Legislative News InBrief

October 2, 2006

Kim E. Musheno
Director of Public Policy
[email protected]

Congressional Schedule and Appropriations
The House recessed on Friday and the Senate recessed on Saturday until after the November elections. Congress will have passed only two of the FY 2007 appropriations bills before the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1st - Defense and Homeland Security. The remaining agencies will be funded through a continuing resolution, or short term spending bill, that expires on November 17, 2006. Congress will return after the elections to either finish the remaining appropriations bills or pass another continuing resolution to provide additional time to complete appropriations legislation. The agencies within the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill will be funded at the lowest of the House-passed, Senate-passed or fiscal 2006 levels during the term of the continuing resolution.

Congress rushed scores of bills through the House and Senate floor last week as they tried to wrap up their work and recess until after the November elections. Several bills important to the AUCD network saw movement during the rush. The Older Americans Act was approved by Congress and sent to the President's desk for signature; the final bill to reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program was approved by Congress; the NIH reauthorization bill was approved by the House (but not the Senate); a bill to amend the Stafford Act regarding emergency management was approved; the Higher Education Act was extended; and a bill to restore the Americans with Disabilities Act was introduced but is not expected to be finalized. AUCD is disappointed to report that the Lifespan Respite Care Act and the Combating Autism Act were not finalized before Congress recessed. There is still a small chance that legislation not passed last week could be finalized in the lame duck session but the agenda will depend on the outcome of the elections and the emphasis will likely be on appropriations and other "must-pass" legislation.

Older Americans Act Reauthorization
Early Saturday the Senate gave final clearance to a bill (HR 6197) to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA). The two most contentious aspects of the bill were the Department of Labor's Senior Community Service Program (SCSEP) and the formula used to distribute grants to states. The compromise for the funding formula will guarantee every state a share in increased funding, but every state would be promised at least the amount of money it received in FY 2006. The President is expected to sign the bill into law. Provisions which benefit Americans with disabilities remain in the legislation, most significantly the inclusion of aging caregivers with a child with a disability of any age as eligible for the National Family Caregiver Support Program funds, a program authorized by this legislation. A summary of the bill is currently being prepared.

NIH Reauthorization
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6164 (H.Rept. 109-687), the National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006, by a vote of 414-2 under suspension of the rules. Reps. Markey (D-MA) and Jackson (D-IL) voted against the bill. If enacted, the bill would: authorize a five percent annual increase in NIH's budget for fiscal years 2007-2009; launch a new, agency-wide electronic reporting system to catalogue all of the research activities of the NIH in a standard format; limit the overall size of the NIH to the current 27 institutes and centers; set up a "common fund" to support particularly promising research that cuts across multiple institutes or centers (the common fund is capped at five percent of the overall NIH budget); and create a Scientific Management Review Group, composed of institute and center directors and other experts, to evaluate NIH's structural organization at least once every seven years and propose any restructuring plans it deems necessary. AUCD has not taken a position on the House bill but is concerned that the common fund could lead to a reduction of funding for individual institutes like NICHD. AUCD is also concerned that the 5% cap on the annual increases, without taking into consideration medical inflation, would result in insufficient funding. Sen. Enzi (R-WY), Chairman of the HELP Committee with jurisdiction over the bill, has not indicated his intention to take up the bill before the end of this Congress.

Emergency Management and Disabilities
A huge $34.8 billion FY07 funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security (HR 5441) approved last week contains provisions supported by AUCD and CCD that aim to address the needs of people with disabilities in emergency management and preparedness. The "Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Bill" amends the Stafford Act to authorize a disability coordinator position specific to emergency preparedness at the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Other disability provisions in the bill include language ensuring the inclusion of people with disabilities in every phase of emergency management activities at all levels of government; post-disaster case management services; requirements for accessible temporary and replacement housing; and non-discrimination in services on the basis of disability. The amendments to the Stafford Act, CCD's letter to Congress regarding the disability provisions, and talking points are available on AUCD's legislative affairs website.

Higher Education Act
The Senate passed a bill (HR 6138) on Friday to extend programs authorized under the Higher Education Act until June 2007. The House passed the bill on Wednesday. This action basically pushes the reauthorization to the next Congress. The reauthorization had been stalled in the Senate where Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) had threatened to offer amendments to repeal some of the student loan changes that were enacted in the Deficit Reduction Act.

Child Abuse Prevention
The House passed a bill (S. 3525) on Thursday, supported by AUCD, to reauthorize the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, which provides states with $345 million per year in mandatory spending to prevent and address child abuse and neglect. It also reauthorizes the Child Welfare Services program, which provides about $325 million to states each year to administer their child-protection agencies. The bill represents a compromise between House sponsors who wanted to dedicate an additional $40 million to decrease caseloads for social workers and senate sponsors who wanted to help children whose parents abuse methamphetamine. Although money will now go to both causes, anti-meth efforts will get more than foster care. The President is expected to sign the measure.

ADA Restoration
House Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill in the House on Friday to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Hoyer (D-MD) and Conyers (D-MI). The ADA protects the civil rights of people with disabilities to receive equal access to employment, public services (state and local government including public school districts and public transportation), public accommodations and services operated by private entities and telecommunications. Since the ADA was first enacted in 1991, advocates have seen decisions in the courts erode protections and weaken the definition of disability. As a result, there has been a push to "restore" the Act to the original intent of the disability advocacy community and Congress. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Rights Task Force has been advocating for this restoration of the ADA. Judiciary committee staff agreed to the inclusion of the major recommendations by the disability community; however, this sudden move to introduce a bill the day before recess came as a surprise to many advocates for restoration of the legislation. There is some concern that the timing of the introduction of the bill (which could be taken up during an impending "lame duck" session) could lead to the legislation being pushed through too quickly without proper examination.

Traumatic Brain Injury
On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) passed "The Keeping Seniors Safe from Falls and Reauthorization of the Traumatic Brain Injury Act," (S.1531), designed to study the incidence and treatment of traumatic brain injury and to expand research on approaches to fall prevention and treatment for America's senior citizens. The bill passed by unanimous voice vote. The first portion of the bill, "Traumatic Brain Injury reauthorization," reauthorizes a study through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the incidence and prevalence of traumatic brain injury, identify common therapeutic interventions and develop rehabilitation guidelines. It also reauthorizes grant programs through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop and improve State service delivery, coordinate TBI services and for protection and advocacy services for individuals with traumatic brain injury and their families. The second portion of the bill, "The Keeping Seniors Safe from Falls Act," will direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to oversee and support national and local education campaigns focusing on reducing falls among older adults and preventing repeat falls. The TBI Act of 2006 was introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as S.3668. The majority of the provisions are now included in S.1531.