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Major Events Last Week
FY 2012 Appropriations – Congress passes FY 2012 spending package, disability-related programs mostly level funded with a few facing small cuts or increases
After intense negotiations, Democrats and Republicans signed off on a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government funded through September 2012. Both chambers approved the bill only hours before the federal government was facing a shutdown on December 16. The funding bill sets government spending for the year at $1.043 trillion, a level agreed to in the Budget Control Act enacted in August that raised the nation’s legal borrowing limit. The figure represents an overall 1.5% drop in spending from Fiscal Year 2011. The funding bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies
, which funds the vast majority of disability-related discretionary programs, was included in the $1 trillion, nine-bill spending omnibus. Click here
to see how specific disability-related programs fared in the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations package.
Budget/Deficit Reduction – Senate Rejects Two Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) bills
On December 14, the Senate rejected by wide margins a pair of competing proposals for a constitutional balanced-budget amendment. The Budget Control Act required House and Senate votes on a constitutional balanced-budget amendment before the end of the year. Neither Senate resolution obtained the two-thirds majority vote needed for approval, guaranteeing that Congress will not send a constitutional amendment to the states for ratification before year’s end. The Republican version (S. J. Res 10), rejected by a 47-53 vote, would set up a two-thirds majority threshold in both chambers for tax increases and establish a cap for federal spending at 18 percent of the economy’s annual output. The Democratic version (S. J. Res 24), which Senators rejected, 21-79, does not include either a constitutional spending cap or the higher vote threshold for tax increases. It would take Social Security receipts and outlays off the books for the purposes of the amendment and would prohibit Congress from passing any tax cut for millionaires if the tax cut would yield a deficit. Many economists believe that a BBA would greatly harm the economy by cutting government spending during economic downturns, resulting in deeper and longer recessions.
Education – Negotiators unable to move forward on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reform
Bipartisan talks regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (sometimes referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)) have come to a halt. Senior members of the House leadership have not confirmed that the discussions have ended, but press reports indicate that negotiators have been unable to move forward.
Several bills have been introduced in the Senate that would amend ESEA. Proposals include requiring interventions in only the lowest performing 5% of schools and allowing any student with a disability to be assessed with alternate assessments rather than the regular assessments given to other students (S. 1571
) and removing the Secretary of Education’s ability to put conditions on waiver requests (S. 1567
, S 1568
, and S. 1569
). The Arc is monitoring these developments closely since the NCLB law is considered to have been the source of some improvements in the education of students with disabilities.
Health Care – Department of Health and Human Services release critical guidance on health care law
On Friday, the Administration released guidance to states on establishing the essential benefits package that will be offered in the health insurance exchanges that will be established in 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) intends to develop regulations based on this guidance which is open for public comment until January 30. HHS is offering the states considerable flexibility in designing the benefit package. The state must choose a benchmark plan from among several options including the largest small group insurance plan in the state, the state employees’ health insurance plan, the federal employees’ health insurance plan, or the largest HMO in the state. If a service such as habilitation or children’s dental services which are required by the Affordable Care Act are not included in the benchmark plan, the state must develop a plan to cover that service. The issue of cost sharing in the plans is not addressed by this guidance. HHS is responding to the pressure from states who wanted information on the essential benefits in order to develop their state exchanges. The lack of specificity in the guidance will likely mean that the benefits included will vary by state. The Arc is reviewing the guidance and will be submitting comments to HHS in January.
Employment – Proposed Rule on Minimum Wage and Overtime Protections for In-Home Care Workers
On December 15, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it intends to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
that would provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly two million workers who provide in-home care services. The proposal would revise the companionship and live-in worker regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act to more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion, and to limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services. In addition, the Department proposes that third party employers, such as in-home care staffing agencies, could not claim the companionship exemption or the overtime exemption for live-in domestic workers, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household. The proposed rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register. More information is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/companionNPRM.htm