Legislative News InBrief

February 20, 2007

Vol. VII, Issue 8

Congressional Schedule
Following a Saturday session debating a nonbinding resolution on the Iraq war, Congress recessed for President's Day. Members will be at home this week and return Monday, February 26. This week is a good week to meet with your members at their home offices to discuss budget and appropriations and other issues important to people with disabilities and their families.

FY 2007 Continuing Resolution
On February 14, the Senate passed the FY 2007 Continuing Resolution (CR) by a vote of 81-15. The bill provides funding for programs covered by the nine unfinished fiscal 2007 appropriations bills. The final CR includes the Labor, Health and Human Services spending bill that provides funds for University Centers and most other disability-related program. After the Republican leaders in the 109th Congress left the 2007 spending bills unfinished, the new Democratic majority decided to package the nine bills together and use the FY 06 as a baseline for funding with a number of exceptions. The CR which previously passed the House on January 31 contains slight increases over FY06 levels in some major programs, including No Child Left Behind (+$125 million), IDEA State Grant (+$200 million), Head Start (+$104 million), NIH (+$619.5 million) and transit programs (+$470 million). All other programs were held at FY 2006 levels. Passage of the CR will unfortunately result in a slight decrease in funding per UCEDD. AUCD will press for increased funding in the FY 2008 appropriations process.

Lifespan Respite Care Act
Advocacy for the Lifespan Respite Care Act moved forward last week, led by the National Respite Coalition and its partners, including the AUCD network. Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Warner (R-VA) sent a letter to budget leaders urging them to include $40 million for the Lifespan Respite Care Act in the FY 08 budget resolution. Twenty-one Senators joined Clinton and Warner in signing the letter. UCEDDs in several states assisted with this effort by contacting their members. The next step will be a similar letter to appropriations committees. Also, last week AUCD joined other advocates in presenting an award to Rep. Langevin (D-RI) for his leadership in moving the Lifespan Respite Care Act through Congress.

Head Start
On February 15, the Senate HELP Committee passed S.556 by voice vote to reauthorize the Head Start and early childhood development program. The bill would authorize Head Start funding at $7.3 billion in FY 2008, $7.5 billion in 2009, and "such sums as necessary" through FY 2012. The income eligibility would be raised from 100% to 130% of poverty, allowing an estimated 56,000 children to benefit from the program. The House passed a reauthorization measure in 2005, but the bill languished in the Senate due to Democratic opposition concerning a provision allowing faith-based organization to hire staff based on the group's religious beliefs.

Mental Health Parity
On February 15, the Senate HELP Committee passed S. 558, which would require insurers that offer mental health coverage as part of their packages to provide equal benefits for physical and mental illness. The bill does not require all insurers to provide mental health coverage, but it does bar insurers that cover mental illnesses from imposing limits on care not applied to physical illnesses. The bill was the signature issue of the late Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone (1991-2002) and sponsored by Senator Domenici (R-NM). The House passed a less ambitious mental health parity law in 2003.

No Child Left Behind
The No Child Left Behind Commission released a report on Tuesday, February 13, containing recommendations for reauthorization. The NCLB Commission was organized approximately a year ago and co-chaired by former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes. It consisted of 15 members, including Judy Heumann, World Bank Advisor and Disability & Development, and Ed Sontag, Acting Deputy Director of CDC's National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. The Commission is independent, bi-partisan, and funded through the Aspen Institute and other sources. Of particular importance to students with disabilities, the Commission recommended against the Administration's proposed 2 percent policy (allowing students with disabilities to be assessed against "modified achievement standards."). Based on research and testimony heard, the Commission recommended maintaining this level at 1 percent. Another major recommendation included the adoption of new requirements for Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET), which would use student achievement data over three years to measure teacher effectiveness. Download the full report and webcast of the briefing. The Senate HELP and House Education and Workforce Committees are expected to begin to take action this year on reauthorization. AUCD will continue to monitor this activity and in coming weeks solicit interest in forming a workgroup across the network to review materials and assist AUCD legislative staff to provide input into reauthorization of NCLB.

Bi-Partisan Outreach on Healthcare
A bi-partisan group of Senators led by Senator Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the President last week in an attempt to reach common group to move forward on Health issues this Congress. The letter included the following points: 1) ensuring that all Americans would have affordable, quality, private health coverage, while protecting current government programs; 2) modernizing federal tax rules for health coverage to avoid the tendency in the current rules to "favor the most affluent, while promoting inefficiency"; 3) creating more opportunities and incentives for states to design their own health solutions; 4) a switch in emphasis from the current focus on sick care to the creation of "a culture of wellness through prevention strategies"; 5) encouraging more cost-effective chronic and compassionate end-of-life care; and 6) improving access to information on price and quality of health services. In addition to Wyden, the group consists of Senators Bennett (R-UT), Cantwell (D-WA), Conrad (D-ND), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Kohl (D-WI), Lott (R-MI), Salazar (D-CO), and Thune (R-SD).

Report on Hurricane Katrina and People with Disabilities
A new research report was released entitled, "Assessing the Impact of Katrina on Persons with Disabilities." The study funded by NIDRR explored how persons with disabilities prepared for, reacted to, and recovered from the devastating impact of the storm in portions of the Gulf Coast most affected. In addition, this work sought to understand the roles and relationships that Centers for Independent Living (CILs) played in all phases of the disaster, with a special emphasis on their relationship to the emergency management system.

Disability Policy Seminar
Over 500 people have already registered for the upcoming Disability Policy Seminar, co-sponsored by AUCD along with The Arc, UCP, NACDD, and AAIDD on March 4-6.

Please coordinate with others attending from your state and schedule visits with your members of congress prior to arrival. The AUCD Legislative Affairs Committee will meet during the Policy Seminar at Noon on Sunday in Congressional C&D.

Download registration information, the Program At-A-Glance, participant list, and fact sheets.