On January 3, 2017 the members of 115th Congress were sworn into office. They include 53 new representatives and seven new senators. The Republicans control both houses of Congress, with a 52-48 majority in the Senate and a 241-194 majority in the House.
Senator Jeff Sessions and General John Kelly's confirmation hearings for Attorney General and Homeland Security, respectively, will be held tomorrow, January 10. While the hearing for Betsy Devos to serve as Secretary of Education will be on January 11. Disability and Civil Rights advocates have come together in light of these nominations and prepared dozens of questions for the nominees to identify their thoughts on key aspects related to their new potential position.
AUCD signed onto a coalition letter to Senators Grassley (Chair Judiciary Committee) and Feinstein (Ranking Member Judiciary Committee) expressing opposition to the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States. Based on a review of Senator Sessions' record throughout his career, the letter states serious reservations about his commitment to adequately and fairly protect the rights of all Americans, including people with disabilities.
The Senate is planning to pass a budget resolution as soon as January 11; this is the first step in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act. The proposed budget reconciliation bill is expected to direct four congressional committees to make changes to programs in order to come in line with the budget, including a repeal of the ACA (see NYT article that outlines the process). AUCD emailed an action alert today encouraging the network to educate Members of Congress before about why the ACA is so important to everyone, especially to people with disabilities. Please visit our Action Center today for more information and action steps.
ACA - Pre-Existing Conditions
A new report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services has found that between 2010 and 2014, the share of Americans with pre-existing conditions who went without health insurance all year fell by 22 percent. This means that 3.6 million fewer people with pre-existing conditions were still uninsured four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate for all Americans fell by an additional 22 percent through mid-2016, reaching its lowest level ever. There has also been a similar level of decline in uninsured rates among individuals with common pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease. The report also finds that 84% of Americans between ages 55 and 64 and 75% of Americans between 45 and 54 have a pre-existing condition that could have subjected them to insurer discrimination before 2014.
On January 5, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published final regulations explaining what federal agencies must do to comply with their legal obligation to engage in affirmative action in employment and otherwise serve as "model employers" for individuals with disabilities. EEOC also published a question-and-answer document for the public. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to create affirmative action plans for the employment of people with disabilities, and to submit those plans to EEOC for approval. These final regulations reaffirm the federal government's commitment to being a model employer of people with disabilities. The rule consolidates existing requirements from a variety of sources, such as the existing requirements that federal agencies have written reasonable accommodation procedures and seek qualified job applicants with disabilities. The regulations also include new representation goals for employees with disabilities in the federal workforce and enhanced support requirements that will enable more persons with disabilities to seek federal employment.
US Access Board
In early 2015, the Board was jointly updating its requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (as well as Section 255 of the Communication Act). Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers. As of January 6, following extensive public comment, Section 508 Refresh has been approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Access Board expects to publish the new accessibility guidelines soon. The Access Board will brief the public tomorrow, January 10, at its DC office; guests are invited to attend either in person or via conferencing.
Home and Community Based Services
Request for Information
Today, the HCBS Advocacy Coalition, of which AUCD is a member, submitted a response to a Request for Information put out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Federal Government Interventions to Ensure the Provision of Timely and Quality Home and Community Based Services (HCBS). Our responses addressed Medicaid's institutional bias, expanding Medicaid authorities that incentivize HCBS, the lack of affordable and integrated housing, the lack of opportunities for employment of people with disabilities, and a number of other areas related to quality HCBS.
On December 30, 2016 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a guidance package to states on the implementation of the Community First Choice State Plan Option. The CFC option provides individuals meeting an institutional level of care the opportunity to receive necessary personal attendant services (PAS) and supports in a home and community-based setting. This guidance includes three documents: (1) a State Medicaid Director's (SMD) letter, (2) a state plan amendment (SPA) pre-print, and (3) a technical guide that provides information to assist states with completing the pre-print.
New Initial Approvals
Montana, Alaska, and Rhode Island's Statewide Transition Plan (STP) has been initial approved. This letter is the communication CMS sends to the state notifying the state that public comment, input and summary requirements are met, the STP is sufficient, but systemic and/or site-specific assessments are not yet completed. The response to the state will vary dependent on whether the state has or has not identified settings that are presumed to have institutional characteristics and any information the state may wish CMS to consider under the heightened scrutiny process.
The State of Virginia on the launch of its "ABLEnow" program. The ABLEnow program is open to eligible individuals with disabilities nationwide. The ABLEnow program allows qualified individuals with disabilities to save up to $14,000 a year in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for federally-funded means tested benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. The funds in the account can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in increasing and/or maintaining his or her health, independence or quality of life. The States of Alaska and Rhode Island on the launch of their "Alaska ABLE Plan" and "RI's ABLE Plan" programs last week.
Ireland is set to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2017 following the Irish government's approval of a major disability rights bill. The move comes after years of gradual legislative steps towards full ratification in Ireland, which was one of the very first countries to sign the treaty a decade ago, but is the last nation in Europe to actually ratify it. Once ratification has taken place, CRPD will be in effect in every country in Europe.
Public Policy Committee
AUCD's Policy Committee meets tomorrow, January 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET. For more information contact Christine Grosso.
Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All
This week's edition of Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All Liz interviews David Morrissey, Executive Director for the United States International Council on Disabilities. They discussed the Harkin International Disability Employment Summit, which was held last month. In case you missed last week's episode, Liz interviewed Siddarth Nagaraj about the 21st Century Cures Act that includes mental health reforms and an infusion of resources into the National Institutes of Health for research into cancer, precision medicine, and other research intended to lead to cures.
For more from AUCD, follow @AUCDNews and like AUCD on Facebook
For updates from our Executive Director Andy Imparato, follow @AndyAUCD.
For more policy news, follow Kim on Twitter at @kmusheno
For definitions of terms used in In Brief, please see AUCD's Glossary of Legislative Terms