The legislature is scheduled to re-convene on November 27, which is a continuation of the short session. There is not an agenda for this session yet, but the regular long session will begin in January 2019. As you are all aware, we are in the midst of elections, with early voting sites already open. With Election Day approaching, please exercise your right to vote. If you have any questions about voting, you can access information on this site developed by Disability Rights NC www.accessthevotenc.org (This link is no longer active.)
At our last Council meeting, we noted that there are six Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. Two of these are of concern to people with disabilities. They are:
• Cap Income Tax at 7% - Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%). The current income tax rate in NC is 5.5% and the State already has a maximum of 10%. There is concern that this reduction could be a barrier to addressing unexpected events such as natural disasters and could result in budget items such as healthcare, state funded supports and education being at risk.
• Voter ID - “Voters offering to vote in person shall present photographic identification before voting. The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing the requirements of such photographic identification, which may include exceptions.” There is not enough information to accurately assess the impact of this amendment. However, we do know that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are less likely than people without disabilities to have an ID. Without more information about the type of IDs which will be required and a process for providing access to IDs for everyone, this amendment has the potential to limit the rights of voters with I/DD.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continues to move forward with Medicaid Reform. The Requests for Proposals to manage the Standard Plans was released and proposals have been submitted. The DHHS will now review all proposals and announce their decisions in early February 2019. A total of eight companies and provider-led groups submitted proposals to manage the care of North Carolina’s Medicaid patients. The eight interested groups are:
There will be four statewide contracts awarded and a later, up to 12, regional contracts awarded. Only two Provider-Led Entities submitted, which is less than was expected. As we have discussed before, the Tailored Plans - which will include individuals with I/DD who currently receive services and supports or who are on the waitlist -will be implemented at least one year after the implementation of the Standard Plans. In the meantime, we will monitor the roll-out of the Standard Plans since there will be some people with I/DD who are in the Standard Plans.
Public Comment on Innovations Waiver
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, NC Medicaid Division of Health Benefits is seeking the public's comments on the Innovations 1915(c) Waiver. Comments on the waiver may be submitted by email or voicemail from October 23, 2018 - November 22, 2018. The North Carolina Innovations Waiver is a means of funding services and supports for people with intellectual and other related developmental disabilities that are at risk for institutional care in an Intermediate Care Facility for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICF-IID). NC Innovations is authorized by a Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver granted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under Section 1915 (c) of the Social Security Act.
Note: Requests for copies of the Innovations 1915(c) Waiver can be made via email or voicemail.
Budget & Appropriations
On September 28, President Trump signed into law a measure that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED) for fiscal year (FY) 2019 that begins on October 1. The measure also includes funding for the Department of Defense and a continuing resolution for other federal agencies until December 7. The package had been approved by the House on September 26. Most programs that affect people with I/DD were level funded or received slight increases. Additionally, $300,000 was added to fund the Caregiving Advisory Council established under the RAISE Family Caregivers Act and $5 million was added to fund Care Corps, a network of volunteer caregivers. The House is expected to vote on the package this week. One thing not included in the L-HHS-ED Budget is the reauthorization of Money Follows the Person (MFP) which is essential to our efforts to move people with I/DD out of institutional settings. States are running out of funding as we wait on reauthorization. The House has acted on this through the Empower Care Act which would extend the program for five years and we are hoping the Senate will follow.
On September 28, the House of Representatives approved a package of three tax bills, collectively referred to as "Tax Reform 2.0" by a vote of 220-191. The centerpiece of the package, H.R. 6760, makes permanent the individual tax cuts from last year's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that are presently set to expire in 2025. The Tax Policy Center estimates that tax revenues would fall by $3.2 trillion over a 10-year period under H.R. 6760, on top of the $1.9 trillion that last year's tax law is already expected to cost. This is concerning since Tax Reform 2.0 sharply reduces federal revenue, extends tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy individuals, and will create greater pressure to cut critical programs for people with disabilities. The Senate is not expected to take up the measure prior to the mid-term elections.
Social Security - Bill Introduced to Enhance Benefits for Widow(er)s with Disabilities
The Surviving Widow(er) Income Fair Treatment Act of 2018 (SWIFT Act; S. 3457) seeks to fix outdated and arbitrary Social Security benefit provisions for widow(er)s with disabilities and surviving divorced spouses. The bill would: allow widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses with disabilities to receive 100% of the survivor benefit they are entitled to regardless of their age; give widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses the ability to increase the value of their survivor benefits beyond current arbitrary caps; enable widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses caring for children to receive child-in-care benefits until their children are age 18 or 19 if still in school; and require the federal government to proactively provide information to widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses about benefits they are eligible for, claiming options, and important deadlines. This is a much-needed enhancement to Social Security benefits.
Social Security - SSA Announces Cost of Living Increases for 2019
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2019. The Social Security Act provides for annual COLA increases based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W rose modestly over the last year, the 2019 COLA will increase benefits modestly. According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker will increase by $39, from $1,422 in 2018 to $1,461 in 2019. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security disabled worker beneficiary will increase by $34, from $1,222 in 2018 to $1,234 in 2019. In addition, the SSI Federal Payment Standard will increase from $750 per month in 2018 to $771 per month in 2019. Important work incentive thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will also increase, including the Substantial Gainful Activity level and the Trial Work Period earnings level. View SSA's fact sheet for more details on the 2019 Social Security COLA.
Senate Approves FAA Reauthorization
On October 3, the Senate approved the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 by a vote of 93-6. This bill includes numerous provisions that benefit people with disabilities, including required training for Transportation Security Administration officers on working with passengers with disabilities, increased civil penalties for bodily harm to a passenger with a disability or damage to wheelchairs or other mobility aids, a new Advisory Committee on Air Travel Needs of Passengers with Disabilities, and a study of potential in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems that will allow passengers to remain in their wheelchairs during flight. The bill now heads to the President's desk.