Friday, September 30, 2011

Grants Announced Supporting Employment and Retention of People Living with Disabilities

On September 27, 2011, The U.S. Labor Department allocated more than $21 million to seven states under the Disability Employment Initiative to improve employment services for those unemployed, underemployed, and/or receiving Social Security disability benefits. California, Hawaii, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin received new grants and Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Virginia received continuing grants. The two government agencies funding this initiative are the US Labor Department's Employment and Training administration and its Office of Disability Employment Policy.

The goal of Disability Employment Initiative is to ensure that all workers, including those with disabilities, will be able to benefit from employment and retraining services, so that they can attain permanent employment opportunities. Projects funded through these grants vary but include: hiring staff with expertise in disability and workforce issues; supporting collaboration across multiple workforce and disability service systems; and expanding the workforce development system’s participation in the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program by requiring participating state workforce agencies or local workforce investment boards to become employment networks.

This is important progress and a great accomplishment for the disability community. The Society will keep working to ensure equal access. For more information on the grants, click here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Greater Access to Rail Stations for Americans with Disabilities

United States Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood took a step in the right direction last week when he announced that individuals with disabilities will have greater access to intercity, commuter and high-speed train travel. This change will require new station platform construction or renovation to allow people with disabilities to get on and off any car on a train. Passenger railroads must provide level-entry boarding at new or altered stations in which no track passing through the station and adjacent to platforms is shared with existing freight rail operations.

This change is possible through an amendment of the U.S Transportation (DOT) American with Disabilities (ADA) regulations. This new ruling takes into consideration the needs of individuals with disabilities and paves the way for new initiatives.

For more information, click here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What Could Happen to Social Security?

On August 22, the Associated Press published an article about the increasing need for Social Security disability benefits, in light of the continued economic downturn, the related pressures it places on the Social Security Administration, and Social Security’s projected long-term solvency. 

Social Security is far more than a retirement program--more than one-third of all monthly Social Security checks go to people who are not retired. At least 11 million people with disabilities, their spouses and children receive Social Security benefits and this includes some people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). If you live with MS and are unable to work due to an MS-related disability and/or other conditions, you might be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits

Multiple sclerosis can be an extremely expensive disease to manage, with most people with MS being prescribed one of the “disease modifying therapies” and four to six other medications to ease symptoms and help maintain a high quality of life. Combined, drugs to help manage multiple sclerosis can exceed $30,000 per year or more than $800 per month out of pocket. The Social Security benefits people living with MS and other disabilities receive helps keep them out of poverty. More than one-half of disability insurance beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least 75 percent of their income. 

In the 25-month period ending in October 2010, the number of claims pending a disability medical decision rose from 556,670 to 851,812, an increase of 53 percent. Despite these unprecedented challenges, the Social Security Administration (SSA) continues to utilize its resources to clear more hearing cases. Processing time for a hearing has been reduced from 491 days for all of FY 2009 to 377 days in the month of October 2010. SSA is on track to meet its commitment to eliminate the backlog, but needs continued resources to do so. 

The National MS Society has supported annual appropriations for the SSA to continue driving down disability backlogs, improve services to people with disabilities, increase efficiency, and keep pace with the rising demands of the American public. As the newly-formed Congressional “supercommittee” considers ways to significantly reduce the nation’s long-term deficit, changes to Social Security are possible. The Society will continue collaborating with other disability organizations to help ensure that any changes to this program do not happen to the detriment of persons living with disabilities. To learn more about the importance of Social Security and possible changes, click here.