In this issue of Capitol Connection, we provide an update on the federal budget negotiations in the House and Senate which has a significant impact on services and support for people with Autism. Federal legislation newly introduced or re-introduced are noted and Olmstead celebrations are highlighted. Important state advocacy resources are also included. Please use the Autism Society’s Action Center to educate your Members of Congress to support legislation and funding for the Autism community.
Budget and Appropriations Update
On June 15th, the House Appropriations Committee approved fiscal 2024 subcommittee allocations at levels much lower than the caps in the bipartisan debt limit agreement. The fiscal 2022 topline level is $1.47 trillion, instead of the $1.59 trillion level laid out in the debt limit package negotiated between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and President Joe Biden.
It is important to highlight that many federal departments including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development fund crucial programs for individuals with disabilities. However, these programs are all at risk of facing over 25% in cuts.
Such drastic cuts will have grave consequences for housing assistance, education programs, healthcare, transportation, food assistance, employment opportunities, and other vital supports and services that are integral to the well-being of people with Autism and other disabilities, many of whom already live with low incomes or in poverty.
The Autism Society is leading a coalition letter opposed to these proposed cuts. The letter will be posted online soon.
Senate appropriators approved spending allocations for their 12 annual bills that stick to the budget agreed to in the debt ceiling agreement, a higher topline number. The Autism Society will continue to monitor budget negotiations closely.
National Alzheimer’s Project Act Expanded
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) Committee marked up the reauthorization of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act with an important Autism amendment. This law supports the coordination of federal planning, programs, and other efforts to address Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The bill to reauthorize the law incorporates a focus on promoting healthy aging and reducing risk factors associated with cognitive decline. During the markup, the HELP committee passed an amendment to the bill to include research on individuals with developmental disabilities and how these individuals may be affected by Alzheimer’s. Next, the bill will go to the Senate floor for passage. The House must then take up and pass the bill.
Funding Early Childhood is the Right IDEA Act
Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) is planning to reintroduce the Funding Early Childhood is the Right IDEA Act soon. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) will introduce the bill on the Senate side. The Funding Early Childhood is the Right IDEA Act would set new funding levels for IDEA Part B Section 619 and IDEA Part C. IDEA Part B, Section 619 of the IDEA authorizes additional preschool formula grants and Part C authorizes early intervention programs. This bill would increase the funding levels to be on par with the highest ever from the late 1990s adjusted for inflation.
Senator Casey (D-PA) is planning to reintroduce the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Centers to Establish National Training (AACCENT) Act soon; however, he is first seeking additional co-sponsors. This bill would establish three national resource centers coordinated to improve access to AAC information, tools, and supports for AAC users and their families. The resource centers would also focus on increasing the leadership skills of AAC users, their families, and professionals. The centers will collaborate with partner organizations, be guided by an advisory council of individuals who face communication barriers and will have to provide an annual report to Congress. Read the Autism Society’s summary for more information. Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor this important bill using this action alert.
Social Security 2100: A Sacred Act
Representative Larson (D-CT) reintroduced the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Act. This bill would give an increase of 2% to all beneficiaries. The bill would change the cost of living adjustment to be the highest in any year, increase benefits for the oldest to 5%, increase the surviving spouse benefit, end the 5-month waiting period for Medicare, eliminate the disability benefit cliff, add a caregiver’s credit to avoid penalization for taking time off from work, and extend students benefits to age 26. This bill is a comprehensive update to the Social Security program which has not been updated much since the 1980s. The bill will help to extend solvency and strengthen the program raising revenue of those making more than $400,000.
Disability Access to Transportation Act
On June 6th, Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Titus (D-NV) introduced the Disability Access to Transportation Act (DATA) (H.R. 3845 / S. 1813). This bill addresses multiple challenges faced by people with disabilities when they use public transportation. The bill will “establish a one-stop pilot program to help paratransit riders avoid excessive wait times between multiple trips, streamline the process for submitting accessibility complaints, and assist local communities with identifying gaps in transportation accessibility.” The bill was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
Emergency Planning Hearing
The Autism Society attended a Special Committee on Aging hearing on June 15th entitled “Before Disaster Strikes: Planning for Older Americans and People with Disabilities in All Phases of Emergencies.” The main topic of the hearing was the East Palestine train derailment. Witness, Annie Lloyd, a mother of a child with Autism spoke about how her family was affected by the train derailment. She said, “Senators, I am asking you as a mother of a son with a disability and a friend of many disabled people, ALL of whom make unique remarkable contributions to our communities, to put forth a comprehensive accommodation plan for our disabled citizens for times of emergencies and disasters. There is nothing more fundamental to a dignified life than the capability of self-preservation” (read her full remarks). The hearing focused on the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act or the “REAADI for Disasters Act”, which Senator Casey is advocating to pass as part of the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act.
Olmstead Anniversary Events
To celebrate the Anniversary of the Supreme Court case Olmstead vs. LC decision, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law hosted an event with speakers including Jennifer Mathis, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Neli Latson, an advocate for criminal legal rights, Leslie Napper from Disability Rights California, and Carlean Ponder, a disability rights attorney and policy expert, among others. This event focused on celebrating Lois Curtis’ legacy, along with different policies that promote community living and decrease negative experiences individuals face within the criminal legal system. The Autism Society participated.
The Autism Society attended an Olmstead celebration co-hosted by the United States Special Committee on Aging and the Senate HELP Committee that featured panelists including Alison Barkoff, ACL’s Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging, Ruby Moore from the Georgia Advocacy Office, Ricardo Thorton from the D.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities, and Melissa Shang, a disability rights advocate. A recording is available here.
State Advocacy Resources
CMS Medicaid Unwinding Update
United States Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to governors regarding Medicaid renewals. He stressed that individuals should not lose coverage due to administrative processes. To aid in this process, the Department of Health and Human Services put together an All Hands on Deck Call to Action and Outreach and Education Resources for stakeholders to share that can be used for state advocacy.
CMS Resources on Supporting Adults with IDD and Their Aging Caregivers
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released resources on supporting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their aging caregivers that can be helpful to state advocates. One resource includes a state spotlight on initiatives multiple states are leading including Hawaii, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin. The other three resources focus on how state agencies and policies can meet the needs of individuals, and their caregivers, and empower people through the person-centered plan.
Report on the Condition of Education 2023
The National Center for Education Statistics, under the United States Department of Education, released their annual Report on the Condition of Education. This is an annual report mandated by Congress. The report found that of the public schools hiring for open special education positions, 40 percent reported having difficulty in 2020-2021 compared to 17 percent in 2011–12. They also found that the number of students ages 3–21 served by IDEA increased from 6.4 million in the school year 2010–11 to 7.3 million in the school year 2021–22. Out of all those served under IDEA, 15 percent of students were under the Autism category in 2020-2021, compared to 13 percent in 2010-2011.