A congressional budget deal announced this week that would ease many of the spending cuts set to hit special education and other disability programs is a step in the right direction, advocates say.
The bipartisan agreement would mitigate the across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier this year under a process known as sequestration. And, if approved, disability advocates say the deal would bring at least some relief to everything from special education to housing, supported employment services, research and other federally-funded programs benefitting people with disabilities.
“We are very encouraged,” said Kim Hymes senior director of policy and advocacy at the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators.
“What we view as the most positive part of this deal is that for the next two years we will not have to have this cloud of sequestration hanging over our heads,” Hymes said.
Brokered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the deal sets a framework for the federal budget for the next two years. It pegs spending at a lower level than it was in 2010, advocates indicated, but removes many additional cuts that were set to kick in soon.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the plan Thursday and it is expected to go before the Senate next week. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to pass the measure and is expected to sign it.
Even if the deal moves forward, however, much remains uncertain since lawmakers will still have to decide precisely how much money goes to each program that the government funds. Advocates are now preparing to lobby Congress to ensure that spending for programs that people with disabilities rely on is strong.
“It definitely does not mean that all programs are safe,” said Jennifer Dexter, assistant vice president of government relations at Easter Seals, of the deal. “Congress really does need to hear from people about the impact of these supports in their lives. It’s more important than ever.”
The deal left entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid largely untouched, with no impact on funding or access to such services. However, advocates say they are alarmed by one provision that may affect those who receive medical malpractice and other settlements from third-parties related to their disabilities.
Currently, Medicaid is able to recoup money from settlements that’s earmarked for health expenses. Included in the deal appears to be a change in the law that may allow Medicaid to access all settlement funds, according to Marty Ford, senior executive officer for public policy at The Arc.
“This would essentially — for people who do have these types of arrangements — take it out from underneath them,” Ford said.