On December 21, 2005 the United States Senate passed an agreement with the United States House of Representatives in relation to the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The Act could have significant negative implications for individuals with a disability. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) voted to pass the agreement while Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) voted to oppose the agreement. However, the agreement succeeded by a very slim margin: 50 Senators voting “yes,” 50 voting “no,” and the Vice President casting the deciding “yes” vote.
The bill was opposed by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) as well as the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL). Read the national CCD letter. EDITOR’S NOTE: the letter was sent by the national Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) to United States Senators prior to the Senate vote on December 21.
Some of the features of the agreement would do the following:
• enable states to charge increased premiums, deductibles, and co-payments for Medicaid/Medical Assistance recipients;
• allow medical providers to more easily deny non-emergency care for Medicaid/Medical Assistance recipients unable to pay the deductibles or co-payments;
• make it more difficult for individuals to qualify for Medicaid/Medical Assistance by not allowing the transfer of their assets because of tighter asset rules;
• alter the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program by making certain benefits optional for states, which may jeopardize personal assistance services, therapy services, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and mental health services for children with disabilities;
• increase reliance on managed care programs for Medicaid/Medical Assistance recipients, which could hinder the ability to access needed care in a timely fashion;
• permit greater use of provisions on enrollment caps and waiting lists for home and community-based services; and,
• change the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to increase work requirements, reduce child care funding, and restrict Federal foster care support for grandparents and other relatives.
Most agree that the Deficit Reduction Act proposal contains several valuable items, including the Family Opportunity Act and the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration. However, opponents assert that the benefits of the widely-agreed upon portions do not outweigh the cuts to programs depended upon by families and individuals in need. Supporters of the budget agreement stress the immediate need to slow government spending in order to control our nation’s deficit. Nearly all opponents agree federal spending must be controlled and they support reducing the deficit, but feel spending cuts should not cause harm, or abandon, those in need. Furthermore, opponents cite their belief that tax cuts benefiting wealthy families, individuals, and corporations will be proposed this spring.
These rumored tax cuts will significantly reduce the federal government’s income. Some say the proposed budget cuts will save an estimated $40 billion over the next five years, while the rumored tax cuts are estimated to reduce federal income by $70 billion a year. If true, the tax cuts would outweigh the savings from the budget cuts by about $30 billion; meaning wealthy Americans will benefit because of service and benefit reductions impacting low-income families, individuals with disabilities, children, and elderly—giving back to the rich by neglecting those in need and actually increasing the deficit! Ultimately, the two actions would widen the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”—without solving the deficit problem.
Besides the Deficit Reduction Act, the Legislature also approved the annual budget for certain programs administered by the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Education. Overall, the approved budget reduces these departments’ annual spending by $1.5 billion. Each department must cut a few of their programs by 1%, excluding Veterans Affairs’ programs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will receive $30 million less than last year while the Social Services Block Grants will not experience any cuts or increases. The Traumatic Brain Injury Program, which is run by the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, will lose approximately $300,000 from last year.
These bills again highlight the importance that each and every individual must be involved in the full democratic process—not just during election season—to ensure that our elected representatives understand and appropriately act upon our individual needs and concerns. For example, contact your representatives a few times during the year to discuss your needs and concerns as well as to learn about upcoming legislation that may affect you. Contact your representative in the United States House of Representatives today! To find out who is, and how to contact, your elected representatives, please visit www.vote-smart.org/ or contact 1-888-VOTE-SMART (1-888-868-3762).