Policy & Advocacy Newsline ~ October 28, 2019

Let’s Pass the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act!

October is not only Down Syndrome Awareness Month; it is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Let’s cap off the month by calling members of Congress to ask them to support real work for real pay for people for disabilities. NDSC is participating in a National Call-In Day on October 30, and we need your help. We need to build more support for this bill and are asking you to send emails and make phone calls to get more cosponsors for the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (TCEA) (H.R. 873/S.260). We are hoping for a flood of calls and emails on October 30th but please feel free to call anytime and as many times as you can!

Introduced in the Senate by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and in the House by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), this bipartisan legislation will address barriers to employment and expand opportunities for competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities while phasing out subminimum wage certificates under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act over a six-year period. In addition, for those who choose not to work, work part-time, or for whom their disabilities make it too difficult to maintain work in a competitive integrated setting, the TCEA includes individualized wraparound services that provide them with opportunities for meaningful training and social activities in the community.

Please contact your Members of Congress through this NDSC Action Alert and ask them to cosponsor the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act. Please join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #RealWork4RealPay.

NDSC to Collaborate with American University Law School on Disability Policy Event

The NDSC Policy team will be hosting an event with the American University Washington College of Law on Monday, November 4, 2019, from 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM. The event, entitled “It’s Never Too Early to Prepare: A Discussion of Pathways to Workforce Readiness and Employment,” will discuss laws and policies that successfully prepare students for the transition to competitive integrated employment from early school age up through adulthood. Speakers will also review the current state of disability employment policy and proposed future changes. It will contain panels of policy experts as well as self-advocates who will discuss their work experiences.  For details, visit the link below. The cost to attend is $21 per person, which includes heavy appetizers and a cash bar.

If you’re going to be in the Washington D.C. area on November 4, we would love to see you there! Registration is now open.

Thank you to our sponsors: 

Mitch and Julie Rothholz, Merck, Landsman Law Firm, Michael Orleans (NFP), Down Syndrome Association of Delaware, Chesapeake Down Syndrome Parent Group, F.R.I.E.N.D.S., Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County 

Autism CARES Act Signed into Law

On Monday, September 30, President Trump signed the Autism CARES Act of 2019 (H.R. 1058) into law. The law provides $1.8 billion over five years and authorizes autism-related programs at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Health Resources and Services Administration. These programs benefit all people with developmental disabilities, including all people with Down syndrome and especially the approximately 18% of people with Down syndrome who have a co-occurrence of autism. NDSC advocated for the passage of this bill along with our coalition partners in the disability community.

Bill to Support Direct Care Workers Introduced

On September 19, the Direct Creation, Advancement, and Retention of Employment (CARE) Opportunity Act (H.R. 4397/S. 2521) was introduced by Education & Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Representative Susie Lee (D-NV) as well as Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). This bill is designed to address the current crisis of shortages and high turnover rates for direct care workers (also called direct service professionals, or DSPs). The Direct CARE Opportunity Act would provide funding to over two dozen entities to develop plans to recruit, retain and offer advancement opportunities to caregivers. It will also enhance training and mentoring. NDSC supports this bill.

ABLE Five-Year Anniversary: Let’s Make it Better!

This December will mark the 5th anniversary of the passage of the Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (Public Law 113-295). The ABLE Act amended the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings “ABLE” accounts for people with disabilities. ABLE accounts are financial tools that are designed to help individuals with disabilities to save for and pay for disability-related expenses (such as housing, transportation, personal support services, health care costs) without jeopardizing certain public benefits. Since 2014, over 50,000 individuals have opened ABLE accounts, allowing members of the disability community to save for health care, housing, education, and other needs.

While we will celebrate this milestone anniversary, we will also strive to make ABLE better by passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S. 651H.R. 1814). This bill would raise the age of onset of disability from 26 to 46 for people with disabilities to have ABLE accounts. This change would enable six million more people with disabilities to become eligible to open an ABLE account. It would also greatly enhance the sustainability of all ABLE programs nationwide. Please use our Action Alert to call or email your U.S. Representatives and Senators and ask them to cosponsor this bill.

Be sure to take a moment to celebrate – the passage of the ABLE Act was a huge victory for the disability community after nearly a decade of advocacy efforts, and ABLE accounts have been life-changing for many people. Let’s use our collective voices again to enhance this law by passing the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.

NDSC Submits Comments to OSEP Regarding Teacher Retention

In a recent blog post, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs asked for comments regarding how the Office could help states attract, prepare, and retain effective teachers. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, a coalition in which NDSC is a member, submitted lengthy comments. NDSC submitted comments supporting the CCD letter and added our own comments related to students with Down syndrome.

Letter Regarding Education Research

NDSC recently assisted in drafting a letter to the Director of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) regarding the need for more research on certain topics. Among other requests, the letter called for new research on how to support the progress of students with disabilities, particularly students with significant cognitive disabilities, in the general education curriculum and within the general education classroom.

House Higher Education Bills Improve Opportunities for Students with ID

An advocacy priority for NDSC is including provisions in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) that will continue and improve access for students with intellectual disability (ID) to financial aid and the authorization of model programs and the National Coordinating Center. NDSC Senior Policy Advisor, Stephanie Smith Lee, Co-Chairs the Inclusive Higher Education Committee (IHEC) that has advocated for these provisions since 2006. We are very pleased that two recently-introduced bills include the majority of the IHEC recommendations regarding students with ID.  Learn more by reading the IHEC recommendations.

The “Improving Access to Higher Education Act of 2019”, H.R. 4643 was introduced by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier on October 11, 2019. This bill will improve college access and completion for all students with disabilities, including students with ID. It contains a number of important disability provisions, such as the key elements of the R.I.S.E. Act.  The “College Affordability Act”, H.R. 4674, was introduced on October 15, 2019, by Congressman Bobby Scott, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. This bill is a comprehensive reauthorization of the HEA and also contains a number of provisions important to students with disabilities, including keeping and improving the ID provisions. Both bills include most of the IHEC recommendations. The House Education and Labor Committee is scheduled to mark up (consider) the College Affordability Act on October 29th.

The prospect of comprehensive HEA reauthorization is less clear in the Senate. We urge Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act now and to include these provisions to improve postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

More on New U.S. Department of Education Guidance

As we announced in the September NDSC Policy & Advocacy Newsline, that the U.S. Department of Education recently released new guidance clarifying that IDEA and vocational rehabilitation (VR) funds may be used to support students with intellectual disabilities (ID) in postsecondary programs. This guidance is a result of successful advocacy by NDSC and our partners and a comprehensive report prepared on behalf of the Inclusive Higher Education Committee (IHEC).

As these articles in the Special Ed Connection/LRP and Disability Scoop indicate, the new guidance makes it very clear that VR funds may be used to support individuals in postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Students with ID and families are encouraged to share the new guidance with vocational rehabilitation agencies when meetings involve postsecondary education. However, because the IDEA section of the guidance is confusing NDSC is requesting further clarification from the Department of Education.

OSERS Down Syndrome Awareness Blog Post

The Office of Special Education And Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is featuring blog posts in October highlighting individuals with Down syndrome and their families. We found a few posts that we feel are especially worth sharing. The first post of interest is one submitted by Angela Jarvis-Holland​ and Angela Frome​ from the Northwest Down Syndrome Association (NWDSA)​. We also feel that the post submitted by Delaney Dunigan and her mother from the Montgomery County Down Syndrome Network in Maryland is a great read. On Tuesday, October 29th, a blog post from Dria Law will be featured. Dria is a parent whose daughter has Down syndrome, She is a school board member and the Co-Chair of KIIDS (Knowledge & Information for Individuals with Down Syndrome) from Southern New Jersey.

Report on State-Defined Alternate Diplomas

The National Center on Education Outcomes released a report titled “Status of State-Defined Alternate Diplomas in 2018-19“. State-defined alternate diplomas for students who take alternate assessments were established in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 as the only credential other than a regular high school diploma that can be included in calculating graduation rates for purposes of state accountability under ESSA. To meet the conditions in ESSA, State-defined alternate diplomas must be aligned to the requirements of the state’s regular diploma so they will be meaningful academic exit documents. The report found that eight states (AR, LA, MS, NV, NH, TN, UT, and WV) currently have alternate diplomas for these students. It also found that these states are clearly defining the requirements for earning the diploma, but they are not providing information and resources that help educators implement the requirements or that helps families decide whether to pursue the option. Among other things, the authors recommend that the states report on the number of students pursuing the alternate diploma, receiving the alternate diploma, and their post-school outcomes.