Disability Policy News In Brief

August 7, 2017

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August 7, 2017   |   Vol. XV, Issue 134
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Congressional Schedule

The House and Senate left D.C. last week with most lawmakers not expected to return to Washington until after Labor Day. The Senate continues in "pro-forma" throughout the August recess to prevent new appointments being made without approval.


With both chambers on recess until September 5, there are few legislative days to pass all 12 annual spending bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2017. So far, only four bills have passed the House. None have passed in the Senate.  House leaders are discussing another omnibus bill encompassing the eight remaining bills.  However, the bills, as written by the House are unlikely to pass in the Senate given that the bills break the statutory discretionary caps and contain other controversial items, such as funding for a border wall to Mexico.  AUCD is meeting with key Senate staff to ensure that any final bills support AUCD priorities.

In addition to the deadline to finish funding bills, the Congress will also need to vote to raise the debt ceiling.  AUCD is concerned that given the extreme partisan battles of late, that the debt ceiling could be used to extract extreme spending cuts sought by some in the House Freedom Caucus and others.  If the debt ceiling is not raised, the United States could default on its loans, leading to higher interest charges and other very serious outcomes that will affect the overall federal budget for years to come. See the NYT  and Forbes articles for more detailed explanations.

New Appointments


On August 2, a number of nomination hearings and votes were held by the Senate HELP Committee. Among those confirmed was Lance Robertson (longtime member of the Aging Network) as Assistant Secretary on Aging and Administration for Community Living Administrator (see opening statement here).

Health Care/CHIP

Last week, Chairman Orrin Hatch announced that the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing in September on reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This is a pretty tight timeline, considering that the program has to be renewed by Sept. 30 before the funding expires. The reauthorization of CHIP is one example of an urgent health care priority that received little attention during the failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, it will have just a month to renew the funding for a program that covers more than 8 million low-income children.


EdWeek reported that Florida, Kentucky, and New Jersey have submitted waivers to achieve flexibility on testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). New Jersey's waiver request states, "Since so many New Jersey middle school students have been successful in advanced-level mathematics coursework, it is in the best interest of students to administer end-of-course mathematics assessments that align with students' coursework rather than the grade-level exam". Florida waiver request states something similar, in addition to including science tests, and also asking for flexibility on how it tests English-language learners. Kentucky is seeking a waiver of an ESSA provision that caps at one percent the number of students with disabilities that states can test on alternate assessments.

In related news, Secretary DeVos recently changed the way the department will be reviewing ESSA plans. Instead of sending written feedback letters and making them public, department officials will first conduct two-hour phone calls with states about their ESSA plans. This means the department can make agreements regarding ESSA without public knowledge.  In response to this change, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) wrote a letter of concern to the Secretary, stating "We are deeply concerned that this decision will result in inconsistent treatment of state agencies, leading to flawed implementation of our nation's education law and harm to our nation's most vulnerable students."

So far, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have turned in ESSA plans. Nine have gotten feedback. And one state-Delaware-has been officially approved. The rest of the states will submit their ESSA visions later this fall.

Asset Development

Special Needs Trust

On August 2, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a State Medicaid Director Letter (SMDL # 17-001) on the 21st Century Cures Act: Special Needs Trust. Section 5007 of the Cures Act supports the independence of individuals with disabilities by permitting them to set up a special needs trust on their own behalf, rather than having to rely on a third party to do so. Special needs trusts generally permit individuals living with disabilities who are under age 65 to set aside assets to meet their needs without impacting their eligibility for Medicaid. This letter provides guidance to states on the implications of section 5007 of the Cures Act, entitled "Fairness in Medicaid Supplemental Needs Trusts," for individuals who have disabilities.

Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All

In this week's edition of Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All, Liz talks to Heather Sachs, Senior Advisor for the National ABLE resource Center, about the ABLE Resource Center's month-long campaign to increase the knowledge about opening ABLE accounts. In case you missed last week, Liz interviewed Rebecca Vallas, who is the managing director at the Center for American Progress about the President's budget and the implications of budget cuts on people with disabilities.


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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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