Disability Policy News In Brief

December 11, 2017

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December 11, 2017   |   Vol. XV, Issue 152
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On December 7, Congress approved a two-week stopgap spending bill (HJ Res 123) one day before a deadline to avoid a government shutdown. The House approved the stopgap measure by a vote of 235 to 193 and the Senate gave its approval by a vote of 81 to 14. The bill, which the House and Senate passed in quick succession, maintains current federal spending levels for two weeks (through December 22), and includes a temporary provision to ensure that states can continue to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Congress is expected to pass another short-term bill following December 22 so that appropriators can craft a comprehensive bipartisan spending package to keep federal agencies funded through the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.

Democrats are pushing for several important issues to be resolved in the next spending bill: a legislative fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, funding for the opioid crisis, relief for communities affected by recent natural disasters, reauthorizing the CHIP program, and continued parity between defense and nondefense spending caps. Some Republicans share the Democrats' sense of urgency, as well. In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan this week, more than 30 House Republicans expressed support for passing a legislative solution on DACA by the year's end.


Last week, the Senate voted to approve a motion to send the legislation to conference with the House, where Members from both chambers will work to reconcile the differences between their separate tax bills (see comparison of House and Senate tax bills by CQ and JCT). Each chamber then nominated "conferees" to reconcile the difference and put together a hybrid of the two tax bills. Tax conferees will meet Wednesday to negotiate a common proposal. Conferees include:

Senate Conferees:

  • Republicans: Hatch (UT), Enzi (WY), Murkowski (AK), Cornyn (TX), Thune (SD), Portman (OH), Scott (SC), and Toomey (PA) 
  • Democrats: Wyden (OR), Sanders (VT), Murray (WA), Cantwell (WA), Stabenow (MI), Menendez (NJ), and Carper (DE)

House Conferees:

  • Republicans: Brady (TX-8), Roskam (IL-6th), Nunes (CA-22nd), Black (TN-6th)), Noem (SD-at large), Bishop (UT-1st), Young (IA-3rd), Upton (MI-6th), and Shimkus (IL-15th)
  • Democrats: Neal (MA-1st), Levin (MI-9th), Doggett (TX-35th), Grijalva (AZ-3rd), and Castor (FL-14th)

Both the House and the Senate have to pass the conference report for it to be sent to the President, which is anticipated prior to the December 22 holiday break.

While neither bill directly cuts Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security or other programs like vocational rehabilitation, Head Start and housing supports, they drastically cut the revenue necessary to fund programs that people with disabilities rely on to live and work in the community. Many Members of Congress have recently said that cutting these programs is the necessary course of action. Stakeholders should continue to education their Members of Congress on the importance of these programs for people with disabilities. See AUCD action alert for ways to contact your Member.

 A "fix" for repeal of Individual Mandate

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said he expects House Republicans to support the Senate bill's provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual mandate provision. If passed, this could have long-term ramifications for state Medicaid programs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, over 5 million low-income people would lose insurance if the individual mandate penalty is repealed. In particular, as explained by Jeff Myers (president of Medicaid Health Plans of America, which represents Medicaid managed care organizations), it may affect low-income individuals who make slightly too much to qualify for Medicaid under the health care law's expansion but who receive tax credits that cover most or all of the cost of buying exchange coverage.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that two proposals to help mitigate the impact of this potential repeal: 1) legislation introduced by Senators Alexander and Murray, the Bipartisan Healthcare Stabilization Act that funds the ACA cost-sharing reduction subsidies for the next two years; and 2) the Collins-Nelson bill, which provides $2.25 billion in federal funding for state reinsurance programs, would be attached to "must-pass legislation this year" - a promise that helped earn Senator Collins' vote for the tax bill. However, some sources indicate that this may be a promise Leader McConnell cannot deliver.  Others indicate that Senator Collins received a commitment from the President to support the bills, which could help get them to passage. It is hoped that these bills would make up for the premium increases caused by repealing ACA's individual mandate. Some experts have disputed that argument, saying more funding than what is proposed would be needed to make up for the devastating impact of repealing the mandate.

Tuition Waivers

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions is leading a letter to House and Senate leadership to oppose the House provision in the HR 1 that would repeal the income exclusion for graduate student tuition waivers in the tax reform conference negotiations. He is seeking sign-ons from House and Senate members. View letter here.

Tax Cuts - ABLE Act Impact

The CCD Task Force on Financial Security submitted a letter of concern to House and Senate Conference Committee Members expressing opposition to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), which would create additional administrative burden for ABLE program administrators and people with disabilities. The current Senate tax bill removes ABLE program administrators' obligation to collect the Tax Identification Number (TIN) of contributors to ABLE accounts. This change would make it harder to return funds if an excess contribution was made, placing a greater burden on ABLE account owners. Any excess funds contributed to an ABLE Account will not be protected by the ABLE Act under the tax bill, which would adversely affect the account holders' eligibility for many vital benefits. The tax bill would also allow anyone to contribute funds above the annual ABLE cap, which would create major administrative problems and make account owners even more vulnerable financially as they are forced to assume a greater tax burden in the future.

ABLE Age Adjustment Act

The CCD Task Force on Financial Security also issued a letter to Congressional leaders requesting that they pass the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (H.R. 1894/S. 817) before or concurrently with any other legislation that affects the benefits within the ABLE program. The leaders of CCD urge Congress to ensure that any ABLE-related legislation includes a meaningful increase to the age requirement within the law's eligibility criteria. Currently, the ABLE age requirement is 26, and the ABLE Age Adjustment Act would lift it to 46. This would enable more individuals with disabilities to cover disability-related expenses through tax advantaged saving accounts created through the original ABLE Act. The letter was sent to Democratic and Republican leaders in House and Senate, as well as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee.


HEA Reauthorization - PROSPER Act

On December 12 the Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), will mark up the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R. 4508). Introduced by Chairwoman Foxx (R-NC) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), the legislation aims to "bring reforms to support students in completing an affordable postsecondary education" (see last week's edition of In Brief). AUCD sent a letter to committee leadership expressing concerns based on the current version of the bill and signed onto a CCD letter addressing similar concerns. AUCD also sent a letter to Ranking Member Bobby Scott in support of the Improve Access to Higher Education amendment to H.R. 4058.

See CCD principles and recommendations for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which AUCD supports.

Social Security

Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries

On December 7, the National Disability Rights Network (which is the national office for the state-based Protection and Advocacy agencies and part of the DD Network) announced that a new bill was introduced in Congress that "protects people with disabilities from financial exploitation, abuse and neglect." H.R. 4547, the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2017, introduced by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member John B. Larson (D-CT), aims to change the representative payee program to strengthen oversight and beneficiary protections, while improving payee selection and quality. The proposed legislation would specifically authorize P&A agencies to monitor how representative payees are administering the Social Security funds received by beneficiaries. See fact sheet on the bill; part one Committee hearing on "who needs help"; part two Committee hearing on "who provides help". AUCD will continue to monitor this bill.


Finance Committee

On December 7, the Senate Finance Committee (Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah) recommended to the full Senate the nomination of Kevin McAleenan to be commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.


HELP Committee

On December 13, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.) will consider the nominations of Kenneth Marcus to be assistant Education secretary for civil rights; Johnny Collett to be assistant Education secretary for special education and rehabilitative services; Scott Mugno to be an assistant Labor secretary; and William Beach to be commissioner of labor statistics in the Labor Department.


Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All

In this week's edition of Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All, Liz interviews Amina Shaaban (ADA fellow from Tanzania) about her work in Tanzania with the Save the Children. In case you missed last week, Liz interviewed Senator Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire about her agenda for this Congress. (Please note this interview was filmed November 29th, 2017. The 'Tax Cuts and Job Act' bill, which is referred to by Senator Hassan, was passed by the Senate on December 2nd, 2017).



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

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