Happy New Year! Contained in this update is state and federal policy that was passed or discussed during December 2007. This update is a summary of happenings during the month of December 2007.
In November and December new housing opportunities for people with developmental disabilities were unveiled. On Friday, November 30, 2007 The Arc of North Carolina and Lutheran Family Services of the Carolina broke ground on construction of Green Level Homes. This is a HUD811 apartment project for adults with developmental disabilities.
The ground breaking for Green Level Homes was followed by a ribbon cutting on December 4, 2007 for Opening Doors Supportive Apartments. The Arc of North Carolina, Durham County Community Living Programs, Inc. and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency opened a new collaborative housing project for persons with disabilities, Opening Doors Supportive Apartments. Utilizing a grant from the Housing 400 Initiative and The Durham Center Housing Development fund we were able to purchase and renovate four condominium units to provide inclusive, affordable housing for people with disabilities. These scattered housing units are located near a transportation route and shopping area.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Education met this month to discuss the state of education in North Carolina. Topics covered during this meeting included a report on the four and five year cohort graduation rates for students in North Carolina.
The current four year cohort graduation rates for students with disabilities were 49.4% and the five year cohort graduation rate was 50%. These graduation rates included students with disabilities who completed an approved program of study under the Department of Public Instruction. Future topics for this committee will include study of access to the UNC system and higher education needs for students with disabilities. House Bill 1641 Study Disabled Access to UNC Facilities, a bill that passed the House Committee on Education and was included in the omnibus study bill may be used as a template for the committee in regards to studying access to higher education opportunities in our state. Also on the agenda for a future meeting is SL 2007-295 (HB 17) Study Services for Students with Disabilities in High School. This bill was passed by the House and Senate during this most recent legislative session. DPI will be reporting on the progress of this study and will present the results by March 1, 2008. The current 4 year cohort graduation rate for students with disabilities in our state is 49.4%. It is imperative that this number is addressed and that we find a way to graduate more students with disabilities.
Two separate transportation committees are each reviewing issues regarding infrastructure in our state. The 21st Century Transportation Committee was created in response to calls for a special session on transportation. This twenty-four member committee will be studying the following:
*researching traditional and non traditional funding sources*looking at innovative technology to improve the transportation system*adequately funding road construction*analyzing the safety of current roads and bridges*examining of the role of ports and mass transits*reviewing public transportation needs.
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Transportation has been focusing on the restructuring of the Department of Transportation. Affordable, reliable, and accessible transportation options are critical to the success of integrating people with disabilities into our communities.
Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse Legislative Oversight Committee:
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse Services has held four meetings since the legislative break. The majority of these meetings have focused on the crisis in Mental Health services. This months meeting was focused on the State Hospital Utilization Pilot and the Community Support Services. Grayce Crockett the Director of the Mecklenburg County Area MH DD SA Authority presented on their current program. Tom Galligan the Deputy Director for Budget and Finance in the Division of Medical Assistance presented on the expenditures the state is seeing with Community Support Services. There is a growing concern that community support services is outpacing the projected spending on these services.
CAP/Tier Waiver Workshop:
On December 19, 2007, we participated in the kickoff workshop for the planning and development of the new CAP-MR/DD waiver. The new waiver will be a tiered waiver. Community participation will be welcomed in the development of the new waivers and we will keep you up to date on what is happening.
SCHIP/Medicare and Medicaid:
SCHIP legislation was rolled into the Medicare/Medicaid bill. SCHIP legislation had been vetoed twice by President Bush. Prior to the break the Senate and House passed a Medicare bill that includes SCHIP continuation funding. This bill also included CMS moratorium language and it does include an extension on current SCHIP funding through March of 2009. During the earlier discussion around Medicare there was a provision that would have eliminated Medicare’s initial purchase option for power wheelchairs. For many people with mobility disabilities power wheelchairs mean the difference between staying at home or having a option to fully participated in their communities. Power wheelchairs often are extremely specialized to fit the needs of the user. The Medicare legislation that passed last evening did not include this provision. This is a major victory for the disability community. Medicaid physician reimbursements will be a on the Congressional agenda again next year and we will need to monitor it closely to ensure that there are no changes to the power wheelchair provision.
Omnibus Budget Bill: Labor/Health and Human Services/Education:
The Congress passed and the President signed the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill. Congress passed this legislation right before the winter recess. The compromise omnibus bill contains funding for the following select programs of interest to the disability community:*Special Education: The Special education grants to states will receive a $259 million increase above FY 2007.*Vocational Rehabilitation - Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants will receive the mandatory cost of living increase of $36 million.*Social Security – Funds will be increased to administer the Social Security Administration, known as the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). The compromise bill sets the LAE figure at $9.918 billion. This would be an increase of over $451 million over the amounts appropriated for FY 2007. The increase is critical to allow the Social Security Administration to address the crisis of backlogs in making decisions on disability cases. As regularly reported in the press, people are losing their homes and families, and some people even die, while waiting for a decision on a claim in the Social Security appeals process.*Housing - The omnibus bill restores President Bush's $112 million cut to the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program, providing level funding of $237 million. In addition, $30 million is provided for new Section 8 vouchers targeted to non-elderly persons with disabilities.National Disability Rights Network provided this chart to us. Items in ( ) are a negative.Program FY 08 Appropriations Difference Between FY08 and FY07CAP $11.576 million ($206,000)PAIR $16.201 million ($288,000)PAIMI $34.880 million + $880,000PADD $39.024 million + $306,000PAVA $5.256 million + $426,000PATBI $2.9475 million ($22,500)PAAT $4.264 million ($75,820)
Dec. 3,2007 was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year's theme focuses on how to ensure decent work for persons with disabilities. The recently adopted United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that persons with disabilities have a right to work and to be employed on an equal basis with others. The United States have not yet signed on to this UN convention.