AUCD Legislative News In Brief

June 3, 2013

AUCD Legislative News In Brief
  June 3, 2013   |  Vol. XIII, Issue 22
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Congressional Schedule

The House and Senate return from recess today. The Senate will continue to consider the agricultural reauthorization bill, which includes funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), as well as debate over student loan interest rates. The Senate may take up immigration reform (S. 744) beginning next week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stated that his agenda for June would include annual appropriations bills, the "Help Sick Americans Act", a pediatric research bill, and immigration reform, among others.

 FY 2014 Budget and Appropriations

AUCD participated in a town hall meeting of NDD United, a coalition of over 3,000 research, education and human services organizations concerned about the impact of deficit reduction proposals on non-defense discretionary programs.   Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shared his thoughts on the possible scenarios for how Congress might resolve the budget impasse.  With the House and Senate budget resolutions so far apart, he confirmed that it is very unlikely that agreements will be reached on annual appropriations bills.  He said that advocates should expect negotiations over the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling to be during September and October, just before the new fiscal year.  AUCD and other advocates are concerned about the funding level that will be agreed to within the CR. Meeting participants agreed that it is important to stay united and urge Congress to come together on a bipartisan long term balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes revenue.  Last week, NDD United unveiled a new video to explain the sequester and its impact as well as a toolkit for advocates.  Please feel free to use these tools as you educate the public and policymakers at the state and federal levels on budget issues.

 FY 2015 Budget

Meanwhile, even as work on spending bills for the 2014 fiscal year that begins this fall is still underway, the Obama Administration is beginning to develop a budget for FY 2015.  According to Congressional Quarterly, a Hill newspaper, Sylvia Burwell, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), sent a memo to agencies this week asking them to find cuts in their budgets of 10% to meet the caps included in the 2011 Budget Control Act (PL 112-25). Because President Obama hopes to end the sequester, the memo asks agencies to submit plans that do not include across-the-board cuts required by the sequester. Burwell's memo noted the president still hopes to replace "sequestration with a balanced deficit reduction plan of additional spending cuts and sensible entitlement reforms coupled with revenue from tax reform." The 2011 Budget Control Act cut discretionary spending by about $1 trillion below what it would have been over a 10-year period, and it added a $1.2 trillion sequester to further reduce spending over nine years. The sequester, which began March 1, will cut spending by about $80 billion across the board this year and another $109 billion each succeeding year through 2021.

 Medicare and Social Security Trustees Reports

The Trustees for Medicare and Social Security released their yearly reports last week on the solvency of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. The Medicare Trustees report showed that the Hospital Insurance fund will remain solvent until 2026 - two years later than was predicted last year and nine years later than before the Affordable Care Act made reforms to improve the financial outlook of the program.

 The Social Security Trustees report shows that as a whole, the program continues a planned draw-down of cash reserves that it has built up since the 1980's and can pay scheduled benefits until 2033. Social Security operates two separate trust funds - the Disability Insurance fund (SSDI) and the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance fund (OAS). The report showed what experts have known for some time -- that the SSDI trust fund is projected to be exhausted in 2016 at which point beneficiaries could face a 20% reduction in benefits. Congress has traditionally re-allocated money between the two trust funds to ensure continued benefit payments and is expected to do the same as we approach 2016. After 2033, modest increases in revenue can ensure the long-term solvency of the Social Security system for generations to come. AUCD and other disability advocates support these types of adjustments to ensure the short- and long-term solvency of the trust funds, so that Social Security can remain a lifeline for people with disabilities and their families for generations.

 Restraint and Seclusion

Last week AUCD, as a part of the Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion, helped launch the Stop Hurting Kids Campaign. To kick off the campaign, advocates held a screening of Dan Habib's latest film Restraint and Seclusion: Hear Our Stories, which features interviews with students who were subjected to these practices and their families. The campaign supports the Keeping All Students Safe Act, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) on May 9 (see May 13 In Brief). Dan Habib's film is available on You Tube.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

AUCD has signed on to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) principles for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as "No Child Left Behind". Students with disabilities have benefitted greatly from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) because the law requires their academic achievement to be measured and reported. While the Department of Education has provided states with the opportunity to waive certain elements of the law, the CCD Education Task Force urges Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 113th Congress. The principles include an emphasis on general education and access to the general curriculum, college and career readiness, appropriate training for teachers, early identification of struggling learners, and appropriate assessments.

 Food Security

Every five years, Congress passes legislation that sets federal policy on forestry, conservation, nutrition and agriculture, called the "farm bill." Passed in 2008, the latest farm bill expired in 2012 but was partially extended last January.  Advocates of people who are low-income, including many people with disabilities, are concerned about deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) programs, which used to be called Food Stamps.

 The Senate began debating its bill (S. 954) just before the recess.  The Senate will take up the bill again this week.  S. 954 includes a $4 billion cut to SNAP over ten years. While a smaller cut than the one proposed in the House plan, the cut would restrict the coordination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) with SNAP. Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced an amendment to eliminate the cuts to SNAP but it failed (26-70).

 The House bill (H.R. 1947) would cut SNAP even more - by $20 billion cut over the next 10 years. "We represent the people's money, and we have to be good stewards of that," said committee member Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) during the markup. The House bill would achieve the cuts partly by eliminating categorical eligibility, e.g. allowing individuals to be automatically enrolled when found eligible for TANF and other low income benefits. An amendment by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) to eliminate the $20.5 billion SNAP cut in the bill failed by a vote of 17-27. If the House bill were to become law, it is estimated that 2 million people would lose SNAP benefits and 280,000 children would lose access to free school meals because states would be unable to align their TANF and SNAP eligibility requirements. 

The House will likely consider the committee bill this month.  If it passes, the House bill will then be conferenced with the Senate bill sometime in July.  For more information, see the Center on Budget analysis and the Coalition on Human Needs news report.

 Immigration Reform

AUCD signed onto a coalition letter urging the Senate to oppose an amendment by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that would deny immigrants Social Security credits for work performed prior to obtaining legal status.  The letter stresses that Social Security is not a government handout.  It is a compact between the worker and government, and an earned benefit that workers receive after years of work and contributions.  The Hatch amendment would deny workers benefits they have already earned.  Undocumented workers have contributed through payroll taxes between $120 and $240 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund.  This has helped boost the trust fund and extended its solvency by years.  These taxpayers should have a right to correct their records and claim credit for their contributions once they have become fully legalized.  The letter points to the example of cases in which a working parent who dies or becomes disabled, their child/or spouse would be left without the protection of survivor or disability benefits.

 Affordable Care Act Implementation

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health has published an issue brief from health policy expert Sara Rosenbaum on Habilitative Services Coverage for Children under the Essential Health Benefit Provisions of the ACA. The brief provides background on habilitative services in private insurance and explains the current state of habilitative services for children with developmental disabilities, as required under the ACA but defined by the states in each Exchange. The variability and flexibility in what defines habilitation in each Exchange continues to be an important concern for advocates. See more health reform announcements on AUCD's Health Hub.

 Mental Health

Today, the White House will host a one-day conference on mental health. Although the conference is primarily President Obama's a response to recent gun violence, its agenda is much broader and includes discussion of insurance coverage for mental health care and substance abuse, recognizing the signs of mental illness in youth and improved access to services for veterans. The overall goal is reducing the stigma of mental health problems and encouraging those who are struggling to get help. In announcing the conference, the White House press statement stressed that the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent and are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes. But the need to improve the country's mental health care system is something all sides of the gun debate have advocated, including the National Rifle Association.  See more on the White House website.

For more policy news, follow Kim and Rachel on Twitter at @kmusheno and @racheljpat

 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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