LDA Legislative News – January 2020

Fiscal Year 2021 Deliberations Begin

With only a few exceptions over the past several years, Congress has extended the time needed to settle funding for the federal fiscal year.  One year’s deliberations seem to blend into conversations about the following year’s funding.  Extending the federal process can seriously impact school districts and other state and local agencies, as they try to set their own budgets for the coming year.  This process continued in Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020), with Congress finally deciding funding in December, three months after the start of the fiscal year.  Now discussions are already underway on FY 2021, which begins on September 30, 2020.

The good news for LDA members is that there were increases in many of the organization’s priority programs.  In the area of environmental health, for example, Congress increased support for state and local programs on childhood lead poisoning.  LDA is deeply involved, through the Healthy Children’s Project, in combating the effects of environmental toxins on prenatal and early childhood development and the increased incidence of learning disabilities as a result.

Even with increases in FY 2020, however, most of LDA’s priority programs are still short of the authorized level, meaning that Congress is not funding these programs at the amount it established when these laws were enacted.  For instance, LDA follows the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, with concerns about the high number of youth in juvenile justice programs with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities.  This critical program did get a small increase for FY 2020, but funding for the program has actually decreased by around 50 percent since first enacted in 2002.  In fact, funding is about $75 million below the authorized level.

Another prime example is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law under which around 7 million children and youth with disabilities receive special education and specialized instructional support services.  LDA has worked hard to increase funding for the IDEA, singly and as part of the national IDEA Full Funding Coalition.  Congress gave increases for IDEA programs in FY 2020, ranging from a 3.2 percent increase for K-12 Part B programs to 0.8 percent for the preschool grants and 1.5 percent for the Part C Infants and Toddlers program.  Those percentages may sound small; however, in comparison to increases for other federal education programs, these increases are quite significant.  Once again, even with a total funding level of $13.9 billion for the IDEA – including the Part D  programs for personnel development, parent information, and technology – the federal contribution is still only around 15 percent of the original congressional “promise” of 40 percent.

Congress is now awaiting the release of the president’s proposed budget for FY 2021 on February 10.  Senator Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee which deals with LDA’s top programs, has already told the Administration he will not consider a presidential proposal that continues the trend of deeply cutting education and health programs.  Congress has no obligation to use the president’s proposal as its marker, and LDA expects the appropriations committees to use the FY 2020 figures as their baseline.

LDA will continue its advocacy on Capitol Hill to ensure priority programs continue to receive increases.  However, we’re also aware that the budget cap for FY 2021 will allow only tiny increases, if any at all.  We will keep you posted as the process unfolds.

LDA Gives Thumbs Down on Flavored Tobacco Products

LDA has united with other national education organizations to offer strong support for the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act (HR 2339).  Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and bill sponsor, introduced the bill to address the public health crisis of the use of e-cigarettes by young people.  LDA sees the same threat from e-cigarettes as from other tobacco and nicotine products, the possible effects prenatally and on youth health and development, and ultimately the links to increased incidence of learning disabilities.

HR 2339 passed the Energy and Commerce Committee in November on a party-line vote, with only one Republican member, Peter King (R-NY), currently among the bill’s 105 cosponsors.  LDA signed a letter to all members of the House of Representatives in mid-January expressing its strong support for this legislation.  The bill provides a comprehensive approach to end the e-cigarette epidemic by raising the minimum purchase age, prohibiting flavors in all tobacco products, banning certain non-face-to-face sales, and protecting youth from predatory marketing.

Schools are seeing an increasing rise in use of these products in classrooms, bathrooms, and on school grounds.  The letter to Congress cites important national data showing that use of e-cigarettes among high school students has more than doubled from 2017 to 2019, with one in four high school students using e-cigarettes.  In the same period of time, use by middle schoolers has tripled.  Data show, in fact, that more than 5.3 million middle and high school students are using e-cigarettes.

LDA will continue to work to educate students, especially in the vulnerable middle and high school years, how to adopt healthy life choices, hopefully resulting in a reduction of the incidence of learning disabilities.  LDA was joined in this effort by AASA (The School Superintendents Association), the National School Boards Association, the Council of Administrators of Special Education, the organizations representing elementary and secondary principals, the American School Counselor Association, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers, among others.

Scales of Justice Image

Courts Continue to Block Changes in ‘Public Charge’ Rule

Last fall the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed a change in the “public charge” immigration regulation, evoking negative reactions from a record number of commenters.  Among the people most adversely affected may be individuals with disabilities who rely on public benefits for daily living. Five federal Circuit Courts have issued injunctions, blocking the rule’s implementation.  The Administration has tried in each case to have these injunctions lifted, with two courts ruling for the Administration.  However, the Second Circuit in New York has just issued a ruling, keeping its nationwide injunction in place.  This means the Administration will have to continue its legal battles to implement this rule.

The focus of the public charge regulation is the government’s weighing of what public benefits an individual seeking to be in the country permanently might require and whether to allow permanent status based on that equation.  This rule would affect new individuals applying to enter the United States or to be legal permanent residents.  It does not apply to people currently with green cards, refugees and asylees, and several other special categories of individuals.

This rule represents a major change to a longstanding policy.  Several new weighted factors will be considered in whether or not a person will be a public charge.  The rule currently in effect counts only cash assistance, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income, and long-term institutionalization at government expense.  This list is expanded under the new rule to include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid (with exceptions for pregnant women and children under 21), Section 8 housing, and federally subsidized housing assistance.  The new rule also expands cash assistance to include any state and local benefits.

Adults, including those with disabilities, who access Medicaid to help pay for virtually any nonemergency treatment could be considered a public charge if, within the 36 months preceding application for immigration or adjustment of status, the individual has received more than 12 months of coverage.  However, any past use of Medicaid can be considered in determining whether the person will be a public charge.

LDA joined more than a quarter million people and organizations sending comments to the US Citizen and Immigration Services opposing the rule. LDA is especially concerned about the confusion the rule – even though not yet implemented – has created among families already in the country who have children or adults with disabilities in their households.  As an example, reports are already coming in of Medicaid-eligible families refusing permissions for special education services, for fear they will be deemed public charges.  Thus far, we have not been able to ascertain if use of Medicaid in schools will be exempted from counting against a family, although use of Medicaid for non-emergency situations for children under 21 is clearly exempted.

The rest of the Circuits are expediting arguments on the Administration’s appeals to lift the injunctions.  It is expected that all oral arguments will be completed by mid-March, but when final decisions will be handed down is only speculation.

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