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What Does the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill Mean for People with Disabilities

The bill contains a lot of good news for people with disabilities, however, it is important that the disabled remain vigilant of any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

 

How will the 2018 Omnibus Spending bill affect me if I am disabled?

On March 23, 2018, the United States Congress passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, funding the government through September 30, 2018 and avoiding a government shutdown. The 2,232-page bill is termed “omnibus” because it covers multiple budget areas from defense to border security to opioids.


Omnibus spending bill and the disabled

The bill contains a lot of good news for people with disabilities, however, it is important that the disabled remain vigilant of any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

How will the passage of this budget bill affect federally funded programs that benefit the disabled?

All federal programs are funded annually through a budget and appropriations process. There are two main categories: discretionary spending and mandatory spending. Discretionary spending is decided annually by Congress and is optional though many important functions of government, such as defense, are included. IDEA early intervention, Supported Employment State Grant Program and Protection and Advocacy programs are a few examples of programs funded by discretionary spending. Mandatory spending is not controlled by Congress on an annual basis but is required by previously enacted laws. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are included in this category.


The national budget and appropriations process begins with the President submitting a Budget Request to Congress that outlines a proposal for spending on various federal functions.

Congress then adopts a Budget Resolution setting spending levels and distributing funds among various categories such as health, education, and defense. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees receive these spending limits and distribute funding among subcommittees. The majority of programs that benefit people with disabilities are funded through the following House and Senate subcommittees: 1) Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and 2) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Both Appropriations Committees then draft a budget bill and follow the normal legislative process.


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Though most programs benefiting the disabled saw only modest increases with the passage of this bill, some saw significant gains in funding including the Developmental Disabilities Act’s Projects of National Significance, the Lifespan Respite Care Act program, and the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

The Development Disabilities Act’s Projects of National Significance received a 20% increase in funding.

These programs create opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in and contribute to all areas of community life by providing grant contracts to enhance productivity, integration and inclusion.


The Lifespan Respite Care Act got a 22% boost in federal funding.

The majority of care for people with disabilities is provided by family caregivers who experience significant physical, financial and psychological stress. Respite care programs provide much needed temporary relief to these caregivers through grants to enhance state respite services, improve access to programs, fill gaps in service, and improve overall quality of life.


Funding to the National Family Caregiver Support Program increased 20%.

This program assists family and informal caregivers of older adults (age 60 and above) in their home by providing information to caregivers about available services, assistance in obtaining access to services, individual counseling and caregiver training, and respite care. Supplemental services such as transportation and home modification are available on a limited basis. These programs also include caretakers of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease of any age.


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The Omnibus Spending bill also significantly increased funding for affordable housing and community development programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and expanded the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).

The bill renews all Housing Choice Vouchers and provides new vouchers to veterans and people with disabilities, allocates nearly $1 billion in additional funding to repair and operate public housing, and boosts funding for the HOME and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs.


Finally, hidden in the bill is a long-awaited funding increase for the Social Security Administration, an agency encumbered by staff shortages that have resulted in a backlog of disability claims reaching over one million.

The omnibus spending bill increased funding to the Social Security Administration by $480 million, approximately $100 million of which will be used to reduce the backlog of disability hearings.


Because Medicare and Medicaid are not subject to annual appropriations, funding to these programs is not affected.

The non-defense portion of discretionary spending only accounts for approximately 20%, so any attempts to reduce the national deficit may precipitate a decrease in mandatory spending. While the 2018 Omnibus Spending bill contains a lot of good news for people with disabilities, it is important that advocates for remain vigilant that any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security do not affect services, benefits, or eligibility for people with disabilities.

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