the advocacy monitor

Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

An Update from the NCIL Employment / Social Security Subcommittee

By Sam Liss and James Turner, Subcommittee Co-Chairs

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingThe NCIL Employment / Social Security Subcommittee has been meeting regularly, on a monthly basis, with consistently good attendance. Sam Liss, Subcommittee Co-Chair presented at the NCIL’s 2018 Annual Conference on Independent Living on behalf of the Subcommittee’s legislative priorities. The presentation was well-received and several attendees expressed interest in joining the Subcommittee, although none have yet followed through.

Our Subcommittee’s first priority appears to be moving forward significantly. We have commitments for Congressional sponsorship, in both House and Senate, for our two policy proposals to eliminate employment disincentives for people with disabilities at / beyond retirement age. Congressman Welch (Vermont) and Senator Casey (Pennsylvania), have agreed to introduce both of our proposals as a stand-alone bill. Indeed, Congressman Welch has requested an event in Vermont to announce his introduction of the House bill. 

Our proposals, would:

  1. Eliminate the termination age (65) of state Medicaid Buy-in programs within the authorization clause of the Ticket-to-Work-Work Incentive Improvement Act (1999) and
  2. Eliminate employment disincentives for Childhood Disability Beneficiaries (CDB’s) upon reaching retirement age (67 in 2020).

Currently, bipartisan co-sponsors are being sought for the bills. As we know, both proposals have been termed, “reasonable,” by SSA and have the potential of bipartisan support.

In other areas, H.R. 6559, the Social Security Modernization Act of 2018, has recently been introduced. It combines several stand-alone bills into a single overarching bill. The bill includes purely administrative changes as well as policy changes substantively impacting beneficiaries/potential beneficiaries. Although our Subcommittee supports individual components of this bill, we are very concerned about other components that have the potential to harm persons with disabilities. In addition, we have reservations of combining all aspects into one bill. Thus, at present, our Subcommittee opposes H.R. 6559.

In particular, we cannot support conferring authority to the SSA Commissioner to implement changes to eligibility determination guidelines without knowing what they might be. Although our Subcommittee strongly agrees with enhancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, new guidelines would need to be discussed and thoroughly evaluated prior to implementation.

Our good friend Senator Casey introduced S. 3260, the Disability Employment Incentive Act, during the week of the NCIL’s Annual Conference. The bill would extend and increase employer tax credits for hiring people with disabilities. In addition, it would extend those credits to eliminating architectural and transportation barriers to employment for people with disabilities and for the elderly. Our Subcommittee and NCIL support this bill.

At this time, there is no substantive movement on the ABLE Age Adjustment bills (House and Senate) despite the bills acquiring more co-sponsors. Opposition from some factions within the disability community appears to be hindering impetus. As we know, the bills would increase the age of eligibility for establishing ABLE Act accounts from 26 to 46. The argument has been made that such an age adjustment is necessary to sustain the program over time (by increasing the number of people who sign up and thus fees available to assist states in re-paying loans taken out to establish programs).

Our Subcommittee is also considering and has discussed SSA plans for terminating the demo project in 10 states that eliminates the “reconsideration” phase of appeal of benefit denial. Generally, the reconsideration phase is thought to be unproductive and simply unnecessarily extends time toward a final decision. Senator Casey’s office is seriously considering this issue; in addition, House Social Security Subcommittee of Ways and Means has expressed its concern in a letter to SSA.

Finally, our Subcommittee has considered the plan being circulated in the Senate to create a “family leave” plan within Social Security benefit structure. The plan would allow people to voluntarily choose the family leave option which would subtract benefits from retirement income later in life. Subcommittee has been divided in its leanings on this idea. Support has been expressed for its voluntary nature; however, concern has also been expressed insofar as it affects retirement income. Those in opposition think that such a family leave program should be created from additional revenue source(s). In any case, NO such bill has yet been introduced.

The Employment / Social Security Subcommittee remains committed to monitoring developments as they relate to its charge as well as considering initiatives that enhance the lives of people with disabilities.