Disability Legislation On Hold As Congress Nears Recess
Consideration of two key pieces of disability legislation in Congress are on hold as lawmakers look to depart Washington quickly after putting the finishing touches on a contentious debt deal.
The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was scheduled to consider the Combating Autism Act and the Workforce Investment Act at a hearing on Wednesday. The plan would have given the bills an opportunity to move forward ahead of Congress’s traditional August recess.
But on Monday the hearing was abruptly canceled, with the autism legislation rescheduled for Sept. 7 and the employment act postponed indefinitely.
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Senate insiders and disability advocates insist that the hang-up on the autism legislation is strictly a matter of scheduling. But the delay does add uncertainty to several autism programs ahead of a looming deadline.
The current incarnation of the Combating Autism Act — which dates to 2006 — is set to expire Sept. 30. If it is not renewed by then, millions of federal dollars for autism research, training and infrastructure will end.
“It’s really critically important,” says Alison Tepper-Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, of the bill. “We wanted to have the hearing before the recess but this is a small bump along the way.”
Meanwhile, the future of the Workforce Investment Act is murkier without any clear timeline to move forward.
This comes as disagreement persists over a provision of the bill that would regulate when people with disabilities could work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
Some disability advocacy groups — including the National Down Syndrome Society and the National Federation of the Blind — are pressing hard for the proposal to be removed, suggesting that it would encourage more people with disabilities to be employed at so-called subminimum wage.
Other advocates, however, believe the provision would provide important protections for a system of sheltered workshop employment that lacks significant oversight.
“We continue to work on it,” says Justine Sessions, a spokeswoman for the Senate committee, about the Workforce Investment Act which has not been publicly introduced. “It’s just not ready to go yet.”