Policy Issues to Watch

It is a new year in Washington! It is not just a new calendar year (after all it is March), but it's a new Congress with new members and new leadership and things are happening: the President shared the State of the Union, hearings are starting, and bills are being introduced.

Those new Congressional representatives were elected by you and, as constituents, you can tell them what you think. So, there is work to be done! What should you be on the lookout for this year in the Congress?

  1. Congress will probably be talking about employment, including employment of people with disabilities. We will see legislation again this year to do away with subminimum wage for people with disabilities. Currently, people with disabilities can be paid less than what is allowed for other people. Congress will also be talking about providing money  to help service providers change their business model and services to make sure that people with disabilities can work in the community, which is called competitive integrated employment. The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act has been reintroduced; we are waiting for a bill number. There also might be legislation on possible changes to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that supports vocational rehabilitation and defines competitive integrated employment.
  2. Congress will also be talking about education. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, the legislation that supports the TPSID programs and the technical assistance centers like Think College, will also be discussed by Congress. Issues affecting student loans and other higher education issues will be the big topics, but something about TPSIDs may also come up and we need to be ready to talk about why TPSIDS are so important.
  3. Congress will again be talking about Medicaid and Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), the services that allow people with disabilities to live, work, and participate in their communities instead of in institutions. The Better Care, Better Jobs Act (S 100) has already been introduced and it will provide funds to support Direct Support Professionals, people whose job it is to help and support people with disabilities to live their best lives. It will also provide money for HCBS services to end waiting lists around the country so people don’t have to wait for services like help with money, job coaching in employment, housekeeping and running a home, and transportation support to be able to live independently. In some states, HCBS funding directly supports students in IPSE programs and, even if that is not true in your state, these services and supports are what keep people with disabilities, including your students, in their communities. Many organizations provide regular updates via email or social media about disability policy. The Disability Policy Update from AUCD is one example.

It is also a new year in state capitals. Legislatures are in session, Governors are giving their state of the state addresses, new bills have been introduced, and work is progressing. While Congress is in session year round (along with a few states like New York and California), most state legislatures are only in session for a few months – many ending by June 30 when they have to have their budgets and spending decisions completed. The calendar year is from January to December, the federal fiscal year is October to September, but the states’ fiscal year is from July to June. Confusing, right? There are some state legislatures that don’t even meet every year – Texas, I am talking to you!  So, what to watch for in the states?

  1. State specific IPSE legislation has already been introduced in some states to expand existing state scholarships (GA), provide funding (MN), and expand programming. Even if nothing like that is happening in your state, there may be other issues for you to pay attention to. The Think College web site has information on this in the What is Happening in Your State section.
  2. Is there legislation in your state to end subminimum wage in your state or to support employment of people with disabilities? If so, get involved! You certainly know how to support employment.  Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York all have legislation already introduced. If not, you can still talk about the importance of competitive integrated employment and how your students are successfully being employed in jobs they like and choose. APSE has a great page on this: https://apse.org/state-legislation/.
  3. Is your state talking about changes to higher education, whether that includes IPSE programs specifically or not? If so, see if there is a way for you to participate and educate them about IPSE. Be sure to include students and families!

You are the experts! Whether you are students, families, program staff or interested others you can talk about inclusive college in ways that others can’t. You can share the successes, stories, data, and research that influences legislation at the state and federal levels. We need you! Your policymakers need you!

About the post author: Denise Rozell, Director of Policy Innovation, Education and Employment Team, at Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD). Denise works primarily on issues affecting youth in post-secondary education, employment and independent living including as the co-Director for the PROMISE Technical Assistance Center (Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income). As she says above, she is a self-described policy geek, and a valuable contributor to the work of Think College NCC.