By Michelle Diament
December 12, 2014
|Funding for federal programs supporting people with disabilities would|
largely remain level under a last-minute budget deal making its
way through Congress. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
A spending plan making its way through Congress is a win for people with disabilities, advocates say, more for what it doesn’t do than what it does.
Most federal programs supporting people with disabilities will maintain level funding under the $1.1 trillion budget deal, with a few areas seeing modest gains.
The plan was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives late Thursday, as the federal government’s existing budget was set to expire at midnight. Lawmakers also passed a temporary measure to give the U.S. Senate time to vote on the legislation that would fund most federal activities through Sept. 30, 2015.
Following years of belt-tightening in Washington, advocates say that just maintaining steady funding for disability programs offers some relief.
“Most of the programs that we track that support people with disabilities got level funding which we continue to say in this environment is a victory,” said Jennifer Dexter, assistant vice president of government relations at Easter Seals.
Under the deal, funding available to states under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will rise $25 million and vocational rehabilitation will increase $33 million. Other programs expected to see an increase include housing assistance, support for postsecondary programs for those with intellectual disabilities as well as autism and developmental disabilities efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, most of the gains are too modest — generally less than 1 percent — to keep pace with inflation, warns Annie Acosta, director of fiscal and family support policy at The Arc.
“Everyone is relieved when their programs don’t get cut but this isn’t just one year; it’s been longer term,” she said. “Even when you have level funding, you’re losing money every year if you’re not keeping pace with inflation.”
For example, Acosta said Congress is set to increase spending on the Section 811 program — which funds housing for adults with disabilities — by $9 million, but due to rising housing costs, that change will not translate into dollars for additional units beyond ones already covered by the program.
Meanwhile, advocates are already gearing up for 2016 when budget cuts could play a role again, said Dexter at Easter Seals.
“2016 could be a tough year,” she said. “The reality is we’re not anywhere close to what the need is. This continued austerity is going to be a struggle for people with disabilities.”