Senate Hill Briefing Makes Compelling Case for ABLE Age Adjustment Act

To build momentum for S. 651, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act and to urge lawmakers to move this critical measure through the U.S. Senate, the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST), in collaboration with National Disability Institute (NDI), the Student Veterans Association and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), held a staff briefing on the Senate side of the Capitol on July 30. The successful event drew more than 80 attendees from Senate offices, consumers, representatives of disability advocacy organizations and key Hill staff with primary responsibility for moving the legislation forward.

Katherine Beck, widow of Stephen Beck Jr., the namesake of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, movingly recounted her family’s struggle to achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency and their motivation to fight for policy change. In addition, attendees heard the compelling story of Dan Standage, a young veteran who acquired his non-service connected disability after the age of 26. Dan’s personal account of the difficulties of earning and saving for one’s future, and his plea to Congress that the ABLE Act’s age of disability onset provisions be changed to allow veterans and others like himself, whose disability did not begin before age 26, to have the opportunity to open ABLE accounts, was met with resounding applause.

Advocates across the country are urged to continue to reach out to your two U.S. Senators and your House of Representatives member to ask for their co-sponsorship of S. 651, and H.R. 1814, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.

Disability Advocates Respond to ODEP’s 14(c) Listening Session

Washington Insider readers will recall that, in our last issue, we reported on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) conducting of a national listening session concerning the payment of subminimum wages under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Not only were advocates concerned that such a listening session was being undertaken at all given the extensive previous work of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Advisory Committee, professional advocates and consumers alike were frustrated by what seemed like an unfair process for getting the word out about the listening session, to say nothing of the lack of an accessible and user-friendly online interface. While a telephone option was made available somewhat last minute, to many advocates this remedy felt like too little too late.

To engage in constructive dialogue with DOL, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Employment and Training Task Force met with representatives of DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in late July to share perspectives and hear what DOL intends to do with any results of the recent listening session. ODEP shared that their intention is to proceed with a report to Congress including: 1) a summary of the WIOA Advisory Committee Report and an update with new information since the report was released in September 2016; 2) a summary of key ideas gathered from the 14(c) online dialogue; and 3) an examination of publicly available data about several specific states that have begun transitioning away from using 14(c) certificates. Task force members voiced their strong objections to any plan by DOL to prepare and offer to Congress a written summary of the listening session given both the inherent flaws in the process of gathering input and the voluminous work already undertaken to assess stakeholder perspectives on 14(c) and competitive integrated employment.

Subminimum Wages Edge Closer Toward Elimination

The House of Representatives recently passed the Raise the Wage Act, H.R. 582, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3), raising the minimum wage to guarantee a fair, livable wage to all people, including people with disabilities. If enacted, the bill would also explicitly phase out subminimum wages for people with disabilities under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The measure must now be passed in the Senate, where it is being championed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and is currently in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. As Washington Insider previously reported, another bill, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, would dedicate $300 million to expanding opportunities for competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities while also eliminating subminimum wage employment. Rather than wait for Congress to do away with subminimum wage, however, several states have taken matters into their own hands. In 2015, New Hampshire became the first state to eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities. It was phased out in Alaska last year and will be phased out in Maryland next year. On May 13th of this year, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation banning state agencies from paying people with disabilities subminimum wage. However, in many other states, people with disabilities continue to be paid subminimum wage for their work, sometimes receiving only cents per hour.

House Panel Hearing: Alternative Data and Tech May Bring Blessings or Curses for Credit Seekers

On Thursday, July 25, the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Financial Technology held a hearing, entitled, Examining the Use of Alternative Data in Underwriting and Credit Scoring to Expand Access to Credit. Witnesses present were Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center; Aaron Rieke, Managing Director at nonprofit Upturn that works to promote equity in the area of digital technology; Kristin Johnson, law professor at Tulane Law School; Lawrance Evans, Managing Director of Financial Markets & Community Investment at GAO; and Dave Girouard, founder and CEO of artificial intelligence lending platform Upstart.

The hearing considered the effects of using alternative data, including bill payment records and friends on social media, to calculate credit scores in order to allow people who are currently without access to credit to gain access. Participants in the hearing repeatedly emphasized that, while incorporating alternative data could help some people, it could also harm others. Further, some data, such as where a person lives, could reinforce traditional societal inequalities and biases, harming already disadvantaged groups. Therefore, much of the hearing centered on how best to employ alternative data to help people in need of credit without harming others.

These issues are of particular relevance to people with disabilities who all too frequently lack credit, have poor credit, may not be as engaged with social media or mainstream technology generally and who live in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. Depending on how alternative data are used, individuals who have not traditionally had success with obtaining and maintaining good credit, such as people with disabilities, could be among the beneficiaries of the new approaches being explored. Several witnesses and task force members seemed to agree that the use of alternative data should be an opt-in only program, so that anyone happy with their current credit score does not have to be concerned about it being harmed by the incorporation of alternative data. The webcast of the hearing and the witnesses’ written testimony can be found at this link.

Access to Your Money Might Be Getting a Lot Faster

The Federal Reserve recently announced that it would begin building an infrastructure for near instant payments, a controversial move with vast consequences for banking nationwide. Such an infrastructure would allow bank accounts to receive money within seconds of it being sent to them, which would represent a drastic change from the traditional system under which transactions are settled en masse, only three times daily, during business hours. Proponents of a new system include the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (including millions of people with disabilities), for whom the current system’s delays can be a significant burden. Small banks, credit unions, retailers and technology companies also have been encouraging the Fed to move forward with the new infrastructure. However, big banks are opposing the move, arguing that the Fed’s infrastructure would compete with one that the banks have already built for the same purpose and that the government should only step in when there is no viable private sector alternative. In response, the Fed claims that competition between the two payment systems will allow the new approach to reach all financial institutions, rather than just larger banks. Another concern that large banks have with the Fed’s infrastructure is that it may not be able to interoperate with the private sector system. The Fed responded that, while the systems may not be interoperable at the start, they will work toward interoperability over time. The Fed is accepting public comments before finalizing its plan for the new system, FedNow Service, which it projects will be built by 2024.

You may submit comments, identified by Docket No. OP – 1670, by any of the following methods: Agency Website: http://www.federalreserve.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments at http://www.federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/foia/ProposedRegs.cfm. Email: regs.comments@federalreserve.gov. Include docket number in the subject line of the message. FAX: (202) 452-3819 or (202) 452-3102. The closing date for comments is November 7, 2019.

Congress Needs to Learn the True Meaning of Diversity in the Corporate World

Several bills promoting gender, racial and ethnic diversity in the corporate world are advancing in Congress; the House Financial Services Committee recently passed three such bills with bipartisan support. H.R.3278, the Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act of 2019, would require issuers to disclose to shareholders the gender, racial and ethnic makeup of their board of directors. H.R.281, the Ensuring Diverse Leadership Act of 2019, would mandate that Federal Reserve Banks interview one racially or ethnically diverse candidate and one candidate who reflects gender diversity when making appointments of bank presidents. Finally, H.R.1018, the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, would require public companies to disclose the gender, race, ethnicity and veteran status of their board directors, nominees and senior executive officers. While these bills certainly reflect progress toward increased diversity, each one conspicuously fails to mention people with disabilities. Yet, like gender, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities make up a large segment of the U.S. population, but are underrepresented in these corporate positions. NDI will continue to urge lawmakers to explicitly include people with disabilities in any policy measures promoting diversity.

Money Follows the Person Reauthorization on the Move

The House and Senate have both passed H.R.3253, the Sustaining Excellence in Medicaid Act of 2019, which changes some Medicaid programs and funding mechanisms. The bill was introduced first in the House by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12) where it passed by a roll call vote. It then passed the Senate with amendment by voice vote and Congress is now resolving the differences between the two versions of the bill. Among other changes, the bill renews the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program (which has allowed more than 85,000 people with disabilities and chronic conditions to escape institutionalization and transition into community living) for four and a half more years. This program plays the crucial role of ensuring that people with disabilities are free to live their lives included in mainstream society. MFP is currently on an emergency short-term extension, so action on the bill is critical.

SNAP in the Sights of the Trump Administration

The Trump administration has proposed a rule that would change the way that states are able to calculate who qualifies for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Food Stamps. The rule change projects to save the government $2.5 billion dollars per year by eliminating three million people from the food assistance program. Under current rules, states may choose to give SNAP benefits to people who would be otherwise ineligible by raising income or asset limits, and 40 states plus Washington, D.C., currently do this. The administration calls this option a “loophole” in the rules and seeks to close it, arguing that this change would ensure that SNAP serves the people who need it most. However, opponents to the change reason that this rule change would take benefits away from people who do need them and would struggle to buy food without them. Further, opponents suggest that lowering income and asset limits could provide a disincentive to working and saving, both of which people must do in order to ultimately improve their financial condition and reach a point of financial stability. The administration is currently accepting public comments about the proposed rule.

Comments may be submitted in writing by one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Send comments to Program Design Branch, Program Development Division, Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, 3101 Park Center Dr., Alexandria, VA 22302. Email: Send comments to SNAPPDBRules@usda.gov. Include Docket ID Number [FNS-2018-0037], “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance” in the subject line of the message.
  • All written comments submitted in response to this proposed rule will be included in the record and will be made available to the public. Please be advised that the substance of the comments and the identity of the individuals or entities submitting the comments will be subject to public disclosure. FNS will make the written comments publicly available on the internet via http://www.regulations.gov.

Written comments must be received on or before September 23, 2019.

An Important Housing Policy Caution

The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA) (PL 114-201) was enacted July 29, 2016, and makes a variety of positive policy improvements. However, as part of the effort to streamline rules for determining residents’ income, the Earned Income Disregard (EID) was eliminated. The EID allowed some tenants with disabilities to work without an immediate increase in rent.  This provision was a valuable work incentive for many beneficiaries receiving Social Security Disability Benefits. The Federal government has not yet published the revised regulations documenting the elimination of the EID. As a result, some Public Housing Agencies are still offering the work incentive, while it appears others are taking steps to eliminate the income disregard. We will be monitoring and advising on developments in this area as they further unfold.

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