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Federal Report Examines, Urges Updates of Federal Programs’ Asset and Income Limits to Assist Economic Health of Americans with Disabilities

November 3, 2023
Source: National Council on Disability (NCD)

Today, the National Council on Disability [NCD] released its annual progress report focusing on the impact of safety net program asset and income limits on the economic independence of people with disabilities, urging their update.

The 2023 report, Toward Economic Security: The Impact of Income and Asset Limits on People with Disabilities comprehensively examines the impact of asset limits in government-sponsored social safety net programs – some of which haven’t been updated in over 30 years — on the economic self-sufficiency and financial independence of people with disabilities. Asset limits can prevent lower-income people from building savings and exercising financial autonomy without risking loss of access to necessary public assistance programs.

“As asset and income limits haven’t been scaled to inflation or revised even a penny in 34 years, it means people with disabilities have been forced, by federal policy, to be poorer and poorer, year over year, to qualify for critical supports and services,” said NCD Council member Theo Braddy. “Federal disability policies should be about helping people live independently, get to work, and get out of poverty. The current asset and income limits ensure the opposite.”

The report examines the implications of asset limits in four areas of public policy – health care, cash benefits provided through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), employment, and asset building and wealth protection. The report finds that while many federal programs are essential to help individuals and families offset additional disability-related costs to reach and maintain economic self-sufficiency, limited income and asset building opportunities and Medicaid estate recovery programs present barriers to achieving and maintaining generational wealth and economic independence.

“Current asset and income limits put goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act at odds with each other – independent living at the cost of economic self-sufficiency,” said NCD Chairman Andrés Gallegos. “This isn’t right and could not have been what Congress intended.”

As an example, access to Medicaid can be a valuable pathway to employment for people with disabilities who depend on Medicaid to cover medical care and support services to enter or remain in the workforce. Unfortunately, tying income and assets limits to eligibility for health care and medical insurance coverage via Medicaid imposes limitations that force people with disabilities to choose between working at levels that allow them to maintain healthcare benefits, or risk losing access to health care when employed at higher levels.

“It’s been 33 years since the passage of the ADA, and it is remarkable that asset and income limits for critical federal services for people with disabilities haven’t been updated since before the passage of the ADA, despite obvious increased costs of living in three decades,” said the Chairman. “People with disabilities will not achieve economic self-sufficiency if the supports and services they often rely upon to be independent prevent them from being sufficiently employed for fear of losing those services – an untenable catch-22.”

Key findings from the 2023 Progress Report include:

  • Although people with disabilities have higher costs of living due to disability-specific expenses and needs, people with disabilities consistently have poorer outcomes for employment, earnings, savings, and overall net wealth. This means that people with disabilities are far less likely to achieve financial security or self-sufficiency.
  • Asset and resource limits impose a “marriage penalty,” where a spouse’s income and assets count against eligibility thresholds, and regardless of medical costs, medical debt, and the extra cost of living with a disability.
  • Even with many states increasing their minimum wage to account for inflation, people with disabilities are often impacted by benefits cliffs – meaning that they earn higher income than permitted by income or asset limits but not enough to support themselves without access to means-tested benefits.
  • Equitable access to health care—including Medicaid insurance programs—improves financial health and increases an individual’s ability to work and achieve economic stability. Access to Medicaid, including Medicaid Buy-In (MBI) programs (available in 48 states), can be a valuable pathway to employment for people with disabilities who depend on Medicaid to cover medical care and support services necessary for people with disabilities to enter or remain in the workforce.

Key recommendations from the 2023 Progress Report include:

  • Congress should propose and pass legislation to eliminate or modify SSI income and asset rules, including allowing debts to counterbalance assets. Congress should also reduce the reporting burden for disability beneficiaries, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) should simplify the income and resource rules that contribute to overpayments, confusion, and mistrust and increase the administrative burden for workers and the SSA.
  • Congress should amend the ABLE Act to allow higher contributions and savings levels for immediate purchases, as well as long-term savings and retirement.
  • Congress should amend Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to remove asset and resource limits, as well as age limits, for Medicaid and Medicaid Buy-In (MBI) programs.
  • Congress should direct Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase funding levels for Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) and require automatic HCBS eligibility screening for all Medicaid beneficiaries that includes funding for assistive technology (AT) such as standing wheelchairs, home accessibility, and preauthorization for AT repairs that promote health and greater levels of independence.
  • DOL should provide guidance and monitoring to ensure that all WIOA-funded programs such as American Job Centers (AJCs) are accessible to and provide meaningful support for people with disabilities.
  • State legislators should enact laws promoting Employment First as a model for competitive integrated employment (CIE) and eliminate subminimum wage and the use of 1099 contractors instead of W2s for employees with disabilities who are not self-employed.

Read this and all of NCD’s reports at NCD.gov.

News source: ncd.gov/newsroom/2023/federal-report-examines-urges-updates-federal-programs%E2%80%99-asset-and-income-limits

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