Major Upcoming Events
Congress Reconvenes for Lame Duck Session
Congress has returned with an agenda to wrap up business for the 114th Congress during the “lame duck” session and with Leadership plans to build the platform for reforms on key issues for the 115th Congress. In addition, the House and Senate will begin electing new Leadership for the 115th Congress this week.
Congress’ top priority in this session will be to keep most of the government funded beyond Dec. 9, when a 10-week continuing resolution (CR) expires. Given the election results, it is possible that fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding decisions will be pushed into some point next year, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and the White House. This would provide greater leverage for Republicans to cut non-defense discretionary spending (which funds many disability-related programs) and increase defense spending for the remainder of FY 2017. Eleven of the twelve FY 2017 spending bills have yet to be enacted (only Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs received full-year funding). The House will take its first votes tonight, followed by the Senate tomorrow night. Congress is tentatively scheduled to work through Dec. 16, with one week off for Thanksgiving. Click here to see line item funding levels for priority disability programs for FY 2016.
Leadership could decide to extend the funding for another short period of months to give the new Trump Administration time to work with the Congress to make major changes to key programs such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Medicaid program.
Major changes to the Affordable Care Act and the basic structure of the Medicaid program are high priorities of the incoming Trump Administration and the House and Senate Republican Majorities. Democratic leaders have already engaged in discussions with President-elect Trump and others to determine where there may be common ground. Much remains to be seen.
Presidential Transition Process Begins
The transition process is in full swing as President-elect Trump appoints leaders of his transition team and meets with President Obama and Congressional leaders. The transition process will involve an agency by agency review of agency actions and issues as well as guidance and regulations. A focus of the review is likely to identifying Executive Orders, policies, guidance, and regulations that should be modified or removed. Making changes to final rules does require a notice and comment period. Observers will be closely following the personnel decisions made by the new Administration as leadership positions in the federal government are filled. There are approximately 4,100 jobs that will be filled by the new Administration. There is more information about the transition on President-elect Trump’s website. The Presidential Inauguration is January 20, 2017.
Social Security – Social Security Administration Announces Cost of Living Increases for 2017
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2017. The Social Security Act provides for annual COLA increases based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W only rose slightly over the last year, the 2017 COLA will only increase benefits slightly. According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker will increase by $5, from $1,355 in 2016 to $1,360 in 2017. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security “disabled worker” beneficiary will increase by $4, from $1,167 in 2016 to $1,171 in 2017. In addition, the SSI Federal Payment Standard will increase from $733 per month in 2016 to $735 per month in 2017. Important work incentive thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will also increase, including the Substantial Gainful Activity level and the Trial Work Period earnings level. View SSA’s fact sheet for more details on the 2017 Social Security COLA and visit Medicare.gov for more information on Medicare costs in 2017.
Health Care-Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment Period in Progress
If you are uninsured or searching for affordable health insurance, now is the time for you to look. During “open enrollment” you can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for assistance with your health insurance costs. Despite calls for the repeal of the law, people can still purchase health insurance until the law is repealed or major changes are made.
If you currently have insurance through the marketplace, you should look at your current plan and determine if it will continue to meet your needs, or select a better plan. If you do not take action, you will be automatically re-enrolled in your current plan or a similar plan. You should carefully review all health insurance notices and updates. Re-enrollment provides an important opportunity to report any changes to your income. If your income has increased, reporting changes to the marketplace may help you avoid paying future penalties. The key dates for the 2017 open enrollment period are:
- November 1, 2016–open enrollment begins
- December 15, 2016–enroll before this date to have coverage January 1, 2017
- January 31, 2017–Open enrollment ends
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