Legislative News InBrief

January 16, 2007

Congressional Schedule
The House will consider several bills this week while wrapping up their first "100 hours" agenda, including legislation that would temporarily waive the cap on federal insured reverse mortgages (HR 391), which allow homeowners to use the equity in their houses for long term care. The House also takes up a bill to lower interest rates for school loans by half and to increase the amount available under the Pell Grant program. The Senate continues to debate S. 1 regarding congressional ethics and lobbying rules.

FY 2007 Appropriations
House appropriators are working to finalize a continuing resolution (CR) that will provide funds for all the FY 07 appropriations bills that were not passed before the end of the fiscal year, including the Labor, Health and Human Services spending bill that funds the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND), and many other programs important to people with disabilities. The current stop gap CR expires on Feb. 15. Appropriators expect to fund programs in the L-HHS-ED bill at the FY 06 level with some exceptions. Level funding would result in a cut to UCEDDs. Because the DD Act stipulates that each UCEDD must receive equal funding, the 64 existing centers will receive a pro rata reduction of approximately $14,000 each in order to fund the three new centers at the same level. AUCD is working with congressional staff in the hopes of getting a slight increase to prevent this anticipated cut.

The House passed a bill (HR 4) Jan. 12 to require the HHS secretary to negotiate prices on behalf of Medicare's private drug coverage plans. Sen. Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Finance Committee, plans to introduce a similar bill that would eliminate the prohibition to negotiate drug prices contained in the current Medicare law. Sens. Wyden (D-OR) and Snowe (R-ME) have also introduced a bill (S. 250) that would require the government to negotiate prices only for "single-source" drugs, which have no therapeutic substitutes and are often the most expensive. Some say that even if Congress can agree on and pass a bill to allow some sort of negotiations on prices, that the President would veto it. AUCD supports efforts to reduce prices and increase choices in the types of prescription drugs available for Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities.

Employment/Minimum Wage
The House of Representatives passed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (H.R. 2) by a vote of 315 to 116. The bill raises the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour over the next two years and two months. This would take place in three stages: to $5.85 an hour 60 days after being signed into law by the president, to $6.55 a year later and then to $7.25 the following year. According to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV.), a vote in the Senate is not expected until the end of this week.

During the minimum wage floor debate, Rep. English (R-PA) spoke about the need to address the monthly limits on the amount SSI beneficiaries can make. He pointed out that SSI beneficiaries are limited to making $900 per month without losing eligibility. He said, "If the wage-hike under consideration today goes into law without raising an earnings limit for people on SSI, Americans with disabilities engaged in full-time employment would either potentially lose their benefits or have to cut back on their hours. That is a decision they shouldn't have to make." Last year, English introduced H.R. 290, a bill intended to ensure that workers with disabilities would not lose their payments through raising the earnings limitation on SSI.

Voting Rights and Accessibility
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Rules and Administration Committee, stated Friday that her panel plans to hold hearings on alleged electronic voting machine irregularities and other issues brought to light in the still-contested House election in Florida's 13th district. Feinstein said that she supports machines that provide for a "paper trail" or receipt. House leaders also expressed interest in moving a bill to address the issue. In the 109th Congress, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced a bill that would require a "voter-verified permanent record or hard copy" of votes made on electronic voting machines. AUCD's Legislative Affairs Committee is currently reviewing this issue but has not taken a position on any legislation.

Money Follows the Person Grants
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) announced the award of the Money Follows the Person grants to 17 states. The Initial 17 States are: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin. The next step is for these states to develop and submit to CMS for approval a "Demonstration Operational Protocol" which requires the input of all stakeholders. States that submitted a grant proposal but did not get the initial award, will have 30 days to revise and resubmit a proposal. University Centers are encouraged to contact the state Medicaid Director to offer assistance to make the needed revisions.

Disability Policy Seminar: Why Attend?
With so many programs important to AUCD being considered before Congress this year, every University Center is encouraged to support sending at least one individual to this year's Disability Policy Seminar co-sponsored by AUCD along with The Arc, UCP, NACDD, and AAIDD (March 4-6). Issues that will be addressed include the Higher Education Act, Rehab Act, DD Act, Family Support, and appropriations for all disability programs. This year, a special panel is being planned to address autism legislation, including the Combating Autism Act that was passed last year and new legislation currently in development. Online registration is available with special rates for trainees, self-advocates, and family members: https://www.aucd.org/meetings/gaseminar.cfm. A preliminary program and agenda are available on the AUCD website (http://www.aucd.org/aucd_events.htm).