New Information about the ABLE Act
The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) Act was signed into law on December 19, 2014 after many years of advocacy and bipartisan work in both the House and Senate. The law allows eligible individuals with disabilities the ability to establish “ABLE accounts'' for qualified beneficiaries that resemble the qualified tuition programs, often called “529 accounts'', that have been established under that section of the tax code since 1996.
The new ABLE accounts will allow more individual choice and control over spending on qualified disability expenses and limited investment decisions, while protecting eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and other important federal benefits for people with disabilities. Without these accounts, many people with disabilities have very limited avenues to save and allow for further independence. The Arc has developed an excellent description of the ABLE Act:
ABLE accounts will not be available until two important events occur. First, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury needs to issue regulations or other necessary guidance to implement the law. This is required to be completed within six months of enactment of the law, which would require such regulations and/or guidance to be available by mid-June 2015. Second, each state will need to decide whether to offer a qualified ABLE program to its residents, and, if so, the state will need to decide whether the program will be state-run; whether to select another entity, such as a financial services firm, to run the program; or whether to contract with another state to allow its own residents to use the qualified ABLE program of another state.
ABLE accounts may provide an exciting new pathway to financial independence for beneficiaries of the Social Security disability programs. CWICs are encouraged to educate state policy makers about this important legislation.
New Research Documents the Effectiveness of Benefits Counseling in Combination with Vocational Rehabilitation Services!
The Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation recently published an interesting article entitled “The Impact of Benefits Counseling and Vocational Rehabilitation on Employment and Earnings” authored by Cindy Gruman, Jody Schimmell, Noreen A. Shugrue, Amy Porter, Jane Koppelman, and Julie T. Robison. The research examined employment outcomes experienced by over 5,000 individuals served by the Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) between 2002 and 2008.
Individuals in the study were categorized as receiving benefits counseling (BC) only (21%), vocational rehabilitation (VR) only (58%), or both (21%). This study showed the most positive outcomes from individuals who received both BC and VR. Thirty-six percent of those who received both services went from zero earnings to earnings after services were provided. In contrast, individuals who received only benefits counseling or vocational rehabilitation showed a consistent decline in average earnings over eight quarters. Five disability categories were also examined and three of the groups receiving both benefits counseling and vocational rehabilitation services demonstrated earnings increases over the study period.
The authors concluded that while both interventions help some people with disabilities become employed or increase their earnings, the combination of VR and BC appears to produce better long-term outcomes. They recommended that state VR programs address the need for practitioners to ensure access to a combination of Vocational Rehabilitation and benefits counseling, and consider ways to continue support after employment outcomes are achieved.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is passed!
President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. Congress passed the Act by a wide bipartisan majority; it is the first legislative reform in 15 years of the public workforce system.
Every year the key programs that form the pillars of WIOA help tens of millions of job seekers and workers to connect to good jobs and acquire the skills and credentials needed to obtain them. The enactment of WIOA provides opportunity for reforms to ensure the American Job Center system (formerly the One-Stop Career Center system) is job-driven—responding to the needs of employers and preparing workers for jobs that are available now and in the future.
Of particular note to WIPA projects is that WIOA increases individuals with disabilities’ access to high quality workforce services and prepares them for competitive integrated employment. The following requirements of the legislation are of significance:
• Youth with disabilities will receive extensive pre-employment transition services so they can successfully obtain competitive integrated employment.
• State vocational rehabilitation agencies will set aside at least 15 percent of their funding to provide transition services to youth with disabilities.
• A committee will advise the Secretary of Labor on strategies to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities.
• VR state grant programs will engage employers to improve participant employment outcomes.
• American Job Centers will provide physical and programmatic accessibility to employment and training services for individuals with disabilities.
For more information about WIOA go to http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/
Major Changes Made to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act!
The U.S. Federal Government has recently announced New Rules for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act which will require contractors and subcontractors with $10,000 or more in federal contracts to develop affirmative action strategies toward employing qualified individuals with disabilities. The New Rules for Section 503 strengthen the enforcement of existing regulations and put into place new requirements around recruiting, hiring and accommodating individuals with disabilities. Covered employers will now have greater accountability and reporting requirements in their employment practices. The immediate impact of these rules on Social Security beneficiaries pursuing employment are generally unknown, but WIPA projects and community agencies should pay close attention to the rollout of this new initiative.
A fact sheet summarizing the new rules can be found here:https://adata.org/factsheet/section-503-rehabilitation-act-new-rules-fact-sheet