President Bush Signs the HEART Act with National Service Inclusion Provision

June 18, 2008


George S. Jesien, PhD
Former Executive Director
301-588-8252
gjesien@aucd.org

 

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) applauds the United States Congress for passing and the President for signing legislation that will promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in national service. The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008 (H.R. 6081) introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was approved without opposition by the House of Representatives on May 20. The Senate passed H.R. 6081 by unanimous consent on May 22. The President signed the bill into law on June 17, 2008.

The HEART bill includes tax cuts for members of the military who are receiving combat pay, saving for retirement, or purchasing their own homes. It also helps civilian employers of military men and women keep jobs available for soldiers who are called to active duty. 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 or financially burdened those that did. 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. We are committed to working with Congress and the Administration to address the inequity in the program for beneficiaries of SSDI.

"Passage of the legislation regarding the declaration on countable income for SSI will be an incredible boost for the field and the potential for persons with disabilities engaging in volunteer services," stated AUCD President William Kiernan, Director of the Institute for Community Inclusion, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Children's Hospital Boston. "With growing concerns about the transition from school to work for students with disabilities, the options for a voluntary experience as part of the transition process is very important."

AmeriCorps members serve through more than 3,000 nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based and other community organizations, helping meet critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. The variety of service opportunities is almost unlimited. Members may tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, or help communities respond to disasters. AmeriCorps' 540,000 members have provided more than 705 million hours of service. Last year, AmeriCorps members mobilized 1.7 million community volunteers for the organizations they serve. "The strength of America is built on the compassion and love of our citizens. Through countless acts of kindness, AmeriCorps members are making our Nation a stronger, more hopeful place," stated President George W. Bush recently during AmeriCorps Week.

AUCD thanks the Congress for supporting national service and looks forward to the implementation of this legislation.

AUCD, a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports a nationwide network of 122 university-based interdisciplinary centers and programs, is actively working to advance policy and practices for individuals with autism and related disabilities and their families by conducting basic and applied research, providing training to the next generation of educational, health and allied health professionals and providers, and providing exemplary direct services and supports for individuals and their families. AUCD promotes national service opportunities for people with disabilities through the National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP). NSIP is a partnership between the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, AUCD, and the Corporation for National Service to implement a comprehensive program of training, technical assistance, and dissemination designed to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in National Service.

For more information, visit AUCD's website www.aucd.org and select NSIP or contact NSIP staff: Paula Sotnik, 617-287-4343, Paula.Sotnik@umb.edu. See also the White House Press Release: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/06/20080617-9.html.