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Following Election, Disability Advocates Fear Budget Cuts


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With the presidential election decided, there’s a sense of relief among disability advocates in Washington, but new uncertainty is setting in with a series of deep budget cuts on the horizon.

Just days after President Barack Obama secured a second term in the White House and control of Congress remained virtually unchanged, disability advocates say they are happy to know who the players in Washington will be going forward, but remain concerned about the challenges ahead.

In January, funding for most federal programs is set to be slashed by at least 8.2 percent under a process known as sequestration, which was triggered last year when Congress failed to reach a budget deal. Unless federal lawmakers act, the consequences could be severe for Americans with disabilities, advocates say, with more than $100 billion in automatic spending cuts touching everything from special education to research and disability employment programs.

Lawmakers from both parties have indicated that they want to reach a deal to avert the broad-based cuts and disability advocates are working frantically to make their voices heard.

“The uncertainty has been really making it difficult to know what to do, but now we get to move forward,” said Katy Neas, senior vice president of government relations at Easter Seals. “We’re very concerned that if we don’t speak up that people with disabilities are going to be given the short end of the stick and expected to pick up more than their fair share.”

While entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security are not part of the cuts mandated under sequestration, they are likely to be considered in a spending deal given that they are big-dollar programs.

Neas said change is likely, but she hopes that programs serving those with disabilities will be reformed to improve efficiency rather than simply cut. For example, Neas said that instead of issuing an across the board funding cut to Medicaid, lawmakers could reconsider the program’s emphasis on paying for people to live in institutions which is often more costly than community-based care.

“Our job will be to help people looking for savings to find reforms within the programs that can be more cost effective,” Neas said.

In addition to lobbying on Capitol Hill, advocacy groups are working to educate those with disabilities across the country about this new reality.

“Prepare to be asked how Medicaid and other important programs helping those affected by autism can be cut,” Autism Society President Scott Badesch wrote in a message this week to the group’s members. “The reality is that we have a national financial concern we have to address.”

Many in Washington are optimistic, however, that the broad nature of the planned cuts will propel public pressure to ensure that lawmakers strike a meaningful deal that’s not too painful for people with disabilities.

“We are hopeful that we are able to come out of these negotiations intact,” said Kim Hymes, director of policy at the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators. But, she added, “this is going to be a difficult next few months.”

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. Deb says:

    What will happen with the long waitlists each state has, or at least 48 of the 50 states seem to have lengthy waitlists. In Colorado alone, there has been discussion through the Governor’s budget proposals, that they will be able to now service persons with intellectual and developmental disabiliities who are 50 years old, this meaning, that their parents are in their late seventies and eighties. So, this is adding fuel to the fire.

  2. Betsy says:

    Mitt Romney would have balanced the budget. And all benefits would have stayed in place, or increased. President Obama has not balanced a budget in 4 years. We will see all benefits cut. For those of you who voted for the President, it is on you. Obama wins, America loses. Pray for use all.

  3. Belinda Spinosi says:

    House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee already has met 5 times on a proposed 1/3 cut to SSDI Benefits. This will surely be the first to fall.

    Budget makers want to make cuts to Medicaid and Social Security without first going after the core issues that cause Americans to be dependent upon these programs. 1% enforcement rate of all disability complaints, stopping the flow of complaints by the President and DOJ on the 20th Anniversary of the ADA, and the Supreme Court refusing to step out on disability Due Process issues – instead write rulings laying out how Congress can fix the law….are all examples of areas that should ethically be addressed BEFORE they make cuts to Americans with Disabilities.

    I also think that if Americans must take a 8.3% cut…so should every federally elected official and contractors and public employees and employers. These are the people whose work allows discrimination to Americans with Disabilities to happen…thereby forcing Americans with Disabilities to depend on Medicaid and Social Security. Cuts to Medicaid and Social Security is a shortcut meant to divert attention from government’s responsibility for appropriate enforcement of spirit and intention of Disability Laws.

  4. Cathy says:

    No one is talking about the Social Security Administration’s decision to eliminate the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program, that helped Social Security beneficiaries understand that they can return to work and not lose Medicaid for instance. They also cut the Protection and Advocacy program for beneficiaries of Social Security who needed assistance to overcome barriers to employment. So much for SSA caring one bit about getting people who want to work off of government sactioned poverty plans SSI and SSDI. These two programs keep people living on the margins, unable to enjoy healthy nutrition, transportation, recreation or life in the community in general. This is isolating and depressing for the millions of people with disabilities who want to work and get off of these programs. The loss of these programs coupled with cuts to Medicaid and potentially cuts to SSI or SSDI is a cruel joke on the disability community. The latest employment statistics are bleak. The percentage of people working w/out disabilities is 69.3. The percentage rate of people working with disabilities is 21.1. Let’s look into this and fix it. REPORT ON THE LOSS OF THESE PROGRAMS PLEASE DISABILITY SCOOP.

  5. Belinda Spinosi says:

    Cathy is absolutely correct in her assessment about the WIPA program. Social Security Administration (SSA) is the responsible party for the cut of the program. SSA wanted their cake and to eat it too. SSA was allowed to fund PABSS and WIPA, GPO wrote a report on where the funding could come from in the SSA, Congress did not cut the program, but SSA wanted additional funding from Congress to do it. The reason SSA allowed the program to slip away was that it did not move the numbers off the Beneficiary roles they wanted.

    The reasons are many but the most glaring one is the fact that Americans with Disabilities are still allowed to be discriminated against by governments and employers at every level and the fact that only 1% of all discrimination complaints tells you the attitude of the federal administration about how they feel about Americans with Disabilities.

    Also, SSA did nothing to protect the dangerous water that CWICs and WIPAs were treading advocating for SSA Beneficiaries at the State and Local levels. State and Local governments participate in the discrimination in many ways. State and Locals often don’t have Medicaid Consumer Complaint Systems, local county governments make arbitrarily different rules on how they enforce Federal Medicaid law. As an example, in my State, Ohio, there are 88 counties and 88 different ways Medicaid is interpreted with no oversight from the State…just policy guidance.

    HUD is often passed out in Block grants meaning that local politics take over on how the money is used. Designer local government projects that were meant to help people find housing ended up running smack in the face of Social Security laws and forced Beneficiaries to stop work because the non-profits running the programs wanted to take Beneficiaries checks’ and in particular were taking Beneficiary SSA checks without being authorized representatives. There is no oversight over these local block grant programs.

    SSA decided to directly fund positions within State WIA One-Stops for disability access to their federal job programs because State and local governments refused to follow the law to include Americans with Disabilities in the One Stop programs. It did not make a dent with the vast majority of the money going directly to general funds and what positions, Disability Navigators, that were funded were not executed. We found that those positions created were asked not to act on disability or discrimination concerns.

    CWICs in those WIPAs who often are Americans with Disabilities, like myself, were not protected when we did our job. My personal Medicaid for Workers with Disabilities re-certification was arbitrarily declined by the same County Disability Determination Unit that I advocated for, locally, for poor
    Social Security Beneficiaries. I got my Medicaid back only because I knew that I could complaint to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

    My Medicaid was taken away, again, this year because I brought a complaint about the State of Ohio not having a Medicaid Complaint System. I wanted to complain about the local research Medical System not having a complaint system. Ohio lied to CMS saying they had a complaint system, together we proved they did not, with the result being that CMS is not willing to move forward “because we have to work with State Administrators.”

    CMS does not enforce States to give direct oversight over County Medicaid Administrators and does not enforce that State and Local Governments have Consumer Complaint Systems.

    With the Medicaid Expansion, and that is what the Presidents healthcare is, in 2014, only 39 States have included Consumer Complaint Systems in them. With income, many of those newly insured will have some income and be forced onto Medicaid Spenddown which forces you to be on the type of Medicaid that is called fee-for-service which is ala carte but no Consumer Complaint System (managed care programs do have complaint systems).

    With fewer Medicaid physicians, because of the low Medicaid reimbursement rates, Beneficiaries are being forced to research hospitals and their physicians with lower satisfaction rates (see Medicare Hospital Ratings). Those new Medicaid Beneficiaries may also see the same problems we currently see in the program increasing Medicaid wait-list waiting times

    And…there are many other federal programs that CWICs and WIPAs touched in that program.

    So, what does that all mean? The SSA wanted to take a short cut and cut through all the lackadaisical enforcement of disability law and found that they could not make headway unless the federal disability discrimination laws were comprehensively enforced. Because it is not yet safe to find and keep work.

    SSA Beneficiaries are not going to jeopardize what stability they have when the discrimination is still so blatant. So, Beneficiaries did not come off SSA rolls in great numbers. Great numbers were achieved, though, by Americans who did learn about how the Social Security laws work and increased their personal stability by often finding part time work, thereby increasing taxes they paid at every government level.

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