In this issue of Capitol Connection, we are announcing a new feature called the “Justice Center Corner” which will feature news and information on criminal justice and civil rights. In addition, find announcements for a Long COVID commission, new school discipline data, and Department of Labor efforts in states. Please use the Autism Society’s Action Center to educate your Members of Congress on legislative issues important to you and your family.
Budget and Appropriations
Congress returns from the Thanksgiving holiday recess this week. The House is slated to depart for its holiday break on December 14; the Senate is scheduled to depart on December 15. A priority will be to pass all of the appropriations bills. On November 15, Congress approved a two-tiered continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the government through early next year. The CR extends four spending bills through January 19 and the remaining eight through February 2. While the two-tiered CR plan was initially met with intense scrutiny, Democrats opted to support the plan to avoid a government shutdown. The good news is that the proposal does not make the steep cuts that some members of Congress were pushing. It provides level funding at FY 2023 levels. Congress will also be considering supplemental spending bills to provide aid to Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and Tawain.
The calendar for the Senate and the House for 2024 has been released. The calendar highlights days in which each chamber is in session or working at their district or state office.
Long COVID Advisory Committee
The Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of an Advisory Committee on Long COVID. This committee will consist of individuals outside the government, including those with lived experiences to inform federal action on Long COVID. The committee hopes to find individuals from professional associations, disability and chronic illness groups, public health groups, healthcare providers, and researchers. To learn more about the committee and information on the nomination process, refer to the federal register announcement.
Department of Labor NEON Initiative Announcement
The U.S. Department of Labor announced its selection of 12 states—California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee — and the District of Columbia to participate in its National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network (NEON) initiative. This initiative focuses on working with state agencies to increase competitive integrated employment through consultation, capacity building, and mentorship. Read the news release to learn more.
New Data on School Disciplinary Action
New data has been released from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on disciplinary actions schools took in the 2020-2021 school year. The data sadly reflects a stark reality of disproportionately for students with disabilities. While students with disabilities represent 12% of the enrollment in K-12 schools, they accounted for 29% of students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions and 21% who received expulsions. Students with disabilities also accounted for 28% of students subjected to a school-related arrest. Restraint and seclusion data also continue to show disproportionately. About 52,800 students were restrained or placed in seclusion over the 2020-2021 school year. Compared to their non-disabled peers, students with disabilities accounted for 81% of students who were physically restrained and 75% of students who were secluded. The Autism Society continues to use this data to illustrate the need for reform and accountability for how schools interact with students with disabilities.
Respite for Autism Resource
The ARCH National Respite Network released a resource on Autism and respite. This issue brief is intended for individuals and families who work with individuals with Autism. The resource outlines strategies to provide respite for individuals with Autism and funding sources for respite programs. Within the report, the Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin is highlighted for their model respite program.
Annual Medicaid Survey Report
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and partners released their 23rd annual survey of state Medicaid directors. This survey highlights policies state Medicaid agencies implemented in 2023 and what they plan for in 2024. KFF surveys questions regarding enrollment, spending, provider rates, and more. State Medicaid directors expect national Medicaid enrollment to continue to decline into next year as the unwinding from the pandemic continues, this means spending will decline as well. Almost all state directors cited workforce issues as a concern for 2024 and how this shortage impacts home and community-based (HCBS) programs. They also cited that as the pandemic funding for HCBS winds down, states will have to focus more on supporting their programs. A virtual event was held highlighting findings from the survey with a panel of two Medicaid directors to discuss their state perspectives and experiences. These findings can be used to advocate at the state level.
Justice Center Corner
Massachusetts Hearing on Electric Shock
The Autism Society submitted written testimony in response to a November 13 hearing held on pending Massachusetts state legislation (H180) to ban the use of electric shock and other aversive treatments on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The testimony states that the use of electric shock and other aversive treatment, especially on the most vulnerable members of our society, is not only ethically questionable but also a violation of their basic human rights. Such practices are not in line with modern therapeutic and educational standards and can have long-lasting psychological impacts on the recipients. Read the full testimony here. The Autism Society will continue to monitor this bill as it moves forward in the state legislature.
California Lawsuit and Mental Health
In November 2023, the Justice Department joined Disability Rights California in a lawsuit against Alameda County, California for placing too many people with mental illness into institutions. A proposed settlement agreement would require the county to provide timely mobile crisis response services throughout the county and intensive mental health, housing, and employment services. The agreement addresses planning for people being discharged from psychiatric facilities and the Santa Rita Jail to help strengthen connections to critical mental health services. The proposed settlement also requires the county to reach out and engage proactively with people who have serious mental illnesses.
DOJ Investigation in Louisville
Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) added behavioral health discrimination in its investigations into excessive force in police departments. In March 2023, the DOJ announced findings from its investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department, which included violating the rights of people with mental health disabilities. Police officers are primary and generally the sole responders to situations involving behavioral health issues in Louisville, even in instances where safety does not require a law enforcement presence. The report found officers frequently fail to engage in well-known tactics to successfully de-escalate people in crisis, such as giving a person in crisis extra space and time, speaking slowly and calmly, and utilizing active listening. In many incidents that DOJ reviewed, LMPD actions led to the use of force and arrests that were avoidable. The agreement between the Louisville Metro Police Department and the DOJ outlined several reasonable modifications to avoid unequal treatment of people with behavioral health disabilities, including deploying community-based mobile crisis teams.
In June 2023, the DOJ announced similar findings in its investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, including that the city discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance. The police department agreed to make changes to its practices through a consent decree overseen by an independent monitor.