americans Act, Expanding Eligibility for National Family Caregiver Support Program

On July 16, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act (S. 192) passed the Senate without amendment. S. 192 is sponsored by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).   Among many other things, the bill includes a fix to the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) which provides information to caregivers about available services, assistance in accessing services, individual counseling, support groups, caregiver training, respite care, and supplemental services.   S. 192 would extend NFCSP eligibility to older (age 55 and over) caregivers of their adult children (age 19 to 59) with disabilities. The House is expected to take up the measure in the near future.

Family Support – Bills Introduced in Senate and House to Support Caregivers

The bipartisan Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act (S. 1719) was introduced in the Senate on July 8, by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). A companion bill (H.R. 3099) was introduced in the House the following week by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Kathy Castor (D-FL). The Arc supports the RAISE Family Caregivers Act as it would implement the bipartisan recommendation of the federal Commission on Long-Term Care, that Congress require the development of a national strategy to support family caregivers. The bill would create an advisory body to bring together relevant federal agencies and others from the private and public sectors to advise and make recommendations. The advisory body would identify specific actions that government, communities, providers, employers, and others can take to recognize and support family caregivers, and be updated annually

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.

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.

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.”

Employment – Employment First Policy Promoted

The Secretary of the Department of Labor, Tom Perez, partnered with bipartisan gubernatorial leaders to urge Governors and state governments across the country to adopt Employment First policy. Secretary Perez, Governor Jack Markell (D-DE), and Governor Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) shared a letter encouraging all fifty states to focus on the alignment of policies, practices, and funding resources to prioritize competitive integrated employment as the preferred outcome of day and employment services for all individuals with significant disabilities.

The Arc Celebrates the ADA’s 25th Anniversary

On July 26th we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA affirms the rights of citizens with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and services operated by private entities, and telecommunications. It is a wide-ranging law intended to make our society accessible to people with disabilities.

The Arc played a leadership role in the passage of the ADA. Our volunteer leadership, state chapters, local chapters, and public policy staff worked closely with others in the disability community to make the ADA a reality. The bottom line is that the passage of this transformative legislation would not have been possible without the hard work of Congressional leaders and disability advocates, like you! As we celebrate this monumental achievement and the 25 years of implementation of this law, we can’t help but reflect on what the ADA really means to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their loves ones.

To commemorate this special anniversary, we asked members of The Arc’s National Staff to share with us what the ADA means to them. You can read a few of the responses below.

We invite you to visit our social media channels, on Facebook (The Arc US) and Twitter (@TheArcUS) and share with us what the ADA means to you. We want you to be part of the larger conversation so be sure to use the hashtag #ADA25.

“I have been a participant in so many meaningful opportunities.  I attended two very highly respected universities; I have travelled extensively, from Kauai to Istanbul to Moscow.  And I interned and worked for a prestigious corporation on Wall Street.  Each of these experiences has been the product of public policy, for I am an individual with a physical disability. It was through the National Business and Disability Council (NBDC) that I secured a summer internship in New York City.  In light of these life events, is it any surprise that I am totally convinced of the power of ADA to transform lives?” – Taylor Woodard, Paul Marchand Intern, The Arc

“I have the ADA to thank for bringing me to The Arc, and introducing me to what has become a life-long commitment to advocating with and for people with disabilities. About 20 years ago, I was hired to direct an ADA project that created materials for criminal justice professionals about accommodations people with intellectual and developmental disabilities need in order to receive fair treatment in the system. This seed money from the Department of Justice eventually led to the creation of a national center in 2013 (see http://www.thearc.org/NCCJD). It’s frightening to think how the lives of people with disabilities would be different today without the passage of the ADA. It’s equally exciting to dream about what the next 25 years may hold!” – Leigh Ann Davis, Program Manager, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability

“I’ve had the honor of supporting individuals with disabilities and their families since 1978. Back then professionals were taught that we knew best. The idea that a professional would ask a parent, let alone a person with a disability, what they wanted out of life was unheard of. Once the ADA was enacted many professionals were slow to support the paradigm shift from institutionalization to specialized services to full community membership. I’m grateful that my world opened. I count myself as a supporter, listener, and friend.  I’m a follower and not a leader. I join in celebrating the fact that more and more people with intellectual disabilities are living full lives in their communities. However, we still have a very long way to go since so many remain ignored and unfilled. So as we celebrate, let’s not forget the 1980 battle cry from Senator Ted Kennedy, ‘For all those whose cares have been our concerns, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.’” – Karen Wolf-Branigin, Senior Executive Officer, National Initiatives, The Arc

“Having two siblings with I/DD and working as a disability rights attorney, I see the profound value of the ADA in both my personal and professional life. While there is still so much more work that needs to be done to make our systems work better for people with disabilities, much of the progress we have achieved and continue to work towards every day at The Arc and throughout the disability advocacy community would simply not be possible without the vital protections and enforcement mechanisms the ADA provides. I am eager to see what we will achieve over the next 25 years as we continue to use the ADA as a fundamental tool to protect and enforce the civil rights of individuals with disabilities!”- Shira T. Wakschlag, Staff Attorney, The Arc

“The ADA certainly transforms lives, as I can attest to. It has helped me to reach my goals and enabled me to be a trailblazer and set the way for individuals with autism and other developmental or intellectual disabilities. I have had numerous opportunities, one being able to participate in my DD council’s Partners in Policy Making program where I learned how to be a self-advocate and stand up for myself and others. It has also helped me to be employed at one of the most wonderful places to work, The Arc of the U.S.” – Amy Goodman, Director Autism Now, The Arc

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.

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.

House and Senate 2016 Budget Resolutions are an Affront to the Disability Community

The Senate passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Resolution early this morning, following the House’s approval of its own resolution earlier this week. Budget resolutions set the boundaries for federal spending and tax priorities for the fiscal year and the implications are very scary for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families this year.

The House resolution seeks to balance the budget within nine years by cutting $5.5 trillion, while the Senate resolution would balance it in ten years by cutting $5.1 trillion, reflecting differences that could well be resolved in a conference committee. Substantial portions of these cuts come from block granting the Medicaid program (called “flexible state allotments”) and privatizing the Medicare program.   Should a conference agreement pass in both chambers, a process known as budget reconciliation could be triggered to make the proposed changes in the entitlement programs and the tax code alike. This process would likely unravel the social insurance and safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens while simultaneously reducing taxes for those who least need it.

“Bake sales and car washes are simply not an option. Our social insurance and safety net programs require appropriate levels of funding that can only come from the taxes that we pay and from a bipartisan commitment to people with disabilities,” stated Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.   “Most Americans support a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and disability is a bipartisan issue. But the budgets approved in Congress don’t reflect that reality with a ‘cuts only’ approach. Creating even larger wealth inequality in this country through the spending and tax policies promoted in these budgets is an affront to people with I/DD, many of whom are already at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Our government policies should be lifting people up, not pushing them further down.”

To get involved in protecting the rights of people with I/DD, sign up for The Arc’s Action List.