Disability Policy News In Brief

December 19, 2016

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December 19, 2016   |   Vol. XV, Issue 103
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AUCD signed onto a letter developed by NDD United, a coalition formed to fight further cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.  The letter urges Members of Congress to ensure adequate funding for programs funded through annual appropriations by providing relief from sequestration cuts that are set to take effect in the coming fiscal year (2018) and to oppose new efforts to cut these programs more deeply. Overall NDD programs, which includes education, employment, housing, transportation and other programs that assist people with disabilities, have been cut dramatically and disproportionately in recent years though experts across the political spectrum agree these programs aren't a driving factor behind our nation's mid- and long-term fiscal challenges. As a result of sequestration and other austerity measures enacted beginning in 2011, the cap on NDD funding in FY 2017 is 13.4 percent below 2010 levels, adjusted for inflation. Without action to stop sequestration, in FY 2018 NDD programs are projected to decline to 3.1 percent of GDP-equal to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

New Appointments

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) will be nominated as the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President-elect Donald Trump's transition team announced on Saturday.  First elected in 2010, Mulvaney is a Tea Party member and a leader of the fiscally conservative House Freedom Caucus.  If confirmed, Mulvaney will help develop the President's Budget.

On December 14, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that he has promoted long-time aide Jonathan Burks to serve as chief of staff. Burks succeeds Capitol Hill veteran Dave Hoppe, who is departing the speaker's office following the holidays to pursue a new opportunity.

On December 15, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Catherine Lhamon to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Lhamon is currently the Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, where she has provided key leadership in achieving educational equity for all students, including those with disabilities. For more information, see AUCD's statement on the nomination.  

Health Care

Health Insurance

Today is the last day to enroll in health care coverage through HealthCare.gov; the deadline extension ends tonight at 11:59pm PST. Enroll today for converge starting on January 1, 2017!

21st Century Cures

On December 13, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The law is a $6.3 billion omnibus health bill that includes $4.8 billion in funding for several major NIH medical research initiatives. It also funds opioid addiction prevention and treatment grants and makes some reforms to FDA regulations. A breakdown of funding includes:


  • $1.8 billion for cancer research via Vice President's National Cancer Moonshot
  • $1.5 billion for the BRAIN Initiative, which seeks to map the human brain in order to help identify treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's & Parkinson's
  • $1.4 billion for the Precision Medicine Initiative, which collects genetic data from 1 million volunteers in order to develop personalized medical care for people with genetic disorders
  • $1 billion to fight the opioid addiction crisis via new state grants for drug abuse prevention & treatment programs


This Act also reforms the administrative structure of SAMHSA in several ways. It transfers the duties of the SAMHSA Administrator to the holder of a new post, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. The Assistant Secretary will be appointed by the HHS Secretary and will be subject to confirmation by the Senate. The bill's administrative reforms also include the creation of a Chief Medical Officer within SAMHSA, who will advise the Assistant Secretary on promoting evidence-based practices.

While AUCD supports the Act's funding of major research into cancer, rare genetic conditions, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and efforts to combat opioid addiction, there are some concerns with that most of the funding will come at the expense of cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Also, Congress will have to approve funding every year as it is not designated as mandatory funding.

Asset Development

Special Needs Trust Fairness Act

Last week President Obama signed the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act into law.  This bill allows people with disabilities to save money in their own name. Before this bill passed, people with disabilities had to depend on others, such as parents or legal guardians, to establish trusts. This bill passed both the house and senate last September but returned to the senate due to differences in house version. The bill was tacked onto the 21st Century Cures Act (see above) that was moving through Congress. The provisions of the law take effect immediately.   

ABLE Programs

Last week, Kentucky launched its ABLE program. The STABLE Kentucky program is exclusively available to Kentucky residents with disabilities and allows qualified individuals with disabilities to save up to $14,000 a year in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for federally-funded means tested benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The funds in the account can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in increasing and/or maintaining his or her health, independence or quality of life.


The Departments of Labor and Education announced the availability of the approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Unified or Combined State Plans at. The public and workforce system stakeholders may view, download, or search the State Plans for information on how states are undertaking the implementation of WIOA.  The search feature provides users a method for searching any or all State plans based on a topic, word or phrase within a section, multiple sections, or the entirety of a State plan, and to compare strategies and practices.

Home and Community Based Services

The regulation issued by the CMS on January 16, 2014 finalized the criteria for HCBS for the purposes of Medicaid funding. As states, providers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders determine a strategy for complying with the settings requirements (during a transition period that ends March 17, 2019) questions have arisen on how to adhere to the individualized nature of service provision for individuals with dementia or other conditions in which unsafe wandering or exit-seeking behavior is exhibited. Released on December 15, this guidance (FAQ Concerning Medicaid Beneficiaries in HCBS who Exhibit Unsafe Wandering or Exit-Seeking Behavior) begins with how regulatory requirements can be met by settings providing HCBS to individuals with such behavior, and concludes with describing some options for HCBS stakeholder education and consideration.

Initial Approvals

Within the last month, several state plans have received initial approval: North Dakota - November 1,  Oregon - November 2, South Carolina - November 3, Washington State - November 3, Arkansas - November 7, Indiana - November 8, Virginia, December 9. This initial approval notifies the state that public comment, input and summary requirements are met, the STP is sufficient, but systemic and/or site-specific assessments are not yet completed. Please visit HCBSAdvocacy.org for information on your particular state.


Samoa, Micronesia and North Korea have become the latest countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Their actions, along with Belarus's ratification of CRPD at the end of November, bring the total number of countries that have ratified the treaty to 172. Twelve countries ratified CRPD this year, the highest number since 2014. Only 21 UN member states have yet to ratify it, including the United States. For more information, contact Siddarth Nagaraj at [email protected].

Public Policy Committee

The Public Policy Committee is hosting a call on Friday, December 23, 2016 at 2pm ET to discuss and exchange information on the new Congress and Administration. AUCD members who are interested in joining the call should contact Christine Grosso at [email protected].

Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All                   

This week's edition of Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All Liz interviews Taylor Carley, the host of Chit Chat with Taylor, where they discuss his video show.  In case you missed last week's episode, Liz interviewed Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser where they discuss the senator's experience as a mom and how that influenced her career as a policymaker. Senator Gelser also addressed AUCD at the annual meeting.


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For more policy news, follow Kim on Twitter at @kmusheno

For definitions of terms used in In Brief, please see AUCD's Glossary of Legislative Terms 

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