The Arc Responds to Tax Cuts 2.0 Passed by the House of Representatives

Today the House of Representatives passed a tax bill that would permanently extend tax cuts signed into law at the end of last year in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Arc released the following statement in response:

“This is more of the same irresponsible tax legislation we opposed last year. Reducing federal revenue as this bill does will increase the pressure to cut Medicaid and other programs that are critical to the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We are disappointed that the House leadership rushed to pass this bill with no consideration of the individuals with disabilities and others who would be negatively impacted. The Senate is our last line of defense, and we implore Senators to do the right thing and oppose this bill,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy for The Arc.

The Arc Opposes Appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court

Today, The Arc came out in opposition to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court. This opposition is based on Judge Kavanaugh’s record on cases relating to disability and civil rights.

Of particular concern are his decisions on cases involving self-determination of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), education, employment, and his stances on the Affordable Care Act and school choice.

“We did not take lightly the decision to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, but after a thorough analysis of his record, we cannot idly sit by knowing that he has demonstrated a disregard for the impact of his judicial philosophy on the lives of people with disabilities and their families time and time again. Judge Kavanaugh has written several troubling opinions and dissents on cases related to disability rights and The Arc’s constituents, including those pertaining to education, affordable health care, and self-determination.

“Particularly concerning is his opinion in Doe. V. Tarlow, a case where women with intellectual disability who resided in the District of Columbia’s Forest Haven institution brought a class action lawsuit against the District for violating their due process rights. The District, through its developmental disabilities agency, consented to subject them to non-emergency surgical procedures, including abortions and eye surgeries, without even talking to them and their family members. Judge Kavanaugh’s ruling is disturbing in his apparent lack of appreciation for the humanity of individuals with intellectual disability, their basic human rights, and their ability and right to participate in important life decisions even when found legally unable to make decisions by themselves.

“The Arc urges Senators to not confirm Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to our highest court. The Senate should not confirm a Justice to the Supreme Court whose judicial philosophy threatens the autonomy and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

The Arc Responds to the Department of Education’s Rescinding of Affirmative Action Guidance

Last month, the Trump administration rescinded guidance the Department of Education provides to colleges, universities and K-12 schools on how they can use race and ethnic background in admissions decisions to promote diversity. The Arc has released the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s actions:

“This is the latest of a series of moves that shows this Administration’s intentions to chip away at the instruments that have been put in place to increase equity and access to quality education for our country’s most vulnerable populations.

“Two weeks ago, The Department of Education and the Department of Justice delayed by two years a regulation intended to prevent race-based imbalances in pre-school and K-12 education for students with disabilities, a regulation whose delay was opposed by the vast majority of parents, students and administrators who submitted public comments.

“Earlier this year, the Administration also indicated its intent to rescind a guidance package to prevent racial disproportionality in public school discipline. While guidance documents are non-binding practical tools that help school systems follow the law, the Trump Administration’s collective actions make clear that it is scaling back efforts made by previous administrations to encourage diversity in our schools. This is a troubling trend in policymaking that may lead to poorer education outcomes for many Americans with and without disabilities,” said Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy, The Arc.

Labor Department Finalizes Rule Expanding Non-ACA Compliant Association Health Plans

Critical Consumer Protections Missing, Potentially Impacting Affordability of Other Plans

On June 19th, the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a final rule on Association Health Plans (AHPs), finalizing the DOL’s proposed rule released on January 5, 2018. AHPs allow groups of small business to band together and purchase health care plans for their employees. The rule exempts these association plans from some of the requirements of the ACA. It allows plans to be sold that do not provide a minimal level of health care services so they may be cheaper and attract healthier people. This in turn could make the ACA compliant plans more expensive if they have more people who require health care services in their risk pools.  This rule will undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the critical consumer protections the ACA provided to people with disabilities and chronic health conditions.

Before the ACA became law, it was extremely difficult for people with pre-existing conditions to purchase affordable and comprehensive health insurance in the individual and small group market.  Finalizing this rule and other actions by the Administration signal a return to unaffordable and skimpy health insurance and a corresponding increase in the cost of ACA compliant health plans. The following are specific concerns with the AHP final rule:

  • Incomplete Coverage of Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) – These plans would not be subject to the ACA’s requirement to cover all ten categories of EHBs. They could exclude coverage for mental health, substance abuse services, and rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices and other essential health benefits. People with disabilities and chronic health conditions rely on these basic health care services to maintain their health and function.
  • Purchasing Confusion – Unlike other plans, AHPs are not required to adhere to the ACA’s consumer protections. This causes confusion among Americans about which types of plans will cover the services they need. Consumers could unknowingly purchase plans that could leave them underinsured if they become ill or need medical care.
  • Higher Premiums Based on Age and Gender – AHPs cannot charge higher premiums based on health status, but they do allow AHPs to base premiums on age and gender. This means women and older workers could end up saddled with higher out-of-pocket costs.
  • Undermined Risk Pool – AHPs are likely to attract younger, healthier workers away from the individual and small group marketplaces. This skewing of the risk pool will force these marketplace plans to raise premiums on comprehensive plans, increasing costs for people with disabilities and older Americans. It will leave AHP enrollees with bare bones benefit packages that are more likely to fail to meet their needs when needed most.
  • History and Risk of Fraud – AHPs have a history of fraudulent operation in which unauthorized health insurance companies fail to comply with regulation, collect premiums for nonexistent insurance, fail to pay claims, and leave patients with hefty medical bills. AHPs expanded under the final rule could cause a new wave of fraud, leaving people with disabilities vulnerable to ending up uninsured.

The Arc will continue to analyze the impact of health care rulemaking on people with disabilities and chronic health conditions and respond to changes that negatively impact people with disabilities.

#HandsOff Medicaid for this Rockstar Musician

#HandsOff is a series on The Arc Blog. Each month, we feature a story from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

By: Rachna Heizer, Member of The Arc of Northern Virginia

I am the mother of Jake, a 16 year old rockstar musician with autism. The first thing you might notice about Jake is he doesn’t maintain conversations, but he can rock your world onstage. He loves to play his guitar and sing. He performed 44 times last year, and even auditioned on Broadway. When Jake was seven years old, he first picked up a guitar and three days later was playing full songs – we knew he had an amazing ability.

Jake and Rachna

Medicaid is an important part of the fabric of our family. Through Medicaid, Jake has an attendant who comes after school to provide care to him so I can continue my job. Jake and his attendant work together on independent living skills. They practice how to have conversations in the community, how to go places, how to be independent, so the hope would be that someday, when he’s out of our home, he can live independently in the community, access grocery stores, run his errands, and live his life like anyone else.

 

Jake performing on stage

Without Medicaid, I would have to quit my job and it would significantly impact our financial ability to maintain our home. It is a significant support that allows us to help foster Jake’s ability in his music, and provide him a path to the productive world when he is older.

It’s important to say #HandsOffMedicaid because without the supports provided by Medicaid, both my son and I — and many people with disabilities and their families — lose the support and services they need that allows us to stay in our society, gainfully employed and living with dignity amongst everyone — and in Jake’s case, to keep rockin’!

 

The Arc Condemns Family Separations at U.S.-Mexico Border; Calls on Congress to Act

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the forced immigrant family separations that are occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Arc stands with the immigrant community and the many organizations and individuals that have come out in opposition to this abhorrent practice,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The notion of uniformed, federal border protection agents forcibly separating parents from their children is outrageous. Family separations are extremely traumatizing and damaging to children, and none are more affected than children with disabilities, who rely on their loved ones for care, security, and support.”

The practice of forcibly separating children from their parents can cause irreparable harm in a child’s development, resulting in disability. As noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding these forced family separations, “In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

The Arc’s Berns further noted: “The Arc condemns the cruel and inhumane immigration practices which the Trump Administration has stated are being carried out in accordance with existing immigration policies and laws. However, this explanation rings hollow. Nothing in the law requires the children to be ripped away from their families. This is, quite simply, a choice that has been made by the Administration which is both punitive and contrary to basic human decency.

“How many children have already had the protection, security, and love of their parents stripped away, and how many more face the same fate? As a nation founded by immigrants, we and our elected representatives at the state and federal levels should be outraged by this practice. We call upon President Trump to immediately halt these cruel practices, and we call upon Congress to take action to ensure that such Administrative practices are permanently prohibited.”

50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

by T.J. Sutcliffe, Senior Director, Income & Housing Policy

This April we mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act – a powerful law that fights housing discrimination and opens doors for people with disabilities across the U.S.

What is The Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (gender), familial status, and disability. The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that person, a person associated with the buyer or renter, or a person who plans to live in the residence. For example:

  • The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space and common spaces (landlords are not required to pay for the changes).
  • The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities the opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. For example, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to grant an exception for a tenant who uses a service animal.
  • The Fair Housing Act prohibits lenders from imposing different application or qualification criteria on people with disabilities, or inquiring about the nature or severity of a disability (except in limited circumstances).
  • The Fair Housing Act requires that new multifamily housing with 4 or more units be designed and built to allow access for people with disabilities.

Our work to advance fair housing goals continues

It’s been five decades since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. There’s much to celebrate, but also much work to do. People with disabilities want to live in the community in a home that they rent or own. However, far too many find that discrimination limits their options: over half of all Fair Housing Act complaints involve discrimination on the basis of a disability.

Unfortunately, in 2018 the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has delayed implementation of a new rule and tools to help local governments uphold the Fair Housing Act. We’ve also seen proposals in Congress to halt HUD’s implementation of this new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. And just last month, news outlets reported that HUD was considering eliminating references to “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination” from its mission statement.

What can you do?

We must remain vigilant and active to ensure that the Fair Housing Act’s promise continues to advance for the next 50 years, and to fight against rollbacks of this vital law.

Sign up for alerts from The Arc to take action to protect fair housing and more.

If you suspect discrimination, you can file a complaint with HUD online or by calling 800-669-9777, or TTY 800-927-9275. You may also file a lawsuit in court. Contact your local fair housing agency for guidance and help filing a complaint.

 

The Stage is Set for the Next Threats to the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities with President Trump’s Latest Executive Order

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s “Executive Order on Economic Mobility”:

“Over the last year, people with disabilities, their families, and other advocates have fought again and again against overt attacks on access to health care and supports and services that make life in the community possible.

“After failing to decimate Medicaid, this Administration announced this week that it intends to open up a new front in this effort – one that aims right at those most in need, the poorest in our country, who have the most to lose.

“If you read between the lines of this executive order, it is a blueprint for sweeping changes that penalize people who are unemployed, across multiple programs. From Medicaid, to housing, to food assistance and other programs – this will result in new barriers to eligibility and denial of critical services. The call for increased economic opportunity is not backed up with provision of tools for individuals to succeed.

“We fundamentally disagree with the notion in here that some eligible people are more ‘deserving’ of benefits than others. This is also part of a pattern. From an Administration budget request that would have been devastating to people with disabilities, to a state by state effort to cut people off Medicaid, to a tax law that jeopardizes critical programs, we are still in the fight of our lives and remain ready to advocate for the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
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 over 650 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.

Why I Support The Arc of the United States: Autism Acceptance and Inclusion in Action

By: Nicole Jorwic, Chris’ Sister, Director of Rights Policy, The Arc of the United States

Nicole and Chris JorwicMy home state of Illinois still has seven state-run institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) open. In 2018, 37 states still have institutions where people with I/DD live institutional lives away from their families and communities. Some may recall the horrible investigative reports that showed the terrible conditions in institutions, but fail to realize that they still exist — and that state and federal government dollars are still funding them. The Arc of the United States was founded by families like mine trying to eliminate the need for those institutions, and to get their family members with disabilities back home and included in their communities. While we have come a long way, there is still much to do from state capitals to DC.

The families that started The Arc movement were the examples that my parents emulated when they fought to ensure that my brother Chris, who had been diagnosed with autism, was the first student with the diagnosis included in our school district in the early 90’s. The self-advocates — the beating heart of The Arc — are the ones who my brother is following in the footsteps of when he advocates in our state capital for better wages for Direct Support Professionals, or presents at local school districts about how to better support students with autism. The policy staff of The Arc of the United States, who I am honored to call colleagues, have been fighting this fight for decades — some since before my brother was even born.

The legacy of The Arc of the United States was just one part of the reason I was glad to join the team as Director of Rights Policy almost three years ago. But more than that, it was about being a part of a movement that was bigger than any one person, family, or diagnosis. Since January of 2017, I have truly seen the power of that movement. This past year has been a whirlwind. I stood in awe at every rally, event, presentation, hearing and protest, at those who were willing to put their bodies on the line —  screaming, shouting, and sharing their most personal stories about why Medicaid matters in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. With my brother’s permission to share his story, I was sometimes part of that large chorus that ultimately was able to stave off the attacks last fall and SAVE MEDICAID… for now.

The “for now” part is what keeps me up at night. As a family member and advocate, it is also why it is more important than ever that we grow the movement to ensure that the general public understands why inclusion and acceptance matters, and that they join the fight to ensure the progress that we have made in the disability community is not stalled by conversations of “cost savings” and “reductions.” We have to talk about the fact that institutions remain open, and how those dollars would be better spent in the community. We have to educate the general public about what Medicaid is and does. On the policy level, we have to talk to state and federal legislators about the fact that the Federal Medicaid law which we fought so hard to save needs a face lift. Right now, services in institutions, nursing homes, and other more segregated settings are mandatory — while home and community-based services (HCBS) are optional under the law. So, all those billions of dollars of cuts would have cut those community services — while those seven institutions in my home state of Illinois would have stayed open.

These are complex issues, but the basic fact remains that everybody benefits from people with disabilities being part of the fabric of their communities. That doesn’t come by keeping people locked away in institutions, or segregated into different classrooms. It comes through conversation, inclusion, and acceptance that we are all better together.

Since it is also Autism Acceptance month, I also want to talk about my brother Chris and why inclusion and acceptance matters in our lives. You see, it is my brother’s voice that I hear during every tense Capitol Hill meeting, frustrating debate, and late night in the office. This is a little ironic since my brother doesn’t use his voice to speak. Chris types to communicate, and this really only started when he was 21 years old — almost 20 years after he lost his speaking voice. At the time when he started sharing the “20 years of observations and opinions,” my grandpa asked him how he had learned to read and write. And Chris answered with his signature sarcasm, that he “learned to read in his classroom like everyone else”. That is why inclusion matters, that is why acceptance goes light-years beyond awareness. If my parents — like all the parents who started The Arc — hadn’t insisted that Chris be included with his peers, who knows if he would have ever found his ability to communicate. That would have been a loss to our family, our community, and the world.

Chris always says it better than I can. Here is something he wrote: “Every voice matters and deserves to be heard. I would like to say that autism is not a tragedy or a disaster, it is a challenge and I am lucky to have a family that is up to it. I would be happy to talk to political leaders about how they spend our money and why they should talk to leaders like me, who have the experience and history to understand where the money and resources should go and what awareness and acceptance really looks like. And to my brothers and sisters in autism, who have families who see only your diagnosis, I fight for you.”

Chris and I are fighting, and we hope you join our movement today, so that we can continue the fight that started The Arc of the United States over 65 years ago — the fight for acceptance and inclusion in all areas of life for people with disabilities.

Why a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment is Bad for People with Disabilities

Almost everyone agrees that they should have balanced budgets, that is, that they should not spend more money than they take in. It makes perfect sense for individuals, so why not for our federal government?

Actually, there are several reasons why requiring a balanced budget for the federal government would be a very bad idea. For starters, let’s consider the assumption about individuals having balanced budgets.  If this were really the case, we would not be able to get home mortgages, student loans, or finance the purchase of a car. We would not be able to borrow money for such sound investments in our future.  

Requiring a balanced budget makes no more sense for the federal government than it does for individuals. The federal government needs the flexibility to do things like respond to natural disasters, public health epidemics, military threats, demographic changes, and economic downturns, among other things. What appears to be a commonsense approach is actually very bad public policy.

What is a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA)?

Balanced Budget ScaleA balanced budget amendment is a proposed federal constitutional rule requiring that the government not spend more than its income in a given year. Most state constitutions have balanced-budget provisions and most of these make an exception for times of war or national emergency, or allow the legislature to suspend the rule by a supermajority vote. The U.S. Constitution does not require a balanced budget. Some members of Congress are looking to change that by passing legislation to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why is a BBA Harmful?

It will result in cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other large programs. Programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security are a large part of the federal budget. They are projected to grow in the next several years primarily due to the aging of the population. Since these are very popular and critical programs, Congress has been unable to make direct cuts to them and some Members are now looking to try less direct methods, including a BBA. 

Social Security and Medicare are particularly vulnerable to cuts because a BBA prohibits spending from exceeding revenues collected in that year. These programs operate with trust funds that collect dedicated payroll taxes designated for specific programs which are partially paid out in future years to meet projected population needs. For example, in years when Social Security collects more than it pays in benefits and other expenses (which it has done every year since 1984), the Treasury invests the surplus in interest-bearing Treasury bonds and other Treasury securities. These bonds can be redeemed whenever needed to pay benefits. The trust fund balances allow benefits to be paid when the Social Security program’s current income is insufficient by itself. Under a BBA, the $2.9 trillion in Treasury securities held in the Social Security Trust Fund would not be available to help pay benefits to the baby boomers for retirement or disability since almost all of it was collected in prior years.  

It would harm the economy.  A BBA would likely cause significant harm to the economy, making recessions both deeper and longer. In an economic slowdown, revenues (mostly taxes) fall while spending for unemployment and other benefits increases. A BBA would force policymakers to cut federal programs, raise taxes, or both when the economy is weak or already in recession, the exact opposite of what good economic policy would advise, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It is extremely hard to change.  An amendment to the Constitution is a dramatic step that takes a lot of time to enact. Unlike typical legislation, once a constitutional amendment has passed, it is extremely difficult to undo. 

What is Happening in Congress?

There are two BBA bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – H.J. Res 1 and H.J. Res 2 – that Congress may vote on. While both versions are very harmful, H. J. Res 1 is the most drastic one since it essentially prohibits tax increases (by requiring a three-fifths vote in the House and the Senate) and limits spending to 20 percent of the economy (gross domestic product(GDP)). The House may vote on one of these bills as soon as next week.

Key Points for Advocates 

People with disabilities, their families, and advocates can:

  • Speak concretely about how their lives will be upended if the dramatic spending cuts forced by a BBA were to happen. What would happen if Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs were severely cut?
  • Call out the contrast – Question how Members of Congress can call for such drastic action to reduce deficits when they recently voted to add over $1 trillion over 10 years to the nation’s deficits in the tax law enacted on December 20, 2017.  See House votes here and Senate votes here.
  • Share what many leading economists believe – a BBA to the U.S. Constitution is very unsound economic policy. 

For more information, see: