AUCD Legislative News In Brief

September 26, 2011

AUCD Legislative News In Brief
  September 26, 2011   |  Vol. XI, Issue 39
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Congressional Schedule
Both the House and Senate were scheduled to be in recess this week, but the Senate's consideration of the continuing resolution will force at least the Senate, and possibly the House, to postpone the break. 

Combating Autism Reauthorization Act
The House of Representatives passed the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2005) on Tuesday!  Although this is a major step forward for the bill, the Senate still needs to act.  On Wednesday, the House bill's sponsors, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA), held a
press conference emphasizing the importance of reauthorizing the law before it expires on Friday.  AUCD Executive Director George Jesien joined Scott Badesch, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Autism Society, and Peter Bell, Executive Vice President of Autism Speaks, in making comments.  Click here to see photos from the press conference.

The Senate version bill passed the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on September 7.  Since then, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) offered the bill twice to be passed by unanimous consent, a fast-track process by which non-controversial bills are often considered.  However, Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) unexpectedly objected (see links to letter of objection and amendment).  If the bill does not pass by unanimous consent, it will require 60 votes in the Senate.  The continuing resolution that passed the House on Thursday contains language to extend funding for the LEND programs through November 18.  However, the CR is facing obstacles in the Senate (see FY 2012 Appropriations below).  If the CR passes with this language intact, advocates will have more time to shore up support for CARA in the Senate.  As for now, the Senate is still in session and could act as soon as this evening if the Senators drop their objection!  Please visit AUCD's Action Center to contact your Senators. 

AUCD joined nearly 100 disability, aging and civil rights groups to sponsor the "My Medicaid Matters" rally in support of protecting Medicaid-funded programs.  At noon on Wednesday, September 21, thousands of supporters gathered at the Capitol to convey the message "My Medicaid Matters".  The message was targeted at lawmakers - particularly those on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction ("Super Committee") - who are looking for ways to reduce the federal deficit.  The group can consider reforms to entitlement programs like Medicaid, spending cuts and tax reforms in its deliberations.  Click here to see photos from the rally.

FY 2012 Appropriations
With fiscal year 2012 beginning on Saturday, October 1, Congress is working to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running while lawmakers finish work on annual appropriations bills.  The House passed a CR (H.R. 2608) early on Friday, however the Senate rejected the bill later in the day over provisions related to disaster relief funding.  The Senate is scheduled to vote this evening on a motion to amend the bill in hopes of passing the bill before Congress recesses for Rosh Hashanah.  The CR also contains language to extend funding for activities of the Combating Autism Act until November 18. 

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2012 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill on a party line vote on Wednesday, one day after the subcommittee cleared the bill.  According to the Committee report, the University Centers for Excellence (UCEDD) are level-funded at FY 2011 levels ($38.8 million).  State Developmental Disabilities Councils and Protection & Advocacy systems also receive level funding in the Committee bill.  It funds the Projects of National Significance (PNS) at the President's budget request of $8.3 million, a $5.8 million cut from $14.1 in FY 2011.  There is no mention of how much of this would be directed to family support.

Voting Access for individuals with disabilities is provided $5.2 million, also down from the $17.4 million provided in FY 2011.  The Committee provides $47.7 million for the Autism and other Developmental Disabilities initiative authorized under the Combating Autism Act, $2 million less than the President's budget request.  This amount includes level-funding for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs. 

Other highlights include a $2 million increase to $138 million for the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD).  Overall, CDC is provided $6.2 billion; the bill rejects the president's proposal to consolidate disability initiatives within the agency, a major victory for advocates.

The Committee bill includes $30.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a decrease of $190 million from the FY 2011 level.  It funds CMS Community Transformation Grants at $280 million, nearly doubling the funding from current levels. 

The next step is for the House to mark up its version of the Labor, HHS, Education funding bill. 

Health Care Reform
At a hearing September 15, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health discussed a draft bill to prevent enforcement of regulations related to grandfathered health plans under the Affordable Care Act.  Currently, the law exempts "grandfathered" health plans - those that were already in existence before the law's enactment - from many of its provisions.  This bill would reduce the number of plans that are subject to the law's consumer protections.  The proposal is related to a bill introduced by Representatives Tom Price (R-GA) and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) in June (H.R. 2077) that would repeal ACA's requirement that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of their revenue from premiums on medical care and not administrative costs, including marketing, salaries and bonuses.  Under the law, any plans that violate this standard (called the medical-loss ratio) must provide rebates to their customers beginning in 2012 or pay monetary penalties.  The Government Accountability Office has found that the regulation will result in lower premiums for consumers, but some small insurers say they cannot meet the standard.

For the latest news on health reform implementation, visit AUCD's Health Reform Hub.

The Department of Health and Human Services is reducing staff at its Office on CLASS, the office responsible for implementing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program created by the Affordable Care Act.  However, HHS denied rumors that it was closing the office altogether.  The CLASS Program has been criticized by lawmakers who question its solvency, but the Department has been working on ways to ensure that the program will be financially sound for at least 75 years, as the law requires.  Unfortunately, the Senate appropriations committee did not provide funding for CLASS implementation in its FY 2012 bill. 

Social Security Work Incentives
The House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee held a hearing Friday on work incentives in Social Security disability programs.  Witnesses included Bob Williams, Associate Commissioner of the Office of Employment Support Programs, Dan Bertoni from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and Cheryl Bates-Harris, Senior Disability Advocacy Specialist at the National Disability Rights Network on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. 

President Obama issued remarks (video, transcript) Friday about his administration's plan to waive certain requirements for states under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act ("No Child Left Behind").  The law requires 100 percent of students, including those with disabilities, to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 80 percent of schools currently do not meet these proficiency standards, and would be labeled as failing if the law is not reformed.  In exchange for relief from these standards, states must adopt "college- and career-ready" standards and develop a new accountability system that recognizes and rewards schools that show the greatest overall student progress.  For more information, read the White House fact sheet on ESEA flexibility.

Senate Republicans recently introduced several bills to amend ESEA.  Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced S. 1571, the ESEA Amendments Act of 2011.  The bill would eliminate the requirement that states have in place a definition of "adequate yearly progress" and require interventions in only the lowest performing five percent of schools.  It would also allow for unrestricted use of alternate assessments based on alternate or modified achievement standards, meaning that virtually all students with disabilities could be assessed via an alternate assessment rather than the regular state assessments given other students.  The other bills (S. 1567, S. 1568, S. 1569), would amend Titles II and IV of ESEA and restrict the Secretary of Education's ability to put conditions on the approval of waiver requests. 

Child Welfare
Congress passed H.R. 2883, the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, a bill that extends the Child Welfare Services and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Programs though fiscal year 2016.  The programs fund activities like parenting classes and assistance to keep children living at home with their parents or guardians, as well as support for parents of children with special needs.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. 


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

For copies of this and previous issues of Legislative News In Brief please visit the Public Policy Page of the AUCD website:

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