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Tuesday, January 6, 2015, marked the beginning of the new session of Congress. Over the next two years, Congress will address issues of significant importance to Easter Seals and people with disabilities, including funding for specific programs assisting people with disabilities, veterans and older adults and the future of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. With 13 new Senators and over 50 new members of the House of Representatives, Easter Seals will dedicate the first several months of 2015 to educating Members of Congress about the importance of their decisions for people with disabilities, veterans and older adults. View our Public Policy Priorities for the 114th Congress.
Congress has passed one of the last to-do list items of the 113th Congress: a spending bill for fiscal year 2015. The $1.1 trillion legislation funds almost all federal programs through September 30, 2015. Most programs that support people with disabilities received at least level funding. Easter Seals advocacy resulted in some significant victories in the final bill. These include:
President Obama signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 on December 16, 2014.
The 113th Congress adjourned in late December after passing several significant laws for veterans and military families advocated by Easter Seals. First, the National Defense Authorization Act included provisions making it easier for military families to pass on their survivor benefits to their children with significant disabilities and creating a pilot program to help rehabilitate and modify homes of disabled and low-income veterans. In addition, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act included funding for key veterans programs, including the veteran caregiver program, job training programs and community-based programs to end veterans’ homelessness. Finally, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit was retroactively extended for one-year to give employers a tax credit for hiring unemployed veterans with a service-connected disability (up to $9,600), long-term unemployed veterans (up to $5,600), and other target groups that have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.
On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act to create tax-free savings accounts to help many families with children with significant disabilities to save for that child’s future living expenses without jeopardizing their government benefits. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved in in the U.S. House (404-17) and the U.S. Senate (76-16) in the final days of the 113th Congress.
Under the law, families of individuals with significant disabilities who acquire their disability before age 26 can establish and save up to $14,000 annually (under current gift-tax rules) into a tax-free savings account to help the individual maintain health, independence, and quality of life. Account funds can be used to pay for a range of services and supports, including education, housing, transportation, assistive technology, job training and personal support services. ABLE account beneficiaries can save up to $100,000 without impacting their Social Security benefits. In addition, these individuals will keep their Medicaid health coverage regardless of their ABLE account assets.
The ABLE Act that was signed into law differs from the originally introduced version endorsed by Easter Seals. The original ABLE Act allowed all eligible individuals – regardless of when an individual acquired their significant disability – to open an ABLE account. Nationwide, Easter Seals regularly assists individuals who acquire disabilities later in life, after the age of 26, who will not benefit from the law. While Easter Seals preferred the original version, the ABLE Act that is now law represents a significant step-forward for many families who currently struggle to plan for the long-term needs of their children with significant disabilities. The Easter Seals Office of Public Affairs will make expansion of the ABLE Act (removing the 26 age restriction) a top priority in the 114th Congress.
Each day, decisions are being made in Washington, D.C., that will affect people with disabilities and Easter Seals' ability to provide services to them, as well as to meet Easter Seals' mission today and for years to come. The unmet needs of people with disabilities will continue to go unaddressed if Easter Seals is not engaged in educating public policy makers about people with disabilities' disproportionate reliance on government for health, education, employment, transportation and other needed services.
Easter Seals has been active in public policy advocacy since our founder, Edgar Allen, lobbied the Ohio Legislature to fund appropriate services for children with disabilities in the 1920s. We continue to actively support and promote federal legislation that helps people with disabilities achieve independence.
People with disabilities and Easter Seals have a significant stake in government programs. For many children and adults with disabilities, their ability to get an education, earn a living and live independently in the community is dictated by the availability of services and supports, many of which come only from the federal government.
This chart, developed by Easter Seals Office of Public Affairs, tracks the funding history of federal disability programs. The chart divides the information by agency, listing underneath each agency specific programs that matter to children and adults with disabilities.