Convention begins today!! On the agenda is a “Ligas Update by Court Monitor & Class Counsel,” Director Fenton addresses the convention at lunch and Emily Travis shares, ” Through Weakness, Shines Hope: Living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” What a day!
Major Recent Events
Family Support – House and Senate Pass Older Americans Act Reauthorization that Expands Eligibility for Family Support Program
On March 21, the House unanimously passed the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S. 192) under suspension of the rules. The Senate followed suit by passing the bill by unanimous consent on April 7. Among its many provisions, the bill includes a fix to the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). The NFCSP, which received $150 million in FY 2016, provides information to caregivers about available services, assistance in accessing services, individual counseling, support groups, caregiver training, respite care, and supplemental services. While NFCSP services are available to a wide range of caregivers, currently the NFCSP does not assist older parents who are caregivers of adult children with disabilities. S. 192 fixes this gap by extending NFCSP eligibility to older parents (age 55 and over) of adults with disabilities (age 19 to 59). President Obama is expected to sign the measure shortly.
Autism – Wandering Bill Clears Senate Committee; Introduced in House
On April 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2016 (S. 2614), passing the bill out of committee by a vote of 15 to 5. The measure, sponsored by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), adds children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities to an existing program to provide education, training, and technology to help prevent and reduce the harm from wandering. On April 13, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) introduced Kevin and Avonte’s Law in the House (H.R. 4919).
Family Support – Caregiver Tax Credit Bill Introduced
Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) have introduced the Credit for Caring Act of 2016 (H.R. 4708). The bill supports family caregivers by offering a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 for those who qualify. The tax credit would provide eligible family caregivers caring for loved ones of all ages with some financial relief and help them pay for services such as home care, adult day care, respite care, and other supports. The Arc supports this legislation that will help to ensure the financial security of family caregivers of persons with disabilities.
Tax Policy – Bill Introduced to Stop Taxation of Forgiven Student Loan Debt Due to Disability or Death
Last week, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced S. 2800, the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act. The bill would end federal taxation of discharged federal student loans under the “Total and Permanent Disability” standard or in the event of the death of a borrower. Under current law, forgiven federal student loan debt is considered income for tax purposes. As a result, borrowers who have their federal student loan debt forgiven due to a qualifying disability, and families of borrowers who die, can be charged tens of thousands of dollars in taxes. The Arc supports S. 2800, which will end this unnecessary and harmful tax provision. To learn more, read remarks on the Senate floor by Senator King, as well as press statements by Senator Coons and Senator Portman. The bill was referred to the Committee on Finance. The full text of S. 2800 should be available on Congress.gov shortly.
Housing – $174 Million for National Housing Trust Fund Announced
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that nearly $174 million will soon be made available through first-ever allocations of the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The NHTF is a new, dedicated source of funding for affordable housing for people with the lowest incomes, a group that includes many people with disabilities. The NHTF is funded by a very small assessment on the volume of business of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal government sponsored enterprises. The Arc strongly supports funding the NHTF to help meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities for affordable, accessible housing in the community.
Housing – April is Fair Housing Month
April is Fair Housing Month! To celebrate Fair Housing Month 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched a new national media campaign to help the public to envision what communities with shared opportunity for all —including people with disabilities— might look like. The new campaign is designed to educate the public about their housing rights and the ideals behind HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) initiative. View HUD’s press release to access more resources.
Miscellaneous – Department of Education to Notify Borrowers with Disabilities of Potential Eligibility for Federal Student Loan Discharge
The Department of Education has announced a new process to identify and notify federal student loan borrowers with disabilities who may be eligible for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) loan discharge. The Department has worked with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to identify a subset of federal student loan borrowers who receive Social Security disability benefits and meet the eligibility criteria for a TPD loan discharge. Approximately 387,000 current borrowers have been identified. Beginning on April 18, 2016 the Department will send customized letters to these 387,000 borrowers explaining the steps they can take to apply for a TPD loan discharge. Going forward, the Department will work with SSA to identify and notify additional borrowers on a quarterly basis.
Under current law, individuals receiving a TPD discharge generally owe taxes on the forgiven amount, and their income in the year of discharge may appear artificially inflated for purposes of some programs that use taxes to determine income. This includes Medicaid (for people who qualify for Medicaid for reasons other than being eligible for Supplemental Security Income), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and certain cost savings under the Affordable Care Act. Individuals considering a TPD student loan discharge may wish to consult with a tax professional and, depending on their health insurance, consult with a trained health care navigator and access disability specific help from the National Disability Navigator Resource Collaborative.
Education – Department of Education Releases School Climate Resources
The Department of Education recently released new school climate surveys and a guide on making school climate improvements to help foster and sustain safe and supportive environments that are conducive to learning for all students. The School Climate Surveys and Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements were developed to help states, school districts, and schools to collect and act on reliable, nationally-validated school climate data in real time. Additional tools will be released later this spring and summer as part of the School Climate Improvement Resource Package, a web-based suite of action-oriented, research- and evidence-based resources to help create and support positive environments.
Rights / Transportation – Claims Process Available for Individuals Who Experienced Discrimination From Greyhound Lines, Inc.
A claims process is now available to compensate individuals who were refused service due to their disability or were not provided reasonable accommodations by Greyhound Lines, Inc. This compensation is available as the result of a consent decree between the Department of Justice and Greyhound Lines, Inc. for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To be eligible, an individual must have traveled or attempted to travel on Greyhound between February 8, 2013 and February 8, 2016, experienced discrimination based on their disability, and submit a claim form no later than November 10, 2016. Instructions are available at the Claims Administrator’s website. The Claims Administrator can be contacted by email, by phone at 844-502-5953 or 800-659-2656 (TTY), or by mail at U.S. v. Greyhound Claims Administrator, c/o Class Action Administration LLC, PO Box 6878, Broomfield, CO 80021. Individuals should contact the administrator for assistance if they are unable to complete the form due to a disability.
Tax – Multi-state ABLE Consortium Established
Last week, nine states (Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) formed the country’s first Achieving a Better Life Act (ABLE) consortium. This partnership will allow participating states to garner a greater share of the market, thus allowing lower account fees and more effective investment options. Individual states will still have control over their own plans, but they will have common elements such as investment options. See the press release for more information.
The Arc of Illinois
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