AUCD Legislative News InBrief

May 27, 2008

Congressional Schedule

Congress is on Memorial Day recess this week and will return on June 2.  The week before the break saw a lot of activity as Congress tries to finish its work with very few legislative working days left in Congress. This flurry included Senate passage of its war supplemental bill; an agreement on the congressional Budget Resolution; and a new tax bill that includes an important AmeriCorps provision (see more below). In spite of the rush, many Members of Congress temporarily put aside their work to pay tribute to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a long time champion of disability issues, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  Press reports say that Kennedy will aggressively treat the tumor and continue his duties as Senator.

 

Budget and Appropriations

House and Senate budget negotiators worked out their differences and released a final Budget Resolution for FY 2009 on May 20.  The agreement provides more than $20 billion over the President's proposal for annual domestic spending.  Congressional leaders had hoped to get approval in the full House and Senate before leaving for their week-long Memorial Day recess, but were delayed with work on the farm bill.  Moderate Democrats in the House (known as "Blue Dogs") were holding out for rules that would make it very difficult for tax cuts to pass without being paid for.  With final action expected following the week-long recess, the annual appropriations committees will receive their allocations and can begin marking up the funding bills in June.  AUCD staff will continue to advocate for the strongest possible funding for disability programs as the process moves forward this summer. 

 

AUCD prepared a Memorial Day Recess Action Alert on family support funding.  It urges the House and Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittees to provide increased funding for three key family support programs: 1) National Family Caregiver Support Program; 2) Lifespan Respite Care Act; and 3) Family Support Program within the DD Act.   

 

Medicaid and War Supplemental

Last week the Senate passed its supplemental war appropriations bill.  Like the House, the Senate bill includes an expansion of veteran's education benefits, additional weeks of unemployment insurance, and a moratorium on all seven Medicaid regulations.  Also, similar to the House, the domestic portion of the bill passed by a veto-proof majority.  It passed by a vote of 75-22, with 25 Republican Senators going against veto-threats by the Administration.  The supplemental spending bill will now go back to the House to resolve differences when Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.  Unlike the House, the Senate does not include an offset to pay for the veterans education benefit.  The Senate plan also includes additional funding for domestic programs, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); and it places a moratorium on the Administration's SCHIP Directive issued last August.  The Senate's domestic package is $10 billion above what the President requested and $1 billion over the House's plan. 

 

AmeriCorp/SSI

In a surprise move, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008 (H.R. 6081) was approved without opposition by the House on May 20.  The Senate passed an identical version by unanimous consent on May 22.  The next step is for the President to sign the bill. The HEART Act is targeted to providing tax cuts for members of the military who are receiving combat pay, saving for retirement, or purchasing their own homes.   However, the bill also includes a provision supported by AUCD to exclude AmeriCorps benefits from being counted as income for purposes of eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Under current law, participation in the AmeriCorps VISTA program does not affect an individual's eligibility for SSI or SSDI. However, participation in the AmeriCorps State and National and NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) programs is not currently treated the same way, and some individuals have been directed to repay disability payments because they served in an AmeriCorps program other than VISTA.  This inequity has prevented too many people from participating in national service.  H.R. 6081 takes an important first step by excluding AmeriCorps benefits from being counted as income for SSI eligibility, but still leaves unchanged the SSDI program rules.

 

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

On May 21, President George W. Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act protects all Americans by: Prohibiting insurers in both the group and individual health insurance market from 1) "requesting or requiring" genetic testing of an individual or his family or 2) using genetic information to determine eligibility or establish premiums; and by  Prohibiting employers, including employment agencies and labor organizations, from 1) "requesting or requiring" genetic testing of an individual or his family or 2) using genetic information to make hiring or promotional decisions, or when determining eligibility for training programs.The health insurance provisions of the law will take effect in 12 months and the employment protections will take effect in 18 months.

 

Congressional Briefing on NICHD Research

Last week, AUCD joined with the Friends of the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (FNICHD) to sponsor a Capitol Hill briefing.  The briefing celebrated 45 years of research accomplishments of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental

Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRCs).  Speakers at the briefing included Duane Alexander, MD, Director of NICHD; Jana Monaco, DC LEND Family Faculty, Children's National Medical Center; Pat Levitt, Ph.D., Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development (IDDRC); Steve Warren, PhD, Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies at Kansas University (IDDRC); and Marsha Mailick Seltzer, PhD, Director, Waisman Center (IDDRC) and Vaughan Bascom Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The briefing was well attended by over 90 Hill staff and disability organization representatives.  See AUCD press announcement: http://www.aucd.org/template/news.cfm?news_id=2655&id=16

 

Social Security: Ticket to Work Program

On May 20 the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced, "Improvements to the Ticket to Work Program" Final Rule. According to SSA, the revised regulations expands the number of beneficiaries to include those who are expected to medically improve, increase incentive payments for Employment Networks (ENs), increase the value of the ticket, and better alignment of the Ticket to Work Program, the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program, the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security Program, and other Social Security work incentive initiatives. The Ticket Program is part of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999. The text of the regulations and a summary of the Ticket changes on the AUCD public policy web page.

 

ADA Restoration

Disability community leaders continue to negotiate with business leaders on changes to the ADA Restoration Act that will provide the support necessary to move the bill forward.  The newly negotiated language eliminates a controversial "per se" list of impairments that would automatically be covered and instead includes non-exhaustive language related to "major life activities" and "major body functions" and defines "substantially limits a major life activity" and as meaning "materially restricts", a lower legal burden.  The language has strong language related to "mitigating measures" and clarifies the "regarded as" provisions in existing law.   The new language is still being vetted in the disability community, the business community and on the Hill; however, AUCD supports the negotiations and believes that the compromise language will restore the law to its original intent and have the practical effect of covering thousands of individuals currently not covered because of recent court decisions that have weakened the law. For more information, contact Kim Musheno, kmusheno@aucd.org.

 

Ohio Presidential Election Forum

Last week AUCD sent invitations to all three presidential candidates to the forum on disability issues July 26, 2008 at Veterans Memorial in Columbus, Ohio.   There are currently over 45 co-sponsors of the event at either the $500 or $1500 level.  The deadline for other organizations to become a sponsor is extended until May 30: contact Anne Sommers at AAPD: aapdanne@earthlink.net.